On January 31, Ahed Tamimi, a Palestinian activist, turned 17 years old behind bars in an Israeli prison. Almost 8,000 miles away, in Oakland, Rania Salem, another 17-year-old Palestinian activist from San Francisco, joined a rally to celebrate Tamimi’s birthday and demand her release.
Tamimi could face 10 years in prison after being charged with aggravated assault and 11 other charges. On December 18, a video of her slapping two Israeli soldiers went viral. That same day, her cousin Mohamed Tamimi, who was demonstrating against the Trump administration’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, had been shot in the head with a rubber bullet. Ahed Tamimi was detained the following day.
Since then, she has been away her home at Nabi Saleh. Rania Salem, who was in Oakland rallying to support her, has been far from Palestine all her life. “Both my parents were from Hebron, but they had to flee because their home was taken,” she said. Salem was born in San Francisco, but this summer wants to go for to Palestine the first time. “It is not fair that I didn’t grow up in our homeland. … I am so disconnected now, but I want to understand where I come from,” she said. Today she organizes rallies with Arab Youth Organizing, a group that seeks to empower young people and low-income families.
“As an activist, it is really crazy to see that Ahed may be locked up now for 10 years. She is going to be missing the best years of her life. She won’t get out until she is 27,” said Salem. “That’s when you go the college, you meet the love of your life and get married.”
Alongside Salem, dozens of people rallied in front of Oakland’s Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building. They had been called upon by Palestine Action Network, which is made of Bay Area-based organizations including the Arab Resource & Organizing Center, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and the Jewish Voice for Peace, among others. The location of the rally was deliberate, said Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, which works to empower the Arab community. “We are at the federal building because apartheid in Israel wouldn’t be possible had not been for US economic and political support,” Kiswani said.
“We hold the US government accountable for allowing Israel to expand the settlements and its military to imprison young and old people in Palestine,” Kiswani continued.
According to the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, as of December, 2017, there were 350 Palestinian minors detained in two Israeli prisons and detention centers. The most common charge on which they are held is stone throwing.
Kiswani, a Palestinian born in the Bay Area, found a lot of similarities between what is happening in Palestine and what is happening in the “brown and black communities in the US,” referring to the ways in which she feels people are targeted by authorities and unfairly imprisoned. “All of those things mirror what is happening on the ground in Palestine,” she said.
“Occupation over there hits us over here,” said Berkeley councilmember Cheryl Davila, who took the microphone at the rally to express her admiration for the “strength, the power and the courage” of the Tamimi family. She stayed at their house in the West Bank in 2015. That same year, as part of the Human and Welfare Community Action Commission in Berkeley, Davila tried, unsuccessfully, to propose that the town divest from Israel. “I was removed the night before the resolution was to be voted on,” she said, referring to a decision by then-Councilman Darryl Moore. She said she felt “silenced.”
Oakland protester Kate Raphael from Queers Against Israeli Apartheid said she identified with the young Ahed Tamimi. “I have also spent my birthday in prison, and it’s not fun,” Raphael said. It was in the 1980s, when she ended up in jail after demonstrating against the development of nuclear weapons.
Raphael also happens to know Israeli prisons. “I was arrested in the Palestinian village Bil’in and I spent a month in two Israeli prisons before I was deported,” she said.
At the end of the rally, demonstrators held mini cakes and sang “Happy Birthday” to Tamimi in English, Arabic and Spanish.
In a phone conversation with Oakland North, Ahed Tamimi’s father, Bassem Tamimi, who is also an activist, expressed gratitude for the rally in solidarity with his daughter. But he had mixed feelings about her becoming an icon. “I feel very proud of her. She might be representing a new generation that is fighting for freedom in Palestine,” he said. However, he emphasized that he felt it wasn’t a choice, saying, “Occupation is forcing our children to lose their childhood.”
“We just want to celebrate her next birthday at home with us,” he said.