An attractive Palestinian teenager appeared in 2015 at the third Beirut conference of the Global Campaign to Return to Palestine, an umbrella group for a “global network of Palestinian solidarity organisations,”[i] many of which support terrorism. With her curly mane of blonde hair, her loud calls for “resistance” against the Israeli occupation of what she believes to be her people’s land, her stubborn defiance of Israeli soldiers, and her willingness to be held in Israeli prison for her beliefs, Ahed Tamimi has become a media sensation in Europe and the United States. Her story is told in a book she co-wrote with Dena Takruri, They Called Me a Lioness: A Palestinian Girl’s Fight for Freedom.
Tamimi’s appearance at the 2015 GCRP conference doesn’t feature in her book, and it’s not hard to figure out why. The book repeatedly insists that she, the extended Tamimi family, and all the Palestinians in her small village of Nabi Saleh, located in the center of the West Bank, about equidistant from the Green Line and Highway 6, eschew violence. As she explains it, they “had read Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi” (p. 21). It was only during the Second Intifada, when the Israelis responded to “largely unarmed” protests with “excessive force,” that the Palestinians resorted to suicide bombings, though, she tells us, “Many Palestinians, including my parents, criticized this form of resistance” (p. 23). Tamimi’s audience is American and European progressives; MLK and Gandhi go down well with them.
It is doubtful, though, that either King or Gandhi would use language like this: “We are waiting for you in all the West Bank cities from Hebron to Jenin – we will slaughter you and you will say that what Hitler did to you was a joke. We will drink your blood and eat your skull. Come on, we are waiting for you.” These were her words in the aftermath of the October 7 pogrom in Gaza, as reported on October 30 by Israeli media.
Tamimi has a long history of support for terrorists. Would someone who opposes violence show up at a conference attended by Deputy Secretary-General of Hezbollah Sheikh Naeem Qasim, Vice-President (now President) of Islamic Jihad Ziyad-Al-Nahalah and Ali Baraka, Hamas’s representative in Lebanon—a conference addressed on video by Hamas’s leader, Ismail Hania?
And why would Tamimi later appear (in September, 2017) at a European-Parliament-hosted conference in Brussels on a panel with terrorist airline hijacker Leila Khaled of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine? Khaled is no pacifist; interviewed in 2014, she made this very clear: “Resistance takes more than one face. It can be all kinds of resistance. Non violent and violent…. We chose armed struggle. We did not achieve our goals. Then the intifada broke out and the whole world took us seriously. We gained the support of people all over the world. Still, we did not reach our goals because the leadership was not brave enough at that time to escalate the intifada, to take it to another level.”
When Ahed was imprisoned in 2017 for slapping an IDF soldier, her mother released a recorded “message to the world” from Ahed, clearly enunciating her position on violence:
I hope that everybody will participate in demonstrations – the only solution for us to reach a result – because our strength is in our rocks. I hope that the whole world will unite so that we can liberate Palestine, because [U.S. President] Trump’s decision [to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel]. He must bear responsibility for its consequences: It doesn’t matter what Palestinian response there will be – stabbing operations, Martyrdom-seeking operations [i.e., suicide attacks], throwing rocks – everyone needs to do things so that we can unify in this way.[ii]
Ahed Tamimi is not an innocent child victim of Israeli ruthlessness, but her autobiography They Called Me a Lioness packages her to promote that image.
The packaging is a blend of heartbreaking stories and liberal buzzwords (“human rights” “nonviolence,” “grassroots resistance”) designed to resonate with American teens and a broader progressive audience, and to camouflage the provocative activism of the movement of which Ahed Tamimi and her family form an integral part.
They Called Me a Lioness opens with a gripping account of Tamimi’s ordeal in a prison holding cell. She’s only sixteen, and has been arrested shortly after the widely publicized slap . With its vivid depiction of Tamimi’s feelings and surroundings, the account couldn’t be more convincing; the deliberate choice of present tense intensifies the reader’s identification with Tamimi:
I sit shivering in the tiny, freezing cell of an Israeli interrogation center, my wrists and ankles sore from the tightly clasped shackles digging into them. I inhale deeply, trying to suppress the flow of tears streaming down my cheeks now that I finally have a moment to myself, away from the taunts and jeers of the soldiers who’ve been harassing me for hours (p. ix).
I close my eyes to try to plug the tears now pouring, but also because I can no longer bear the sight of the feces-stained walls surrounding me in this repulsive cell (p. x).
But Ahed is nothing if not stoical:
This moment was inevitable, something I expected my whole life. Getting arrested by the Israeli army was always a matter of when, not if (p. ix).
