Behind closed doors at the Israeli Ofer Military Base in the West Bank, Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian teenager who slapped an Israeli soldier, appeared in an Israeli military court Tuesday morning.
Minutes after Ahed was brought into the courtroom Tuesday, Military Judge Lt. Col. Menachem Lieberman told the crowd of journalists, diplomats and non-profit group representatives they could not stay. He made the trial private on the grounds that Ahed is a minor, though that status has been under debate.
“I don’t see how it’s in the minor’s interest that a 100 people are here all the time,” he said. “Her family can stay. Everyone else must leave.”
The curly-haired teenage girl, who is 17, has garnered harsh criticism and has bitterly divided public opinion. Human rights organizations, the European Union and United Nations have all voiced their concern.
Ahed’s Israeli lawyer Gaby Lasky protested today’s decision to remove observers from the court.
“My client’s arrest was filmed by the army and police, despite being a minor,” Lasky told the judge. “So I think the media should stay here now. It’s for her protection.”
“The court decided what is best for the court, and not what is good for Ahed,” Lasky said, according to The Associated Press. “The way to keep it out of everybody’s eyes is to close doors and not allow people inside the court for the hearing.”
Ahed’s fight has become symbolic of the next generation of Palestinian resistance, many Palestinians hail Ahed as a brave young fighter.
Some pro-Israel blogs have dubbed her “Shirley Temper,” and right-wing Israelis accuse her of using social media to distribute propaganda and discredit Israel. One Israeli deputy minister and former ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, even investigated whether the Tamimis were “a real family,” according to Haaretz.
Israel’s Culture Minister, Miri Regev weighed in before the trial.
“She is not a little girl, she is a terrorist,” Regev told the AP. “It’s about time they will understand that people like her have to be in jail and not be allowed to incite to racism and subversion against the state of Israel.”
Ahed is facing years in jail. She has been charged with twelve offenses, including assaulting security forces and incitement to violence.
She turned 17 two weeks ago in jail, appeared to be in good spirits today, according to journalists who were briefly in the courtroom. Her father, Bassem Tamimi, shouted: “Stay strong! Stay strong! You will win!”
“The military judge decided to have a closed session, justifying it because Ahed is a child,” her father Bassem told ABC News today. “But he forgets that you do not put children in jails, so if she is a child she must be free and out of jail.”
“The Israeli military occupation does not want diplomats, human right organizations and the press to see and witness the ugly face of the Israeli military occupation,” he continued. “This is why he kicked all the international observers out of the military court today.”
Representatives from the EU, Norway and Germany were all present Tuesday.
At her bail hearing in January, Human Rights Watch notes that Lasky argued that international human rights law permits the detention of children only as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. But the Israeli military judge ruled that he “did not think the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child should be viewed as absolute.”
On Monday, Human Rights Watch said “Tamimi’s pre-trial detention – 56 days and counting – is both a violation of international law and unnecessary. Her case raises concerns that Israel’s military justice system, which detains hundreds of Palestinian children every year, is incapable of respecting children’s rights.”
Amnesty International has also called for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to free Ahed, and the other 300 other Palestinian minors in Israeli jail cells. The group said that while in detention, “she endured aggressive interrogations, sometimes at night, and threats made against her family.”
Ahed is a well-known teenage activist, from a family of well-known activists in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank, which is occupied by Israel. The village has held weekly protests almost every Friday since 2009.
The incident for which she is on trial was captured in a now-viral video, shot and distributed by her family on December 14, 2017. An unarmed Ahed can be seen standing in her driveway facing two heavily armed Israeli soldiers. “Come on, get out,” she yells at the soldiers. “Get out of here, don’t stay here.”
The soldiers don’t budge, and she pushes one of the Israeli soldiers, then kicks him in the shins. She goes in again, this time with her right fist, hitting his shoulder. He deflects her. “Don’t touch me,” she screams in his face and reached up to slap him.
Just before the video was shot, her family says, Ahed had just learned that her 15-year-old cousin, Mohammed, was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier. He required intensive surgery that removed part of his skull in order to dislodge the rubber bullet.
Five days after the incident in her driveway, the Israeli military raided her house at 3 a.m. and released video of her arrest.
Lasky said Tuesday’s session ended after prosecutors read the indictment. She told reporters that she did not respond to the charges, and that the next hearing was scheduled for March 11. Ahed’s mother, Nariman Tamimi, is also being prosecuted alongside her daughter for the December 14th incident.
ABC News’ Nasser Atta reported from Ramallah and Molly Hunter reported from London.