“There is no justice under the occupation and this court is illegal.” – Ahed Tamimi, 21 March 2018
Palestinian teen activist Ahed Tamimi, 17, was sentenced by an Israeli military court on Tuesday, 21 March to eight months in Israeli prison. The sentencing came after a plea bargain was reached in the case and confirmed by the military court; the majority of the original 12-count indictment was dropped by the Israeli military prosecution.
It is important to understand the context of plea bargains in occupied Palestine. Despite any claims to the contrary by the Israeli occupation, for Palestinians, plea bargaining is essentially a choice with no meaningful alternative, rather than a recognition of “guilt.” Over 95 percent and often over 99 percent – numbers that mirror the conviction rate of the military courts overall – of military court cases end in plea bargains. The alternative is no solution at all for Palestinians; as the military courts accept dubious evidence and evidence obtained through torture and exist as part and parcel of the carceral system of occupation, legal brilliance and strong arguments do little to nothing to obtain Palestinians’ freedom. The “plea bargain” in these cases is no equal agreement, but simply an imposed form of military court sentencing at the hands of the Israeli occupation.
In addition, the cost for continuing the military court case through to sentencing is often immense. Overcharging is used systematically, as it is in Ahed’s case, to threaten arrested and imprisoned Palestinians with years-long prison sentences. This is equally true of Palestinian child prisoners like Ahed as it is of Palestinian adult prisoners in Israeli occupation prisons. Each trip to the military court is a day-long ordeal for imprisoned Palestinians; the use of the infamous transport van called the “bosta” has itself sparked multiple prison protests and hunger strikes. Every trip to and from the military court is another hours-long, shackled trip on the “bosta.” And when a plea agreement is not reached, the Israeli military court system has no hesitation in dragging out the trial through a series of continuations that can take months and years.
For imprisoned Palestinian children, the cost is even greater; Palestinian teens like Ahed are at risk of losing critical years of their education as they prepare to graduate high school, take the national tawjihi examinations and enter university. The threat to Palestinians’ education is another weapon held above the head of imprisoned Palestinian children to compel plea agreements and impose sentences upon these targeted youth.
Of course, a plea agreement that wins Ahed’s freedom in four more months – already imprisoned for four months, she will be released in July – is also far below the previous demands of a minimum sentence of two to three years, let alone the demands of racist, far-right Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman that Ahed be imprisoned “for the rest of her life.” Ahed, like other imprisoned Palestinians, continues her struggle and exemplifies steadfastness; this so-called “plea” does not carry guilt, but pride in the strength of youth like Ahed, who inspire people around the world to continue to resist and struggle.
The sentencing did not only carry an eight-month prison sentence for Ahed, but also a 5,000 NIS ($1,400 USD) fine as well as three years of a suspended sentence. Two other Tamimi women strugglers were sentenced at the same time: Ahed’s mother, Nariman, a leader in the indigenous land defense movement in their village of Nabi Saleh, and Ahed’s cousin, Nour.
Nariman Tamimi will also serve an eight-month prison sentence alongside her daughter and a three-year suspended sentence; she was fined 6,000 NIS ($1,780 USD) for filming Ahed’s confrontation with an occupying soldier and livestreaming it on Facebook. Nour was sentenced to her time served and fined 2,000 NIS ($500 USD).
Suspended sentences are another mechanism used by the Israeli occupation in an attempt to suppress Palestinian resistance; they emphasize that even after leaving behind the occupation prisons, Palestinians are not free, but are threatened constantly with the imposition of the “suspended” sentence after another arrest or pre-dawn raid. Nevertheless, as Palestinian prisoners have made clear through decades of struggle, none of the repressive mechanisms of the occupation have succeeded in suppressing or erasing Palestinian resistance and commitment to win their freedom, return and liberation.
The sentencing of the Tamimi women came alongside news that Elor Azaria, the occupation soldier who murdered Palestinian youth Abdel-Fattah Sharif as he lay wounded on the ground, received a further reduction to his sentence; he will have spent nine months behind bars when released. Even the case itself was an anomaly; Israeli soldiers routinely receive no punishment at all for shooting and killing Palestinian children and youth, including multiple cases of teens being shot in the back.
Ahed’s case is a reminder, like the cases of all over 6,100 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, that the military court system and, indeed, the entire Israeli “justice” system, is nothing but a colonial apparatus that seeks to suppress Palestinian resistance and existence on the land of Palestine. It can, should and must inspire us all to win the immediate release of every Palestinian struggler locked behind Israeli bars and to struggle for the freedom of the Palestinian land and people, dismantling all the Zionist colonial systems that seek to impose their domination over the indigenous people.
While the targeting of Ahed, Nariman, Nour and the Tamimi women was an attempt to repress Palestinian resistance and activism against colonization, apartheid and occupation, as many Palestinians and other organizers have pointed out, the effect of their imprisonment has been precisely the opposite. Inside and outside Palestine, around the world, people have been inspired by the anti-colonial, indigenous land defense movement in Nabi Saleh and the struggle of the Palestinian people for their freedom. Millions of people have signed petitions and thousands have taken to the streets in dozens and hundreds of actions organized around the world to demand Ahed’s freedom and that of her fellow Palestinian political prisoners. The plight of Palestinian child prisoners – and the struggle of all Palestinian prisoners for freedom – has been highlighted at a global level.
Ahed’s struggle and sacrifice has helped to grow and build a global movement for Palestinian freedom and continues to do so. From letter-writing evenings at schools and community centers to art exhibitions to protests marching through the streets of New York, Berlin and Brussels, this is the time to honor the steadfastness of Ahed and her fellow Palestinian prisoners with increased struggle to demand all of their freedom and to make it clear that the popular movements of the world stand with the Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinian people.