THE SOUND OF SILENCE
16-Year-Old Palestinian Activist Ahed Tamimi Would Not Talk. So the Israeli Interrogator Threatened — and Flirted
From the over-dramatized good cop, bad cop displays to creepy come-ons and then frightening threats, the just-released video shows the pressure put on the teenager.
Human rights advocates and supporters of Ahed Tamimi released footage of the jailed Palestinian activist’s chilling interrogation during a press conference in Ramallah on Monday. Tamimi, who is now only 17 years old, has become the latest icon of Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation. She has been sentenced to eight months in prison and a fine of nearly $1,500 as part of a plea bargain after her arrest for slapping an Israeli soldier.
The release of an edited version of the interrogation of Tamimi comes after The Daily Beast was shown the full 93-minute tape and published an exclusive report about it on April 1.
The 10 minute condensed version shows many of the key moments described in last week’s report. It illustrates clearly Tamimi’s resolve as she maintains her right to remain silent. From the over-dramatized good cop, bad cop displays to creepy and intimidating flirting and then frightening threats, the released video displays the immense pressure Tamimi was put under to break her silence. But she did not.
A two-minute version with English subtitles shows one of the interrogators, alluding to Tamimi’s fair hair and fair skin, demanding to know if she gets sunburned like “hamburger.” Again and again, the two-minute version reminds the viewer that Tamimi “remained silent.”
Born and raised in the West Bank village of Nabi Salah, Tamimi’s life has been defined by the encroachment of Israeli settlers taking her community’s land and the omnipresent rule of the Israeli military. Her family is at the heart of the village’s years of protest and both her parents have been jailed in the past for their activism. Here mother, Nariman, is in prison now for making a video of Ahed slapping the soldier.
Tamimi has grown up in the headlines and viral videos as a young girl in the midst of confrontations with Israeli soldiers during protests or arrest raids — images which often have inflamed Israeli nationalist anger.
At one point during an interrogation with the two overbearing male officers and no parents or attorneys allowed, the main interrogator, a military intelligence official in his late 20s or early 30s, starts telling the then 16 year old, “You have eyes like an angel.” Tamimi responds with a cold stare and continued silence.
In a scene from later in the session, the main interrogator starts issuing disturbing threats against Tamimi’s friends and family. “I don’t want to bring those children here,” the interrogator tells her in English, referring to cousins and others in the community whose names he has rattled off. As the interrogation winds down, with Ahed still silent, the interrogator takes a final desperate stab at breaking the teen with threats of violence upon those she’s closest to. “Think about it, OK?” he coaxes. “I don’t need you to speak, we know. They will suffer [in] this place.”
However, there are other important moments from the interrogation that are lost in the abbreviated videos. In the full interrogation you see these tactics repeated over and over again, throughout the questioning. You see Tamimi’s exhaustion in this, her third interrogation in a week, and watch the deep distress etched on her face as the efforts at intimidation intensify. In the shorter versions, you also miss Tamimi’s expression consistently, subtly mocking the men crudely trying to entice her to talk. And while the released 10-minute tape shows her melancholy when she is shown footage of her mother or threats are issued against those she’s close to, it misses her rekindling energy to resist at the end of the interrogation. In the full-length tape, as she is led out of the room at the end of her questioning, she casually grabs the sandwich she refused at the beginning and takes it without looking back.
Tamimi’s lawyer, Gabi Lasky, has filed a harassment complaint with Israel’s attorney general over the military interrogator’s treatment of the teen. She had previously filed a complaint with the police but was told they couldn’t investigate as he wasn’t one of their officers.
The filing is against “a person who presented himself as an officer of Army intelligence” who “told Ahed that if she doesn’t start speaking, he will start arresting members of her family,” said Lasky. The attorney noted that Ahed was subjected to unwanted, uncomfortable and overbearing instances of improper discussion about her looks. “Although she is only a sixteen year old young woman [at the time], she was interrogated with only two men present in the room… And this officer starts talking about her eyes and her hair,” she continues, noting that the interrogator was getting very close to Tamimi at that moment.
The Israeli military spokesperson’s office says that in “the last couple of days, a complaint filed by Ahed Tamimi's lawyer, with allegations of improper conduct by an IDF officer, was handed over from the Ministry of Justice to the IDF. The claims are being thoroughly examined.”
Tamimi was taken from her home in a predawn military raid in December after video went viral of her confronting, shouting at, and slapping an Israeli soldier who had recently shot her cousin in the head with a rubber bullet and temporarily put him in a coma. A storm of condemnations by Israeli politicians ensued, denouncing Tamimi for her aggressive behavior, and calls to punish the teen and her family followed, fueling the prosecution of the case.
Bassam Tamimi, Ahed’s father, says it is hard for him to watch the interrogation video because he knows what prison is like. He appears haunted not only by his own memories of incarceration, violence and deprivation, but thoughts that his wife and daughter are enduring the same fate. “I have passed through this process and that makes it worse for me, knowing that my daughter and wife are in interrogation or in jail.”
Sitting in a Ramallah café a few days after Ahed and Nariman were sentenced, Bassam was still shaken by what he saw his daughter endure in the video. “I want my daughter to be strong, as an activist, but worry for her because I’m a father,” he says.
Still adjusting to managing the house, sole parenting and visiting his loved ones in prison — on the rare opportunities he’s given permission — Bassem is nonetheless beaming when he talks about Ahed’s determination under duress.
“My main feeling [watching the video] was that I’m very proud of Ahed,” says her father. “She was very strong. I was surprised, but it made me sure that she is strong enough to be who she is.”