A teenage Palestinian protester filmed slapping and kicking two soldiers outside her home has appeared before an Israeli military court to face various charges including assaulting security forces, incitement and throwing stones.
Ahed Tamimi, who turned 17 in jail last month, arrived on Tuesday morning for the first day of what could be a months-long trial, in what has become a symbolic case in the battle for international public opinion.
The judge ordered a closed-door hearing and ejected a large group of journalists who had gathered at the Ofer military base, despite a request by Tamimi’s lawyer for the media to be able to observe proceedings.
Tamimi’s supporters say the incident in December occurred soon after she discovered Israeli troops had seriously wounded her 15-year-old cousin, who was shot in the head with a rubber bullet during a stone-throwing clash.
Arrested in the middle of the night and since denied bail, Tamimi could face years in prison for what prosecutors argue was a criminal offence. She faces 12 charges, some of which date back to 2016.
Tamimi’s father, Bassem, said on Tuesday that he arrived at trial “with no good expectations, because this a military court, and it’s part of the Israeli military occupation”.
Some of Israel’s critics have said the case epitomises its brutal approach half a century after its forces captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
Tamimi comes from the village of Nabi Saleh, where regular protests from its several hundred residents have often ended with stone throwing. Since her early years, she has become an international poster girl for the anti-occupation movement. Rights groups have called for her immediate release.
“As an unarmed girl, Ahed posed no threat during the altercation with the two Israeli soldiers who were heavily armed and wearing protective clothing,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and Africa.
“Yet again the Israeli authorities have responded to acts of defiance by a Palestinian child with measures that are entirely disproportionate to the incident in question.”
Hysteria over how the world perceives Tamimi, who comes from a family with a long history of both peaceful and violent resistance against the occupation, has spread across both societies.
The footage of Tamimi led to the teenager being hailed as a hero by some Palestinians, who saw her as standing up to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
One senior Israeli official recently revealed he had asked a parliamentary committee to investigate whether the blond, blue-eyed Tamimi family were “real” Palestinians.
Some Israeli politicians have applauded the restraint of the two soldiers while others have demanded a heavy-handed punishment for what they see as a brazen attack.
“She is not a little girl, she is a terrorist,” said the culture minister, Miri Regev, before the trial. “It’s about time they will understand that people like her have to be in jail and not be allowed to incite to racism and subversion against the state of Israel.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report