by Oliver Holmes and Sufian Taha
Day after her release, teenage Palestinian activist says she hopes to become lawyer and lead cases against Israel
The teenage Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi has said she used her eight months in prison as an opportunity to study international law and hopes to one day lead cases against Israel in international courts.
“God willing, I will manage to study law,” the 17-year-old from Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank told the Guardian a day after her . “I will present the violations against the Palestinians in criminal courts. And to try Israel for it and to be a big lawyer, and to return rights to my country.”
Tamimi, who rose to global prominence as a child living under military occupation, said she and other Palestinians in her all-female prison unit would sit for hours and learn legal texts. “We managed to transform the jail into a school,” she said.
To an outcry from rights groups, the teenager was arrested in December after on camera outside her home. The soldiers had been deployed at one of Nabi Saleh’s weekly protests, where residents have thrown stones at troops who have responded with teargas, arrests and, at times, live ammunition.
She later accepted a deal in court to plead guilty to assault, incitement and two counts of obstructing soldiers.
“The experience of being arrested was really hard. As much as I try, I cannot describe it,” Ahed said. But she added: “This experience added value to my life, maybe it made me more mature. More conscious.”
Her trial was held behind closed doors. Concerns about her treatment in detention were raised after a video emerged in which a male Israeli interrogator threatened the then 16-year-old, commenting on her body and “eyes of an angel”.
Ahed said her treatment was not unusual. “It was not the first, and it was not a coincidence. This is their style of interrogating,” she said.
Her case has highlighted the arrest and detention of what local human rights groups say are more than 300 Palestinian minors.
Ahed said her experience in jail helped with her ambitions to become an international lawyer. “For example, I was under interrogation. There were violations against me. International law says that this should not happen to me,” she said, adding that in another life she would have trained to be a professional footballer.
Nabi Saleh is populated almost exclusively by members of her extended family and is a focus of the anti-occupation movement. Images or videos of Ahed throughout her childhood, often grappling with or staring down soldiers during village protests, have gone viral.
After gaining worldwide attention, the Tamimi family say their daughter has been offered scholarships to study at a university abroad but that she is still deciding.
The Palestinian government has launched , including for alleged war crimes and what it says is a system of governance that amounts to apartheid. Israel has vehemently denied the allegations.
Ahed’s family home is filled with activists and Palestinian officials, who sit drinking coffee in small paper cups on plastic stools outside. Within hours of her release, the teenager met the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. Two Italian artists were arrested for painting a mural of Ahed’s face of the Israel separation barriers that divides the Palestinian territories.
Her international recognition infuriated the Israeli government, Ahed said. “They are afraid of the truth. If they were not wrong, they would not be afraid of the truth. The truth scares them. And I managed to deliver this truth to the world. And of course, they’re afraid how far I reached. They always fear the truth, they are the occupier, and we are under occupation.”
Some in Israel believe the focus on and arrest of the teenager was a self-defeating move for the country, while others have praised the soldiers’ apparent restraint and have accuse Nabi Saleh residents of provocations.
Ahed has no regrets about the day she hit the solider, a man she believed had earlier that day shot her 15-year-old cousin in the head with a rubber bullet during a clash.
She was reunited with her cousin upon release and he was at her home on Monday, a large scar marking his face.
But fame has also taken a toll on a girl who was seen as a local hero before she was in secondary school. “I feel proud that became a symbol for the Palestinian cause in order to deliver the message of Palestinian to the whole world. Of course, it is a heavy burden on me. It’s true; it’s a big responsibility. But I am totally confident that I am for of it.”
For now, she hopes for a little rest and to decide her next steps, still enjoying the high of leaving prison. “At last, I saw the sky without a fence. I can walk on the street without handcuffs. I can see the stars, the moon. I haven’t seen them for a long time and now I am with my family.”
Yet her 22-year-old brother, Wa’ed Tamimi, is in prison awaiting a sentence for his involvement in confrontations with soldiers. And the conflict is never far away. An Israeli military outpost and settlement can be seen from the garden where she speaks.
“I’m not the victim of the occupation,” Ahed said. “The Jew or the settler child who carries a rifle at the age of 15, they are the victims of the occupation. For me, I am capable of distinguishing between right and wrong. But not him. His view is clouded. His heart is filled with hatred and scorn against the Palestinians. He is the victim, not me. I always say I am a freedom fighter. So I will not be the victim.”