by Jonathan Ofir
The video of Ahed Tamimi slapping Israeli soldiers, which last week caused heated debate in Israeli society concerning the soldiers supposed lack of response, or ‘restraint’ as it were, needs no lengthy introduction these days. The discussion was rather exclusively about the slap, and the humiliation – of the Israeli soldiers, that is. Should they have reacted violently? Was their supposed ‘restraint’, ‘good for the Jews or bad for the Jews’? Was it good to be such a ‘most moral army’ or was it counterproductive to Israel’s image and deterrence?
In this writing, I am going to talk about another slap that has hardly featured in any coverage of this case – a hard slap that was given to Ahed Tamimi by the ‘restrained’ soldier, just 5 seconds before her now-famous slap back to the soldier from Ahed. In a 3-minute video posted on Shehab Agency Facebook page, one can witness this slap from the soldier at 0:59. It comes after some rather relatively gentle pushing and demands from Ahed for the soldiers to go away – the soldiers who are occupying her family lawn, that is, the force which had just shot her cousin Mohammed in the face and put him in coma. There is even another slap at Ahed from the soldier at 0:23, a quicker and less forceful one, which Ahed hardly reacts to at the point. But it is the forceful slap in 0:59 that causes Ahed to go livid, where she manages to slap the the soldier 5 seconds later.
That moment, at 1:04 of the video, has become the ‘famous’ slap by Ahed to the soldier. Now, many might be wondering, why hasn’t this slap, by the soldier to Ahed, featured more prominently? Why have we hardly noticed it? Why, and how, has it drowned in the mainstream narrative of the supposedly ‘restrained’ soldiers?
The answer lies probably and mostly in Israeli propaganda, known as Hasbara, and in the way in which Israeli media has willingly picked up the story – which was subsequently taken up with limited critical examination by international media. The new framing of the story had to focus exclusively upon Ahed’s response, and that response was to be stripped of all causes – in order to be framed as a provocation which was solely construed in order to create bad PR for Israel.
I thus wish to provide an analytical background for how this omission has occurred, why it has occurred, as well as explain why the soldier’s slap and its general omission from discussion, are about a grand societal pathology of denial. Let it be added, that Ahed was not just standing there when she was hit. She was attempting to get the soldiers to leave, she was being physical with them in putting her hands on them occasionally, pushing them lightly, slapping their arms – all that happens – but it doesn’t get very aggressive until when she is slapped at 0:59. It is then that Ahed first kicks the legs of the soldier and then slaps him. It is possible to suggest, from the angle of filming, that the soldier is possibly responding to Ahed’s putting of aher hand on his shoulder, and that he attempts to remove her arm – but his action is so forceful, that it cannot be called a mere ‘removing’ of her arm. It is a forceful lashing from the soldier.
Anyhow, I am not here to forensically evaluate where the soldier exactly hit Ahed when he did. I am here to question why that hit was so widely omitted from the story.
We can begin to see the pathology in the video tailoring of pro-Israeli sites. Now, if you search for “Ahed Tamimi video” on Google for example, the first hits of an actual video will be tailored ones, by pro-Israel organisations. At the top I get a “Legal Insurrection” video of 1:12 minutes. It is conditioned by text saying that “the Tamimi clan is notorious for sending their children to confront Israeli police and soldiers for the cameras, hoping for a reaction that will create a viral video”, that “in this video from 2017, Ahed Tamimi, who has been exploited for videos since early childhood, hits and kicks Israeli soldiers, who do not react”. The video edits the mentioned slapping of Ahed out.
Next actual video search hit: A Stand With Us video. Here they elevate the level of mockery. It starts with the title “BDS fake films presents”…”She waits for the camera to record”…”and starts a fake fight” etc. – “starring Ahed Tamimi AKA Shirley Temper”. Then comes the short ‘slap’ clip, where the first slapping by the soldier is edited out. It ends with further mockery: “Available in your inciting social media”, with small print, including “as soon as the camera turn on [sic], she provokes IDF soldiers, hoping they would lose their temper”.