Details are carefully selected to enhance the sympathy of the target audience (high school readers) with Ahed’s predicament:
“I should be taking my English final exam today, and I worry how much I’ll fall behind by missing it. . . . I’ve worked so hard to get to this point, and my entire future rides on the test scores I pull off at the end of the year.
. . . I’m supposed to graduate in a few months, not be locked up in prison” (p. x).
What high school student wouldn’t identify with her predicament?
Zionist History: The Tamimi Version
The first chapter, “Childhood,” delivers a version of Zionist history that would be unrecognizable to serious historians. It begins with the Balfour Declaration (1917), effacing the millennia-long Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. There are no First and Second Temples; no post-Second Temple Jewish communities in Yavneh, Tiberias, or Jerusalem; no slaughter of Jerusalem’s Jews by Crusaders; no medieval Jewish community in Acre (where Nachmanides fled persecution in Spain); and no immigration to Ottoman Palestine in the nineteenth century by persecuted Yemenite, Russian and Polish Jews.
Instead, it all started with a European colonial power, the British, who, in Tamimi’s account, “facilitat[ed] the immigration of thousands more European Jews to Palestine,” and “gave away land that wasn’t theirs with no regard for the indigenous-majority population living there: the Palestinians” (p. 4).
In fact, although Jewish immigration peaked in the 1920s, when pogroms in Eastern Europe precipitated the flight of tens of thousands of Eastern European Jews, the British soon caved to Arab pressure. The Arabs wanted no Jewish immigration at all, and by 1936, when immigration to Palestine could have saved many Jewish lives, the British proposed an annual limit of 9,000 Jews, down from 61,000 in 1935 – an 85% reduction.[iii]
Two reports from the Mandate era – by the John Hope Simpson Commission of 1930[iv] and the Peel Commission of 1937[v], following the 1929 Arab riots and the 1936 Arab Revolt, pointed to both illegal Jewish immigration and uncontrolled illegal Arab immigration. The latter was harder to document, because Arabs from lands contiguous to Palestine were used to unrestricted movement and because the Arabs kept no records.[vi]
Pace Tamimi, the British didn’t “give away land that wasn’t theirs”; in fact, they didn’t “give away” any land – the Jewish immigrants purchased it. According to the Simpson report, “they [Jews] paid high prices for the land, and in addition they paid to certain of the occupants of those lands a considerable amount of money which they were not legally bound to pay.”[vii]
The Peel Commission’s report of 1937 explored the issue of equitability of land distribution in great depth. It attempted to answer what it called the “Arab charge that the Jews have obtained too large a proportion of good land,” stating that it “cannot be maintained. Much of the land now carrying orange groves was sand dunes or swamp and uncultivated when it was purchased.”[viii]
Even Arab leaders complained about the willingness of Arabs to sell their land. Transjordan’s King Abdullah wrote:
It is made quite clear to all, both by the map drawn up by the Simpson Commission and by another compiled by the Peel Commission, that the Arabs are as prodigal in selling their land as they are in useless wailing and weeping.[ix] [Emphasis in the original]
In other words, the Arabs were only too happy to sell their land for inflated prices, but now that the Jews had made it productive, they complained that it was sold illegally.
Tamimi’s version of the Arab Revolt of 1936-39 conceals a lot. She writes, “The strike lasted three years, but it failed in the face of the British Empire’s overwhelming military and political power. British forces ultimately killed hundreds of Palestinians during the protests” (p. 21).
In fact, as we’ve seen, it didn’t fail, as it forced the British to curtail Jewish immigration at the moment when it might have saved thousands of Jewish lives threatened by Hitler. It also wasn’t just a strike – it was a revolt, and when, in August 1937, the 20th Zionist Congress accepted the Peel plan for partition of Palestine, the Arabs rejected it and responded with violence. Historian Daniel Gordis describes what happened next:
Settlements, buses, Jewish civilians, and British patrols were all targets. The new airport at Lydda was burned. Much of the country’s public transportation had to be discontinued, and due to mines and explosives planted at the sides of roads, the British prohibited travel at night.”[x]
Tamimi also rehashes the Arab accusation that the Israelis founded the state on “historic Palestine,” and that “European Jews created a state on territory where the majority of residents were the indigenous Palestinian population. And in order to achieve this state in which they would be the majority, the Zionists had to violently evict the Palestinian majority” (p. 6).
