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Is Palestinian resistance going secular, feminist and authentic?

Jan 13,2018 - Last updated at Jan 13,2018

The detention of teenage Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi caused a stir on multiple levels. The feisty blonde activist challenged not only the Israeli occupation of Palestine and its violent oppression methods, but more importantly she raised questions about the “brand” of resistance in Palestine — among Palestinians trans-generationally in occupied Palestine and the Diaspora — as well as the relationship between feminism and Third World resistance and political activism.

I watched over the past few weeks the response to the detention of Ahed when she was caught on film slapping an Israeli soldier after her young cousin was shot with rubber bullets. Although her history of resistance is clearly heroic and brave, Ahed fell victim not only to her Israeli prison guards, but also to an immediately unexplained attack from mostly Palestinian critics who protested what they saw as an unfair selection of Ahed as a Palestinian symbol and champion when hundreds of Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons were ignored.

Concurrently there was silence from women’s movements or even feminist movements globally which we would have expected to rise in support of female Third World symbols of resistance against such a violent occupation. Articles appeared in some Western capitals asking why there was no global outcry a la Malala who received consistent support, including a Noble Prize, after being attacked by the Taliban in Afghanistan. But these were sporadic articles and in no way portrayed a general mood or developed into any global call for action.

I do not have definitive answers because those would require closer scrutiny and analysis as part of a methodological research project, but I do have a couple of thoughts on the two reactions that may contribute to a discussion on what I see as an emerging trend in Palestinian resistance.

Ahed is a beautiful fair skinned 16-year-old woman-to-be with crazy curly blonde hair. The imagery and brand under which you can categorise Ahed is a clear departure from the images of Palestinian resistance we have become accustomed to over the past couple of decades. These were mostly Islamic and Hamas-inspired, carried out by women in a hijab and bearded men with chants of Allah Akbar in the background — at least in retrofitted videos of the incidents or in TV clips transmitting the funerals of martyrs.  

In my opinion the outcry against Ahed was a political protest at the hint that a secular looking young woman with wild uncovered hair, short sleeves and Western dress could be allowed to replace the conservative Islamist “brand” and become the new brand of Palestinian resistance. Will other young women in Palestine now emulate her? Will Ahed now fire the imagination of trendy Westernised Arabs — including women — to overtake the screens from “Islamist” opposition activists?

I believe the outcry against Ahed’s selection as a Palestinian symbol of resistance including the calls for her to cover her hair, be more modest in her dress and the proposition that she was championed only because she was beautiful while making the rest of us feel guilty because “less attractive” Palestinian women prisoners who wear the hijab were not paid any attention by the media, is a politically driven and organised campaign. The aim of this counter-Ahed campaign is to subvert the possible emergence of a credible resistance brand that does not continue to feed into the credentials of Islamist movements as the only credible opposition and resistance effort in Palestine and by extension regionally.

The controversy around Ahed highlights, in my mind, a growing concern among Islamist movements that credible “secular” opposition is finally finding a solid footing and is organising itself into credible and popular movements. We only have to see the trend of successful actions such as the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement (BDS) which has now become globally influential, and initiatives that adopt cultural symbols of resistance such as Dabkeh (Palestinian line dance), dancing Kanafa street food vendors and campaigns reinstating the Palestinianism of authentic foods like hummus and falafel among many other young, modern and most often peaceful resistance initiatives. 

However, those were seen — or at least depicted — as mostly “diaspora” initiatives that lacked the authenticity and sacrifice of the on-the-ground resistance within the borders of Israeli-occupied Palestine, recently almost exclusively the remit of Islamist resistance movements. Ahed’s image, which was being circulated in the media globally, widened the reach of this new generation’s “secular” Palestinian resistance, challenged the Islamist framing of Palestinian resistance over the past couple of decades, and ultimately confirmed this new brand’s authenticity through brave and unrelenting human sacrifice.

In my opinion, therefore, the main audience and beneficiaries of the celebration of Ahed’s brand of resistance were the Palestinians themselves especially the younger generation — both within Palestine and in the Diaspora — who will be encouraged to visualise the separation between religion and resistance effort. Detractors, therefore, were politically motivated and aimed to undermine and discredit the rise of this brand of activism. 

But if we are going to accept that the secular brand and image of Palestinian resistance — which if we remember was how Palestinian resistance was inspired and organised into the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the 60s — was being resurrected through symbols like Ahed, why is she not being embraced by the West who — at least superficially — might see her to be more like them? 

If we scroll back to the examples I quoted before as evidence of a new brand of secular Palestinian resistance rooted in celebration of Palestinian culture including circles of Dabka and dancing Kanafa street vendors as well as peaceful resistance initiatives like the BDS, Ahed stands out as the symbol of authenticity and human sacrifice: Face-to-face resistance, bold, physical, confrontational and angry. 

This stance brings her type of resistance closer to Palestinians trans-generationally — in the diaspora and within the Palestinian territories — who are seeking a return to the separation between religion and Palestinian resistance or liberation effort. 

But at the same time the authenticity and physicality of this resistance, which worked to her advantage with secular and young Palestinians — created a layer of separation between her and the West. In the West this “type” of confrontational and physical resistance is equated with the “Islam-inspired terrorist movements” which are denigrated as patriarchal and anti-women.

Women movements in the West, having already framed their demands within clear and determined women empowerment frameworks and as champions of resistance to patriarchal models including those imposed by Islamist agendas, may be finding it difficult to identify with the contextual and resistance-focused approach of an arguably secular female figure like Ahed. 

The hope, of course, is that this is a temporary confusion and that a common ground can be found between the feminist women-liberation drive globally and resistance movements to foreign occupation such as that of the Palestine-Israeli conflict.

In conclusion, it is arguable that the resistance to Ahed Tamimi both at home and internationally was driven by political considerations larger and more impactful than those at play in a simpler story like that of Malala. While Malala presented a somewhat conservative image of moderate peaceful Islamist figure against violent extremist Islamist movement that is also patriarchal and oppressive of women, Ahed presented a secular yet “violent” form of resistance against an “occupier” in Arab minds but a “democracy” in Western eyes. The Ahed story does not fit existing molds for analysis but it might just signal a transformational change in the approach and perception of Palestinian resistance.



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81 users have voted.


The difference in thei international reception is based on the fact that Malala has class and dignity while Ahed comes off as a spoiled brat.

Resistance could never be labeled as Islamist or feminist in the context of Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Anyone lives on the Palestinian land has right to resist the inhumane Israeli occupation regardless of his/her faith,ideology or political and social background unless being an agent or a spy for Israel. For history, please read it carefully without prejudice to answer the question: why Palestine or the Middle East to be the body in which Israel-cancer should grow? It would not be that place if the majority of the region population were not Muslims who wear hijab because they follow their religion and practice the teachings of Islam which is the first enemy for those who established Israel.We should stop labeling and designating out collective resistance into opposing categories.


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