It is not particularly surprising that such Israel-apologia organizations dominate the social media like this. As the Israeli Seventh Eye has been uncovering recently, the Israeli Ministry of Strategic affairs under Gilad Erdan is also a ministry of Hasbara, which has been infusing millions of shekels into various organizations worldwide in an attempt to bolster Israel’s image through supposedly independent organizations. This also includes Israeli media such as Yediot Aharonot – the same media which hosted an anti-BDS conference last year, the same media which was ready and rolling yesterday, when Israeli lawmaker Oren Hazan (Likud) got on an ICRC bus of Gazan Palestinian families visiting relatives in Israeli prison, calling them “dogs”, “human scum” and “beasts”. As the Seventh Eye’s Itamar Benzaquen notes, “the relationship between the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Yedioth Ahronoth is only part of a much broader, well-funded campaign: in June and July of 2017 the ministry spent nearly NIS 7 million ($2 million) on spreading its messaging to the public in Israel and abroad. That is larger than any of the other campaigns that have been exposed by The Seventh Eye in recent years.”
But isn’t Israeli mainstream media more critical than that, you may ask?
Three days ago +972 Magazine published an exquisite article by Lisa Goldman titled “Nabi Saleh is where I lost my Zionism”. Goldman had been reporting on site from the West Bank for four years before she came to Nabi Saleh, and then she spent several months there covering the weekly Friday protests. Referring to the recent Ahed Tamimi case, Goldman writes:
“The Israeli media has, for the most part, promoted the army’s narrative about the incident — of a restrained and mature soldier who dealt admirably with a difficult and stressful situation involving enemy actors.”
Her article features a segment from Yaron London’s primetime magazine program on channel 10 (the 9-minute segment can be viewed in article). It features Or Heller, the station’s military affairs correspondent, and Jonathan (Yonatan) Pollak, a veteran anti-occupation activist. Whilst rewarding London with the description of “an intelligent and educated man who does, I am sure, identify as a liberal”, Goldman nonetheless notes that he “mirrors the perspective of the army”:
The conversation between the three men is salutary because it provides real insight into the mentality of mainstream Israeli society. First we hear Or Heller, an experienced military affairs correspondent, repeating the army’s narrative. He expresses pride in the soldiers, makes the claim that the Tamimi family provoked the confrontation as a means of creating an anti-Israeli propaganda video, and asserts that the soldiers were only in the vicinity to prevent Palestinian residents from throwing rocks.
Yaron London, an intelligent and educated man who does, I am sure, identify as a liberal, fails to question Heller’s narrative. Both men are completely focused on the challenge those unarmed adolescent girls supposedly present to “their” soldiers, rather than on the actual violence that those soldiers visit upon the village week after week.
Jonathan Pollak was in Nabi Saleh when the incident occurred. Watch as he calmly provides the context, and note how shocked Heller and London are when Pollak refers to “your” army — rather than “our” army. (Pollak refused to serve, which is a radical act in Israel).
It is further worth noting, that the military affairs correspondent Heller, expressed “enormous pride” at the soldiers’ ‘restraint’, saying that they acted “intelligently and correctly”:
“Intelligently”, because “to smack the butt of a rifle in a 15-year old girl’s head is not very smart” (actually the English translation there omits the “butt of the rifle” and just says “smack”, and “not very smart” is translated to “pathetic”); and “intelligent”, because the soldiers understood that “this whole event was not a military event, but rather a media event”.
So Heller is actually suggesting that a “normal” response (albeit not the “very smart” one) would, or could easily be, hitting Ahed with the butt of a rifle – which could actually smash her skull. This is mistranslated, so it looks a bit more benign for the Goyim. A smack – well that could just be a little slap, right? And that’s what already happened anyway. The “intelligent” part is, it would seem, avoiding doing such things when being filmed. Like Ben Caspit really, who wrote that “to keep one’s restraint in this impossible situation is far more difficult than applying force, especially when the bitter enemy in front of you is three girls who do everything to get beaten up, knowing fully well that any laying of a hand by armed combatants upon supposedly innocent girls will serve as a deadly propaganda weapon in the endless war fought for hearts on social media.” It’s all about doing it in the dark and when there are no cameras – that’s the “intelligent” part…
London, with his liberal-Zionist schmaltz, notes that he has a grandson serving there, and asks himself, “I thought to myself what I would do if I were there – and I’m not sure”. Heller asks London: “What would you do, Yaron?”. London says first that he doesn’t know. Heller literally asks London “would you shove the butt of a rifle into a girl of 15?” (this is then egregiously mistranslated to “if you got punched in the face by a 15-year old girl”) to which London finally answers: “I don’t know whether my nervous system would have handled it” (this is mistranslated to “I don’t know if I could have handled it”).