Left-wing Israeli historian Benny Morris’s pioneering research into the 1947-48 War of Independence examined the fate of Arabs during that war. According to Morris, “there was no policy of expelling ‘the Palestinians’ and that the Haganah did not expel Arabs prior to April 1948. . . . The Haganah and the leadership of the Jewish Agency (the government of the Yishuv) adhered to the policy of acceptance of the Partition Plan . . . , which included a large Arab minority in the Jewish state in the making.”
He goes on: “But a ‘policy of expulsion’ in 1949 to 1956? If there was such a policy, why was it not implemented? Why did the number of Arabs in Israel increase steadily, in part due to infiltration of refugees back into Israel who, over the years, received identity cards?”
Morris acknowledges that there were places, like Caesaria, in which the Arabs were expelled for strategic reasons, but his granular account demonstrates that there were many places which the Arabs, for a range of reasons, simply chose to leave:
In Haifa it was the Arab leadership that called on its population to evacuate (the Jewish mayor, Shabtai Levy, and the Histadrut labor federation activists asked them to stay); in Tiberias there was no expulsion (though possibly the British Mandatory authorities had encouraged the Arab exodus); in Jaffa, the population left because of the Jewish military pressure and the expectation of a Jewish takeover after the British pulled out; in Safed they fled because of the conquest of the city by the Palmach, not as a result of orders to expel; and in Acre there was no expulsion order and the majority of the inhabitants remained in the city after it was occupied on May 18.[xi]
To Tamimi, documented facts and nuance don’t count.
Adopting the “intersectional” perspective (that equates the grievances of all non-white peoples), Tamimi appropriates the fashionable tag “indigenous” for Palestinians. While Jewish roots in the region are well-documented, stretching back to classical antiquity and the ancient Near East, the Palestinian population originated in various streams of immigration. According to archeologist and historian Alex Joffe (citing research by Pinhas Inbari and others)[xii] —
[S]ome were “converts from indigenous pre-modern Jews and Christians who submitted to Islam, and Arab tribes originating across the Middle East who migrated to the Southern Levant between late antiquity and the 1940s. The best documented episodes were the Islamic conquests of the 7th century and its aftermath, and the periods of the late Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate.”
As Jewish immigration increased during the Mandate period, economic activity accelerated. This brought an increase in Arab immigration – not to Arab areas, but to areas of Jewish settlement like Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, while the all-Arab population of Nablus diminished, as did Safed’s.[xiii]
From Tamimi’s perspective, the First Intifada “broke out in 1987 after an Israeli military truck killed four Palestinian laborers in a refugee camp in Gaza” (p. 22). Others account for the outbreak differently; according to Daniel Gordis, for example, the intifada began when “an Israeli truck driver accidentally ran over four Arab workers” in Gaza.[xiv]
What Tamimi describes as a “grassroots resistance movement [that] had to be unarmed” was actually quite violent. Tamimi romanticizes the stone-throwing (and omits the use of Molotov cocktails) during the First Intifada:
Detractors have pointed to our youth throwing stones as a contradiction of this principle, accusing us of being violent. Our response has always been that a stone is not a weapon. It has long been a symbol of defense in Palestinian consciousness and mythology. . . . Given the bulletproof uniform he’s [an Israeli soldier is] wearing and the armored vehicle he’s riding in, a stone is highly unlikely to cause him any serious bodily harm. A stone, for us, is a symbol. It represents our rejection of the enemy who has come to attack us. To practice nonviolence doesn’t mean we’ll lie down and surrender to our fate submissively. . . . Stones help us act as if we’re not victims but freedom fighters” (pp. 26-27).
But civilians don’t wear bulletproof uniforms, and a rock isn’t a mere “symbol,” it’s a lethal weapon. If you go to the IDF website and do a search for “rocks,” you’ll get 89 hits, including the story of Adva Biton:
In March 2013, Adva Biton was driving with her three daughters on her way home near Ariel. As she was driving, a Palestinian minor threw rocks at the truck in front of her car. The truck stopped suddenly and Adva did not have time to react. She collided directly with the truck. Adva’s five- and four-year-old daughters were lightly injured, but her three-year-old old daughter Adele was injured critically.
