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They Called Me A Lioness

A Palestinian Girl’s Fight for Freedom

By Ahed Tamimi and Dena Takruri

Penguin Random House, 2022,
Hardcover US$18.49, Kindle US$13.99
Reviewed by Dr. Michael James, PhD

“It is through the idealism of youth that man catches sight of truth.”
Dr. Albert Schweitzer
An early Zionist leader predicted that Palestinians would eventually acquiesce, claiming, “The old will die and the young will forget.” Not so. The lioness writes, “I’m only sixteen,” and “one of my earliest childhood memories is visiting my father in an Israeli prison.”
She was born into the military occupation of the West Bank, and this is the only life she has ever known. As a child, she played in streets and yards that were littered with remnants of bullets and explosives marked as made in the United States. At age nine, she joined the weekly protest marches in her village of Nabi Saleh, where her childhood was characterized by “shootings and arrests of my loved ones for unarmed resistance against our occupiers.”
The lioness is Ahed Tamimi, whose life has been a continuous struggle because “as Palestinians, simply by residing in our homes, we practice a form of resistance.” She credits her parents for modeling nonviolent civil disobedience, teaching her to resist without hate, and introducing her to collective political action. “Even though I was a child, I understood that my life had to be devoted to a cause greater than myself.”
Ahed asserts that the natural reaction to life under occupation is resistance: “Daring to defend what was ours was not a crime.” She reminds the world that “as a population living under occupation, we are granted by international law the legal right to resist through armed struggle.” With the poetic spirit of a warrior who has been limited to hurling stones, she asserts, “our strength is in our stones… a stone is not a weapon. It has long been a symbol of defense in Palestinian consciousness and mythology.”
Inspired by Soweto schoolchildren who protested South African apartheid, Ahed and her young comrades in the streets would dance the traditional dabka, wave the Palestinian flag, chant revolutionary slogans, and clap in unison. “Often, the other children and I marched at the very front of the procession.” She first rose to prominence in the Palestine liberation movement when she was mentioned by Ben Ehrenreich who, in The Way To The Spring: Life and Death in Palestine, chronicles how the weekly protest marches in Nabi Saleh grew into a “sophisticated international protest movement.”
Arrested in 2017 for slapping an Israeli soldier, Ahed explains: “Unless you’ve experienced a foreign army occupying your land, imprisoning your parents, killing your loved ones, and shooting you and virtually everyone you’re related to, you’ll have a hard time understanding the rage with which I was overcome – seeing the entitlement of these soldiers as they walked around our property like they owned it.”
She spent eight months in an Israeli prison, where she experienced “priceless sisterhood.” At her trial, when expected to stand, confess, and renounce her action, she instead told the judge of the Israeli military court, “As long as you’re occupying our land…I’ll slap ten soldiers…I’ll even slap you, if I have to, even if I have to live in prison.”
The slap was captured in a photo that went viral on the internet and rightly shamed Israel, especially when a Likud Party politician pathetically moaned that “a slap is terrorism.” The photo brought fame to Ahed, leading to comparisons with Rosa Parks, Joan of Arc, and slain Gazan paramedic Razan al-Najjar. Ahed may have lashed out with that slap, but she feels concern for Israeli soldiers: “The occupation has brainwashed them…It threatens to rob them of their humanity, and their conscience.”
Ahed calls for one inclusive state. “Zionism has taken our country, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims have lived for centuries, and made it a country that is ruled by and for Jews alone.” She denounces Zionist claims to “the right to take other people’s land, to push them out. And I can’t accept this. No Palestinian can accept this. No human should accept this,” and asserts that “[we must] boycott, isolate, and pursue Israel as a war criminal.”
The lioness is young, but her book is moving and powerful. She calls upon the world to awaken and share her outrage at Israel’s crimes against humanity.

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