On Wednesday, the 31st of January 2018, the I Am Ahed exhibition was launched at the old Women’s Jail at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. The exhibition features a series of photographs taken by Haim Schwarczenberg, who documented the Friday protests in the Occupied West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. The launch of the exhibition coincided with the 17th birthday of Ahed Tamimi, who is being detained and trialled by an Israeli military court for resisting the Occupation and slapping an Israeli soldier. Transcribed below is the speech that I gave, in my capacity as Chairperson of Amnesty International Wits, at the exhibition launch. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
Who is Ahed Tamimi? If you were to ask Israeli media outlets, they would tell you that she is a provocateur, a trouble-maker, even a terrorist. If you were to ask Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the US, he would tell you that she is a fabrication, created by a Palestinian effort to discredit the IDF as they aid the ‘noble’ work of colonising Palestine. The truth, however, is immediately apparent to anyone who looks upon her case without the distortions of Hasbara propaganda.
Ahed Tamimi is a child, whose only crime is refusing to bow to an illegal Occupation. She is being put on trial by a kangaroo court for the same reason women were once held in this jail – because they were not passive in the face of Apartheid. Ahed Tamimi is a hero, who is being shackled by a state which seeks to subjugate her.
The extent of this subjugation is difficult to overstate. As the chairperson of an Amnesty International chapter, I have been asked which human rights have been violated in Ahed’s case. Indeed, the easier and more apt question is: Which of Ahed’s fundamental human rights have not been trampled upon by Israeli Apartheid? Israel has entirely disregarded all of Ahed’s rights – from her right to a fair trial, to her free movement, free assembly and free expression, to the right to education, healthcare and even water. Put simply, Israel has robbed Ahed of her right to live out her childhood unhindered by the suffocation of Occupation.
This is neither incidental nor accidental. Ahed’s trial is worthy of our attention not because it is out of the ordinary, but precisely because this is what passes as normal under an Apartheid regime. Ahed is one of more than 350 Palestinian children currently being detained by Israel. She is one of more than 8000 Palestinian children detained since the turn of the century. When Palestinian children are not considered children at all – when they are seen as ‘terrorists in training’ – it speaks volumes about Israel’s attempt to dehumanise them. It exposes the reality that we must recognise – Israel systematically desecrates the rights of Palestinians precisely because Israel sees the Palestinians as less than human.
As South Africans, we are not unfamiliar with the unjust realities of institutionalised racism. As a nation, we have confronted the tactics of banning orders and administrative detention before. It is the reason that these halls remained barred – as a reminder and a promise to never forget. If we are to honour this memory, we must vocalise our support for the liberation of Palestine, as others vocalised their support for the liberation of our country from the subjugation of Apartheid.
Now is the time for us to extend beyond our borders an ethic of radical Ubuntu: “We struggle because you are struggling. We revolt because you are. And we will resist anyone who denies your right to live freely on your land.”
That is why we are here today – to celebrate the resistance of Ahed Tamimi, and to reaffirm our solidarity with all children being detained by Israel. To them we say: We see your struggle, we adopt it as our own, and we will continue to call for your immediate and unconditional release. We are also here to send a message to the State of Israel: The world is watching. We will not look away. We will not lower our voices. The noise of resistance will not dissipate. From here, it will only grow louder.