A Palestinian teenager who was sent to prison for slapping and kicking Israeli soldiers has returned home to a hero’s welcome after being released.
Ahed Tamimi, 17, and her mother, Nariman Tamimi, were greeted with banners, cheers and Palestinian flags as they entered their home village of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank.
Ahed was arrested in December after she slapped two Israeli soldiers outside her family home.
Her mother filmed the incident and posted it on Facebook, where it went viral and instantly turned Ahed into a symbol of resistance to Israel’s half-century-old military rule over the Palestinians.
Her supporters see a brave girl who struck two armed soldiers in frustration after learning that Israeli troops had seriously wounded a 15-year-old cousin, shooting him in the head from close range with a rubber bullet during nearby stone-throwing clashes.
In Israel, however, she is seen by many as a provocateur, an irritation or a threat to the military’s deterrence policy.
Israel treated her actions as a criminal offence, indicting her on charges of assault and incitement. Her eight-month sentence was the result of a plea deal.
In Nabi Saleh, supporters welcomed Ahed home with Palestinian flags planted on the roof of her home. Hundreds of chairs were set up for wellwishers in the courtyard.
“The resistance continues until the occupation is removed,” she said on her return. “All the female prisoners are steadfast. I salute everyone who supported me and my case.”
From her home, Ahed headed for a visit to the grave of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. She laid a wreath and recited a prayer from the Koran, and was then taken with her family to a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah.
“I will continue this path and I hope everyone will,” she said. “The prisoners are fine and we hope the struggle for their release continues.”
Her father, Bassem Tamimi, said he expects her to take a lead in the struggle against Israeli occupation but she is also weighing up college options.
He said she completed her high school exams in prison with the help of other prisoners who taught the required material. He said she initially hoped to attend a West Bank university but has also received scholarship offers from abroad.
Since 2009, residents of Nabi Salah have staged regular anti-occupation protests that often ended with stone-throwing clashes.
Ahed has participated in such marches from a young age, and has had several highly publicised run-ins with soldiers. One photo shows the then 12-year-old raising a clenched fist towards a soldier towering over her.
Mr Abbas, after meeting Ahed, called her “a symbol for the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence”.
“The popular and peaceful style of struggle that Ahed Tamimi and her village and nearby villages have been practising proves to the world that our people will remain steadfast in this land, defending it no matter how much needs to be sacrificed,” he said.
Ahed was 16 when she was arrested and turned 17 in custody. Her case has trained a spotlight on the detention of Palestinian minors by Israel, a practice that has been criticised by international rights groups. Some 300 minors are currently being held, according to Palestinian figures.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians are increasingly disillusioned about efforts to establish a state in those territories after more than two decades of failed negotiations with Israel.