A Palestinian teenager who was sent to prison for slapping and kicking Israeli soldiers has returned home to a hero’s welcome after being released.
Ahed Tamimi, 17, and her mother, Nariman Tamimi, were greeted with banners, cheers and Palestinian flags as they entered their home village of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank.
Ahed was arrested in December after she slapped two Israeli soldiers outside her family home.
Her mother filmed the incident and posted it on Facebook, where it went viral and instantly turned Ahed into a symbol of resistance to Israel’s half-century-old military rule over the Palestinians.
With her unruly mop of curly light-coloured hair, the Palestinian teenager quickly became a local hero and an internationally recognisable figure.
Her supporters see a brave girl who struck two armed soldiers in frustration after learning that Israeli troops had seriously wounded a 15-year-old cousin, shooting him in the head from close range with a rubber bullet during nearby stone-throwing clashes.
In Israel, however, she is seen by many as a provocateur, an irritation or a threat to the military’s deterrence policy.
Israel treated her actions as a criminal offence, indicting her on charges of assault and incitement. Her eight-month sentence was the result of a plea deal.
In Nabi Saleh, supporters welcomed Ahed home with Palestinian flags planted on the roof of her home. Hundreds of chairs were set up for wellwishers in the courtyard.
“The resistance continues until the occupation is removed,” she said on her return. “All the female prisoners are steadfast. I salute everyone who supported me and my case.”
From her home, Ahed headed for a visit to the grave of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Her father, Bassem Tamimi, said he expects her to take a lead in the struggle against Israeli occupation but she is also weighing up college options.
Since 2009, residents of Nabi Salah have staged regular anti-occupation protests that often ended with stone-throwing clashes.
Ahed has participated in such marches from a young age, and has had several highly publicised run-ins with soldiers. One photo shows the then 12-year-old raising a clenched fist towards a soldier towering over her.
In a sign of her popularity, a pair of Italian artists painted a large mural of her on Israel’s West Bank separation barrier ahead of her release. Israeli police said they were caught in the act along with another Palestinian and arrested for vandalism. Ahed was 16 when she was arrested and turned 17 in custody.