“All her joy, all her life was taken from her at the age of three,” Adva said during her testimony in court.. . . . “It is difficult for me to cope with the fact that my daughter will be handicapped in every way because of such an act.”[xv]
Stone-throwing plays well in the media, pitching the Palestinian David against the Israeli Goliath, but, as the IDF explains, “In 2013, Palestinians directed more than 2,400 rock throwing incidents at Israelis. Of these, 30 percent were directed at civilian vehicles. 116 civilians were injured due to these incidents. They may appear inoffensive, but rocks threaten lives.”[xvi]
As for the Second Intifada (2002–2005), Tamimi claims it started when “Ariel Sharon . . . stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem with a thousand heavily armed police officers.” The reader can take her word for it, or take the word of someone more official – Imad Faluji, the Palestinian Authority’s Communications Minister, who admitted that the uprising “had been planned since Chairman Arafat’s return from Camp David when he turned the tables on the former U.S. president and rejected the American conditions.” That “the Sharon visit did not cause the al-Aqsa intifada” was also the conclusion of the Mitchell Report of April 30, 2001.[xvii]
Tamimi accuses Israel of building a “massive separation wall under the pretext of security” in 2002 (p. 24). Pretext? It was the incursions of Palestinian suicide bombers into Israel that finally prompted Israel to construct the barrier, which, for most of its length, is not a wall, but a security fence. It works. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, ”From September 2000 until the end of 2006, more than 3,000 terrorist attacks originated in the West Bank, resulting in the deaths of 1,622 people inside the Green Line. By comparison, since 2007, when most of the fence was erected, until mid-2022, 141 attacks killed 100 people.”[xviii]
Tamimi distorts what she calls “international law.” Explaining why she sneaks into Jerusalem instead of going through checkpoints, she says, “I refused to seek the permission of my oppressors to visit a city they’re illegally occupying” (p. 55), although the occupation of land captured in a defensive war in is not illegal.
Tamimi also accuses the IDF of violations of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child for “routine[ly] arrest[ing] and detain[ing] Palestinian children (p. 207). The problem Israel faces is that some of these detained Palestinian children don’t behave like children. As NGO Monitor explains, “older minors are often involved in the most serious and heinous offenses,” among them the “brutal 2011 murder of five members of the Fogel family, including killing a baby in her crib” by Hakim Awad, age 17. “Palestinian minors commit violent crimes due to incitement by the Palestinian Authority,” notes the report, and the PA provides a “monthly salary” to the families of detained minors.[xix]
Ahed’s father, whom she presents as an innocent victim, has been in administrative detention multiple times. Do the IDF or Shin Bet have nothing on him? Malak Salman, Ahed’s friend from jail, was imprisoned for ten years, pointing to a serious crime for a minor, but we’re not told what she was convicted of.
Following a visit to South Africa after her release from prison, Tamimi makes an intersectional argument to buttress her accusation of apartheid against Israel. From her perspective, blacks in apartheid South Africa, who were excluded from certain professions, from higher education and from government, are like Israeli Arabs, whose representation in the medical profession is proportional to their representation in the Israeli population, who have political parties and elect members of Knesset, and who are represented on the Supreme Court. She cites the pass system and color-coded ID cards and license plates, omitting the very real security concerns that necessitate these restrictions (pp. 95-101). Even Tamimi’s publisher plays the intersectional card, with a promotional blurb on the dust jacket by the guru of the Critical Race Theory movement, Ibram X. Kendi.
Palestinian parents, Ahed claims, “taught us that while it’s important to resist, we must never hate, because hatred will eat us up from inside” (p. 68). It’s hard to credit this claim, unless they don’t know what’s being taught in their kids’ schools. Palestinian schools indoctrinate children with anti-Israel hatred, as documented in the reports of IMPACT-se on Palestinian textbooks. These cite numerous examples of indoctrination in antisemitism, including that “Jews control the world, using classic antisemitic imagery of an arm with a Star of David holding a globe.”[xx]
It will come as no surprise that Tamimi has Jewish allies. She flaunts her gratitude to Jonathan Pollak, who “was always out there alongside everyone, confronting the soldiers who belonged to the army in which he had refused to serve. Jonathan was arrested and injured dozens of times while defending our village” (p. 37).
Another ally is anti-Zionist Israeli Miko Peled, whom she shielded during a 2015 demonstration:
It might strike some as odd for a young Palestinian girl to put her body on the line to defend an Israeli, but that’s not how I see it. Miko is on the right side of history. Even though it means going against his society and the army in which he once served, he puts his body and privilege on the line to support us and fight for justice (p. 87).
But who is this Miko Peled? He has described terrorists serving time in Israeli prisons – some for murder – as “political prisoners.”[xxi] He’s the author of The General’s Son: An Israeli Journey Through Palestine, a book whose foreword is by the blatantly antisemitic American writer Alice Walker, who has claimed that Jesus is a Palestinian who “is still being crucified,” and has praised the screeds of David Icke, rooted in the antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.[xxii] This is the company Peled and Tamimi keep.
