Acts of Resistance and Restraint Defy Simple Definition in the West Bank

It is entirely a video: A teenage girl, a kaffiyeh over her denim jacket, screaming in Arabic, frequently punches, slaps and kicks a massively armed Israeli army officer, who faces her quietly, absorbing some blows, evading others, but never hitting back.

Definitely, he and a fellow soldier turn and walk away — only to spur parallel arguments that, more than a week later, are roiling both Israeli and Palestinian society and engaging the conflict’s partisans around the world.

Israelis could not determine whether the soldiers were noble pillars of fortitude and strength — “its soldiers like this that gives Israel the moral high-ground,” Peter Lerner, a retired army agent, declared — or an embarrassing advertisement of national paralysis and susceptibility.

“Restraint is a failed and dangerous policy,” said Oren Hazan, a member of Parliament from the Likud Party. “Next time it must end variously.”

Palestinians, while universally praising the girl’s courage, debated whether the video might have harmed their cause, by displaying their oppressors behaving smoothly, or assisted it, by showing that resistance can be sufficient even when one is unarmed.

“This is a mockery,” a man named Saber Mohammad fumed on Facebook, saying it displayed “the beautiful face of the occupant.”

But with Palestinians and Israelis once again facing one another with rocks and tear gas, this time in response to President Trump’s understanding of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, what showed inescapable was that a moment that broke with the visual clichés of intifadas past had seized thoughts on both sides.

The girl in the video, Ahed Tamimi, 16, is not new to this type of confrontation.

Two years ago she was videotaped biting the hand of another Israeli soldier who was attempting to arrest her brother. And in 2012, when she was 11, she was photographed increasing her fist and yelling at another Israeli soldier — an action that earned her an award from Turkey.

That her family comes to encourage the children’s risky encounters with soldiers offends some Palestinians and angers many Israelis.

“We should correct a price at some other convenience, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras,” the columnist Ben Caspit wrote. “The Tamimi family has to learn, the hard way, those systematic provocations” appear at best cost.

But Ms. Tamimi’s face has earlier launched a thousand memes, and the Tamimis of Nabi Saleh and their constant videos have drawn international attention to their tiny village and its long-running conflicts with a nearby Israeli settlement, Halamish, that Nabi Saleh residents say has stolen their land and water.

The newest incident, filmed in the family’s backyard, occurred within hours after a cousin of Ms. Tamimi’s was shot in the face with a rubber bullet, and it was streamed live on Facebook on Dec. 15. It first obtained attention on Monday, when a clip was broadcast on Israeli television.

Right-wing activists demanded the teenager’s arrest. Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennet, said Ms. Tamimi and the other women who scuffled with the soldiers alongside her — her mother and an older cousin — “should finish their lives in jail.”

By Tuesday morning, Ms. Tamimi was in custody; the other two were arrested later. A hearing on her case is set for Sunday.

Many Israelis deplored the “impossible situation” facing their soldiers on the West Bank, while others debated whether the officer’s caution was a laudable act or a symptom of fear. Another soldier was confined this year for fatally shooting a Palestinian mugger who already lay bleeding on the ground.

“When the enemy sends their teenage daughters to smack you around, and you’re too afraid to defend yourself, you are no longer a soldier,” wrote David Zachary Sidman, a Times of Israel blogger. “You are a afraid robot who selects freedom over dignity.”

In an interview, the writer Yossi Klein Halevi said he had conflicted feelings about the brawl. “My first reaction was I was proud of the soldiers, but I was also uncertain: Is this going to invite more attacks, and more serious ones?” he said.

“Israelis were worried that this strength of the soldiers would be misperceived in the Arab world as weakness,” Mr. Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, added. “And when you see yourself as under durable siege, your greatest fear is the loss of prevention.”

Among Palestinians, the soldiers’ poise was problematic for various reasons.

“It gives people the idea that the occupation soldiers are humane in dealing with Palestinians and their children,” Rami Jonny, 32, a Gaza resident, wrote on a Ramallah news site. “Imagine if this girl was in an Arab country, and she hit a soldier in his face publicly, in the middle of the street.”

But other Palestinian activists said they assumed Ms. Tamimi’s fearlessness would prompt more West Bank residents to oppose the Israeli occupation.

“She represents a generation who are not afraid of soldiers,” said Issa Amro, a Hebron-based competitor of the occupation who preaches nonviolence.

The occupation “is trying to make the Palestinians give up,” he said, but Ms. Tamimi’s example contended for the opposite. “The majority of Palestinians are not active,” Mr. Amro said. “This shows that they should get over their fears and their weakness — especially the women.”

Though Ms. Tamimi’s arrest — in a night raid captured on video and publicized by the army — slaked a thirst for punishment on the Israeli side, the scene of the young woman being hauled away may have given Palestinians the clear-cut propaganda coup they had been opposed by the original confrontation. Ms. Tamimi, who remains behind bars, rapidly inspired a new social-media campaign: #FreeAhed.

“The people of Palestine and all free peoples in the world salute you, Ahed,” wrote Kathem Nasser on Rai Al-Youm, a news site based in London. “We kiss your hand in admiration.”

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