Ahed Tamimi, photographed by Nina Wessel for Vogue Arabia, October 2018
In a heartfelt letter, 17-year-old Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi tells the story of her arrest and eight months in an Israeli prison – and the struggles she faces as a symbol of resistance.
“I am a child of the Israeli occupation. It has always been there. My first real memory is of my father’s arrest in 2004 and visiting him in prison. At the time, I was three years old; he has since been arrested on two further occasions. Last year, when I was 16, I was arrested too, during a nighttime raid, for slapping a soldier who was standing in our yard. I was sentenced to eight months in an Israeli prison.
Originally printed in the October 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia
“Life behind bars was very hard. The guards woke us at 5.30am for the count and at 8am they returned to search the cells. Our doors opened at 10.30am, when we were let out for breakfast. Afterward, we would go to the other rooms, where I could talk to my fellow inmates. There were around 25 of us. We were not allowed outside and walked around in a big hall for exercise. Along with the other girls, I tried to make study groups, but the prison administration did not encourage this and broke up the class. Instead, we read books, and I managed to pass my final exams in prison. Only my immediate family was allowed to visit me, and that was limited to 45 minutes through a glass barrier every two months.
Ahed Tamimi protesting in Ramallah in 2012. Image: Getty
“Through my arrest, I became the symbol of the occupation, but there are 300 other children in Israeli jails whose stories no one knows. Nurhan Awwad was arrested when she was 16 and sentenced to 13 years in prison. It is said that she tried to kill a soldier. Nurhan was walking with her cousin, who was shot and killed in front of her eyes. Israeli security forces also shot Nurhan, who was sent to hospital. From there, they took her to prison on a 13-year sentence. She is 18 today. The youngest girl in prison is Hadia Arainat. She is 16 and has already served three years; she should be released in four months. They say that she also tried to kill a soldier; she was on her way to school in Jericho at the time of her arrest.
“Since I was released on July 29, I have become a spokesperson for the Palestiniancause, which is not easy. With this role comes a great deal of responsibility and pressure. In parallel, I am on a suspended sentence for the next five years; if I say something they don’t like, I can be imprisoned for another eight months. I must tread carefully. People often ask where I find my strength and courage to stand up to the occupation, but I am experiencing a situation which forces me to be strong. Of course, it is also due to the influence of my parents. They remain my biggest inspiration. Yet I believe that everyone in my village is like me; I am not special. Do I sometimes wish that I could just let go and not be strong? No. Under occupation, you must be. I have always challenged my fear and found the strength I needed.
Ahed Tamimi and her mother, Nariman, and father, Basil, at a press conference after her release from prison. Image: Getty