When I was 16 years old, my main concern in life was figuring out how to get a class with my high school crush. My afterschool occupation involved locking myself in my computer room to design my perfect MySpace profile and rearrange my Top 8. I’d spend hours chatting on AOL Instant Messenger until dark and my mom would tell me it was time to cut the lights. That was the year before I created MuslimGirl.com, to create a space for girls like me to feel like our voices mattered in the real world.
That’s not what Ahed Tamimi’s days look like. The 16-year-old Palestinian girl is going to sleep in an Israeli prison cell tonight, imprisoned without bail while awaiting trial in an Israeli military court to face a 10-year sentence. Why? This child had the audacity to slap a fully armed Israeli soldier who had entered her family’s home, after watching them shoot her 14-year-old cousin in the head earlier that day. According to Amnesty International, “it was clear she posed no actual threat to them – as they lightly swatted her advances away.” She joins at least 350 other Palestinian children under the age of 18 who are presently detained in Israeli prisons.
This is why I chose to decline Revlon’s Changemaker Award in celebration of your new campaign. I couldn’t do so knowing that your popular support of Israeli military actions in Palestine had contributed to this disproportionate harm on women and children. To do so would have been turning a blind eye to the plight of women and girls like Ahed. I’m writing this because I want to make it clear that this is not about you or me. This is about the moral obligation of privileged women like ourselves to rise to the moment of demanding freedom for Ahed and that of countless other girls like her.
I believe that there are a few things we should all be able to agree on, and standing against the mass incarceration of children feels like it should be an easy one. Regardless of whatever political convictions you may hold, I have to believe that every woman, especially the current face of Wonder Woman, can agree that Israel must free a 16-year-old girl from its prison system and military courts. There must be some lines drawn upon which our humanity can collectively agree.
We can’t talk about Israel without recognizing that Palestinians are treated as far less than second-class citizens and suffer extreme injustices under Israeli law, even when they are children. Yifat Alkobi is an Israeli adult woman who, just like Ahed, slapped an Israeli soldier in the West Bank. Except, unlike Ahed, she didn’t suffer any repercussions for her actions by the Israeli government, let alone even one second in an Israeli prison. Ahed, a child, has been in prison for over a month now, the only difference being that she’s Palestinian. This is what injustice looks like for the women and girls drowned out by our chants for women’s empowerment.
By making this statement, what I’m saying is not that I refuse to work with those with differing opinions than me. Transformative change requires the alliance of different forms of engagement. But don’t mistake inhumanity as a difference of opinion. There’s something to be said about the fact that for some women like me, it necessitates making a bold gesture like rejecting hard-earned accolades just to be heard. What I’m saying is that #TimesUp not just for the women of Hollywood, but also for the women and girls that are invisibly suffering because of fundamental inequality, misrepresentation and negligent complacency.
I obviously don’t think we’re going to solve all the world’s problems simply by refusing awards or making social media posts, and far from eradicating all the forms of oppression that women must endure around the world. But if there’s one thing Ahed’s story has taught me, it’s that we can all use whatever cards we’ve been dealt, whatever seemingly inconsequential yet potent positions we are in, to shine a light on injustice when the opportunity arises. In fact, it is our duty to do so, for the sake of the girls.
That 16-year-old me that was holed up in her computer room, obsessively using the Internet to make life a little more tolerable, had to have believed that the moral compass of the world isn’t so far skewed that it can’t be righted. That despite how horrible life can get as a teenage girl, she is never really alone in the world. That we refuse to leave any sister behind in the face of violence, regardless of her color, religion, or identity. We owe it to the girls counting on us and the girls we once we were to fight for all of us. I’m sure Wonder Woman would agree.
In love and sisterhood,