It’s these Jewish fig leaves who enable Tamimi to claim that neither she nor the BDS movement is antisemitic–just anti-Zionist. Her vision, she claims, is “for us to live in a single democratic state where everyone is equal, Muslim, Christian, and Jew. Judaism is a religion, just like Islam. . . . But Zionism is a political ideology that says Judaism is not only a religion, but primarily a nationality—and that it needs a country” (p. 242).
Can Tamimi point to any democratic Arab country in the Middle East? The last free election under the Palestinian Authority happened in 2005. What guarantee can Tamimi give Israeli Jews that a “single democratic state where everyone is equal” would be created in the “Palestine” she envisions? As for the question of whether Jews “need a country,” I suggest Tamimi take a Jewish history course covering, oh, the last 2000 years.
There is no denying that Ahed Tamimi’s extended family has suffered under Israeli occupation. Her book chronicles numerous disturbing examples of arrests, imprisonment, police and IDF shootings of family members (her mother’s brother Khalo Rashdie, her cousin Mohammad, and others) and what she perceives as mistreatment. It’s hard not to feel sympathy for the Tamimis of Nabi Saleh. However, context is often missing, so we don’t know what suspicions the IDF is working under, what networks they’re trying to track down, and what terrorist acts they’re trying to intercept.
A careful reading of They Called Me a Lioness reveals a repeated pattern of discrepancies between her claims to be engaged in nonviolent “grassroots resistance” and her troubling connections with and adulation of terrorist figures.
Tamimi has been called a lioness, but this lioness wears sheep’s clothing. Beneath the veneer of a human rights narrative is someone who expresses support for terrorism and violence.
She is not a model for youth, and her book doesn’t belong in the hands of naïve, ill-informed, and highly impressionable young readers. It definitely doesn’t belong in public schools.
[i] See “Exclusive: BDS exposed as front for terror groups,” March 7, 2021, at https://david-collier.com/terror/
[ii] A different translation of this speech can be found on p. 169 of They Called Me a Lioness.
[iii] Daniel Gordis, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, p. 120.
[vi] The Simpson report also noted that, although the Arabs were blaming Jewish immigration and the Jewish preference for Jewish labor for an increase in Arab unemployment (and noted that there was also Jewish unemployment), there were other causes: motor transport (by Jews) meant less need for Arab camel and donkey drivers, the use of cement and reinforced concrete reduced the need for stonemasons, and, above all, the end of the Ottoman army conscription, which led to the increase of men in the villages.
[vii] Simpson Report
[viii] Peel Report, p. 242. The Report continues, “The Simpson report also noted that, although the Arabs were blaming Jewish immigration and the Jewish preference for Jewish labor for an increase in Arab unemployment (and noted that there was also Jewish unemployment), there were other causes: motor transport (by Jews) meant less need for Arab camel and donkey drivers, the use of cement and reinforced concrete reduced the need for stonemasons, and, above all, the end of the Ottoman army conscription, which led to the increase of men in the villages.”
[ix] King Abdallah, My Memoirs Completed, (London, Longman Group, Ltd., 1978), pp. 88-89. Emphasis in the original.
[x] Gordis, p. 123.
[xi] All quotes from Morris are from his article “Israel had no ‘expulsion policy’ against the Palestinians in 1948,” Haaretz, July 29, 2017. https://www.haaretz.com/life/books/2017-07-29/ty-article/.premium/israel-had-no-expulsion-policy-against-the-palestinians-in-1948/0000017f-eab3-d639-af7f-ebf779a50000. For more detail, see Morris’s book The Birth of the Palestinian refugee Problem Revisited (2004).
[xii] “Palestinian Settler-Colonialism,” by Dr. Alex Joffe, September 3, 2017. https://besacenter.org/palestinians-settlers-colonialism/
[xiii] Sheree Roth, “Were the Arabs Indigenous to Mandatory Palestine?”, Middle East quarterly, Fall 2016.
[xiv] Gordis, p. 354.
[xviii] : https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/background-and-overview-of-israel-s-security-fence
[xix] For NGO Monitor’s analysis (“The Origins of ‘No Way to Treat a Child’: Analyzing UNICEF’s Report on Palestinian Minors,”) see http://www.ngo-monitor.org/reports/origins-no-way-treat-child/ Accessed May 19, 2022. For the UNICEF report, “Children in Israeli Military Detention,” see https://www.unicef.org/sop/media/216/file/Children%20in%20Israeli%20Military.pdf Accessed May 19, 2022.
[xx] See “The 2021 Palestinian School Curriculum Grades 1-12: Selected Examples” at https://www.impact-se.org/wp-content/uploads/PA-Reports_-Updated-Selected-Examples_May-2021.pdf