Days of Palestine

Sunday, February 5

Ahed Tamimi: One story, multiple narratives

Days of Palestine -

Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are among the most watched people on the planet. They're under the constant gaze of Israeli soldiers.

But in the Israeli media, Palestinians aren't as visible as you might think. And when they do attract news coverage, there's a perception issue. Too often they're framed as problems – security problems for the most part.

The relative absence of Palestinians in the Israeli media has an effect on Israelis, to the extent that many Israelis refuse to believe that an occupation that has lasted more than half a century even exists.

The story of a young Palestinian girl – and her confrontation with an Israeli soldier two months ago – has got people talking. Ahed Tamimi was filmed slapping a soldier outside her home in Nabi Saleh, in the Occupied West Bank.

The video of that confrontation triggered a media frenzy in Israel.

"The first reaction of the Israeli public, they loved this clip, and everyone shared it, saying look, we are very proud of the Israeli soldier for constraining himself," says satirist and TV host Assaf Harel. "Then something interesting happened and people started to watch it from a different angle. How do we let a little girl talk like that, threatening and hitting a soldier and we do nothing?"

In Israel, Tamimi's confrontation with the soldier is widely viewed as a provocation, a trap, designed to elicit a violent response that could be used to discredit Israel abroad. Which is why so much of the often hysterical media coverage of this case has focused on her appearance and how it plays to an international audience.

Tamimi doesn't fit the Israeli stereotype of what Palestinians look like and a number of prominent voices in the media argued she was being used in 'Pallywood' propaganda.

"They imagine Palestinian women are all oppressed, passive, veiled…always in the background. Ahed is the extreme opposite of that. She is young, has supposedly 'European' features. She reflects the image Israelis have of themselves – suddenly a Palestinian sabotages that self-image," says Honaida Ghanim, director of The Palestinian Forum of Israeli Studies.

"So how do they deal with it? They say 'look at her hair, look at her eyes, she can't be Palestinian, she's just acting Palestinian and all of this is just theatre'."

The one-dimensional coverage of Palestinians in the Israeli media is a problem that extends beyond Ahed Tamimi. News outlets know that Israeli audiences aren't interested in nuanced representations of Palestinian life under occupation.

"On TV broadcasts, you can track ratings minute by minute. And when a feature about Arabs does not present them in an entirely negative way, and actually even if it does present them in an entirely negative way, the ratings go down" says Oren Persico, a writer with The Seventh Eye.

"Commercial media outlets know that not only will you lose audience interest, you'll later receive complaints asking 'why are you even dealing with them? They're our enemies'."

The Listening Post's Tariq Nafi explores the case, the coverage and the incarceration of Ahed Tamimi.