This expression is Israeli jargon for going amok. It’s a bit like what ‘leftist’ journalist Ben Caspit wrote, that “I, for example, if I were to encounter that situation, I would have long ago been in detention until end of procedures”. In other words, Caspit was saying he would run amok on the girls to a degree that would get him arrested. That’s what he’s indirectly suggesting would be ‘normal’, because he would do it…
Now, during this magazine program, the video clip of Ahed Tamimi slapping the soldier runs in the background. It appears in loop three times throughout the debate. All three times, the slap of the soldier is edited out. The sequence begins precisely 1 second later, just after Ahed was slapped. This becomes a background semi-conscious conditioning for the Israeli audience.
But why is this omitted slap important? First of all, we can see how Ahed’s slap to the soldier was important, critically important, for the Israeli public. It represents a defiance that ‘boils the blood’ and ‘turns the stomach’ of so many – even, according to the ‘leftist’ Ben Caspit, it did that to all Israelis. So why is the slap from the soldier not important? Because it confuses the ‘restraint’ narrative. Even if it were shown, it would be reducing the soldier’s act (slapping Ahed) to the level of a petty fight with a 16-year old girl, and that would perhaps be further humiliating for the Israeli public. It was better to run with Ahed’s slap to the soldier, so that this could manufacture consent for the ‘price’ Ahed would later pay. If the soldiers are portrayed as ‘moral’ and full of ‘restraint’, then Ahed’s image as a ‘provocateur’ is strengthened. But this is more than just about a slap here and a slap there. This is about denial on a grand scale. The whole violence of the occupation needs to be denied, for Israelis to feel good about themselves and their liberal, nearly “superhuman restraint” as Caspit would phrase it. If there is no background – no occupation, no violent crackdown on demonstrations, no shooting of a boy in the head, no jumping of the fence and no occupation of the family lawn, and finally no slap from a soldier – then Ahed Tamimi’s response is just a ‘provocation’.
As Orly Noy wrote in +972 Magazine, “The two soldiers may have acted according to their consciences in refusing to beat Ahed Tamimi, but the army in which they serve later broke into the Tamimi home in the middle of the night to arrest Ahed, and then arrested her mother when she accompanied her daughter to the police station. In other words, regardless of their best intentions, their encounter with the Tamimis began with violence and ended with violence. From the moment they put on their uniform, their ethical sensibilities ceased to be a factor.”
That slap from the soldier is, in itself, a small thing in relation to the grand, systemic violence enacted upon the Tamimis, Nabi Saleh and Palestinians in general. So the slap from a soldier on top of that, is adding insult to injury. One could argue that it’s not the issue in itself. But if Ahed Tamimi’s slap which she delivers to the soldier in direct response is so important, then why is the soldier’s slap so unimportant?
The soldier’s slapping of Ahed is arguably just as important as Ahed’s slapping of him. But Israelis don’t want to know about it, or think about it too much. Because such a slapping of a Palestinian is so insignificant for them. After all, it would have been pretty normal to smack a rifle butt to her head, why the big fuss? But Ahed’s slap to a soldier, that we cannot forget. For that she will pay forever.
PS In response to my 2nd article on Caspit and his backpedaling, Annie Robbins commented:
“[I]t is as if they think palestinians have no normal emotions. can you imagine if a palestinian entered a settlement after shooting an israeli child, or a settler child, in the head? the people showing restraint here, are without a doubt the tamimi’s. because under similar circumstances, with the perps reversed, a settler family would have greeted the palestinians not by slapping them, but by killing them.”
Indeed, a few months ago, in response to a murder of three settlers in Halamish by a Palestinian, lawmaker Oren Hazan said on video that if it was up to him, he would “enter the terrorist’s home last night, take him and his family with him and execute them all.”
But Hazan’s genocidal incitement has largely been forgotten and forgiven, like Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s genocidal advocacy to kill “little snakes” (Gazan children) or medic/killer Elor Azarya’s support for genocide (and his parents’ support too). Those are just details, let’s move on – Hazan is just a loudmouth, the court already called Azarya a “positive personality” and a “normative person until his current complication”, Shaked is already Justice Minister, no less… but never forget Ahed’s slap. The price for that one is endless.