The viral rise of Ahed Tamimi to international stardom as the Resistance’s latest hero is to a large extent due to the interest that various parties have in diverting attention from the politically inconvenient fact that Hamas’ Third Intifada never really took off.
Ahed Tamimi, the teenage Palestinian activist who became famous for slapping an Israeli soldier, was arrested in a predawn raid on her home last week in a case that’s since attracted considerable international media attention, made even all the more controversial by the Israeli Education Minister’s suggestion that this legal minor serve a life sentence for her supposed crime. Israeli journalist Ben Caspit fanned the flames of outrage by insinuating that she should be raped in the dark as punishment. Both of these individuals’ reactions are utterly reprehensible, and the Resistance Community that’s opposed to Israel’s occupation of Palestine has seized the moment in capitalizing on these comments as proof of the appalling brutality that Palestinians regularly experience. Moreover, it’s natural that they’d hold this girl up as a hero and celebrate her act of defiance, especially considering that Hamas has declared a Third Intifada in response to Trump’s unilateral recognition of the entirety of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the subsequent killing of Palestinian protesters since that time.
Activism vs. Infowar
That said, while it’s understandable that there’s so much attention being paid to the highly (and rightly) publicized reaction of the Israeli Education Minister and journalist to Tamimi’s arrest, it’s comparatively more difficult to comprehend why her obviously staged videos are now going viral. Nobody doubts the sincerity of her commitment to liberating Palestine from occupation, nor the genuineness of those who support her all across the world, but the fact is that none of her videos appear spontaneous and they all look like she’s putting on an act for the cameras that she’s clearly aware are filming her. Every conflict includes a degree of information warfare, the Israeli-Palestinian one more so than most, and in this case Tamimi’s activism is designed to harness this trend in raising as much awareness about her people’s cause as possible, so much so that it appears as though she and her unseen filmmakers are deliberately engaging in perception management techniques in order to maximize the effectiveness of their messaging.
Israel regularly commits crimes against the Palestinians, and it can be argued that its very state-level political existence is an enduring one that the original inhabitants of that land and their global supporters haven’t forgotten for a single day since it was first declared in 1948, but having a legal minor proactively initiate premediated provocations against its forces with the intent of using their reaction as infowar ammunition is a questionable practice that could inadvertently backfire if the soldiers lose their cool and attack her or other civilians. To be clear, all people have the right to resist occupation, especially the Palestinians, but responsible tactics need to be employed that don’t unnecessarily endanger children and non-participating civilians. Tamimi isn’t just a victim of Israel, but she’s also a victim of her parents and other filmmaking adults who are exploiting her zeal for infowar purposes, recklessly encouraging her to put herself and those around her in danger in order to get the “perfect shot”.
The Path To Stardom
There is nothing spontaneous about her demonstrations, they’re all evidently done with a “camera crew” in tow, even if it’s just as simple as someone holding a smartphone to film her. This much is plain to see after watching any of her videos, but even so, that hasn’t stopped people from lauding her bravery in doing what she does. After all, she’s indeed putting her life on the line through her dangerous activism in support of a cause that over a billion people hold dear to their hearts, even if she’s constantly cheating death by being “lucky enough” not to provoke the wrong American-style Israeli soldier who wouldn’t hesitate to throw her in a headlock, pepper spray her, and then choke her to death. Though choreographed on her part (but by no means on the Israeli one), what she does is seen is commendable to many, which partly explains her newfound fame, especially since a lot of it is due to the despicable threats that were directed at her afterwards by the Israeli Education Minister and journalist.
The Erdogan Connection
It doesn’t matter to her supporters that she’s just the latest in a long line of viral activists whose political videos are demonstrably staged, all that’s important to them is that she’s theirs and she’s succeeded in raising awareness about their collective cause, even if she and her backers are using infowar perception management techniques to do so. “The ends justify the means”, as the clichéd saying goes, and it’s surprisingly of no consequence to many members of the Resistance Community that she was once feted as Turkish President Erdogan’s guest of honor just like Bana al-Abed infamously was. The chief difference of course is that Tamimi actually puts her life in danger while Bana never did so, but they’re nevertheless similar infowar instruments, albeit for different conflicts in spite of their shared commonality in being patronized at one time by the same foreign leader. This curious observation leads to the crucial point about why so much attention is being paid to her activism.
Staged journalism is relied upon whenever the reality of a given situation doesn’t correspond with the political narrative, which in Bana’s case was that the Syrian Arab Army was wantonly killing “peace-loving” and “pro-democratic” civilians in Aleppo. Because this objectively wasn’t the case, she and her handlers had to resort to waging an infowar in attempting to convince the world otherwise via viral video content and a slick marketing campaign. Tamimi doesn’t have the extensive network of global institutional and “NGO” support behind her work like Bana does, and it was only after her latest footage, subsequent arrest, and the calls for the life imprisonment and rape of this legal minor that she skyrocketed to worldwide fame, but the attention given to her well-known video served the purpose of promoting a similarly artificial narrative that the Third Intifada had taken off when it actually hadn’t in fact done so. This isn’t to draw a normative and moral equivalency between Bana and Tamimi’s causes, but just to strike a structural comparison between the two.
A Convenient Distraction
Palestinians have been killed while protesting so it’s understandable why some of them are too scared to participate in such events, but by and large the Third Intifada doesn’t seem to have the popular support that the First and Second ones did, though the scandal surrounding Tamimi is being framed in a way to distract from this politically inconvenient reality. Instead of asking why there aren’t thousands of Tamimis, people are satisfied that there was at least one who was brave enough to slap an Israeli soldier on camera. For whatever the reason may be – whether it’s conflict fatigue, reluctant “acceptance” of their occupied status, or something else – the Palestinians aren’t as enthusiastic about the Third Intifada as many of their international supporters would like them to be, which is why Tamimi is being held up as a noble example of resistance despite her staged videos.
There are undoubtedly some who would like more Palestinian youth to follow her lead, though it’s inevitable that with time one or another Israeli soldier will snap and do something regrettable, but it’s precisely that prospective crime which could then be virally spread across social media in encouraging more resistance and finally kick-starting the long-awaited Third Intifada that Palestine’s foreign supporters so desperately want. The concept of having a small vanguard of individuals engage in activities that spiral into a larger people’s war is reminiscent of Che Guevara’s approach to warfare that has since been termed “foquismo”, one of the main points of which is that “it is not necessary to wait until all conditions for making a revolution exist; the revolution can create them.” The same strategy is apparent in whichever conflict choreographed political videos proliferate, be it in Ukraine, Syria, or even Palestine, though of course this doesn’t imply that they share the same normative-moral legitimacy or lack thereof.
All that the presence of these infowar instruments indicates is that there are difficulties in either getting the population to participate in the given campaign and/or cultivating foreign support for the cause (whether in general or along a narrative tangent such as “Assad committing atrocities in Aleppo”), hence the utilization of these tools for that end and the promotion of their actors as heroes. This approach is being employed in Palestine right now because the people aren’t responding to Hamas and its foreign supporters’ calls for a Third Intifada, which is why some forces have sought to use Tamimi’s experience to breathe new life into this relatively stillborn campaign. Perception management techniques don’t inherently delegitimize a moment because they’re a standard tool of any conflict, though their implementation can at times raise questions about the true level of local support for the cause.
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