They Called Me a Lioness: A Palestinian Girl's Fight for Freedom

They Called Me a Lioness: A Palestinian Girl's Fight for Freedom
Publisher: Random House Inc
Published Date : 01 September 2022
ISBN-13: 978-0593134580

Book Author(s):

Dena Takruri, Ahed Tamimi

Review by:

Anjuman Rahman

When readers meet Ahed Tamimi in the electrifying opening of her new memoir, “They Called Me A Lioness”, she is only three years old, being strip-searched by Israeli prison guards in the biting cold after hours of travelling, since the crack of dawn, to be finally allowed to visit her imprisoned father. 

The opening sets the stage for an emotional and powerful narrative, where the innocence of a young child is juxtaposed against the harsh reality of an occupied land in which, no matter to what frightening degree Israel escalates its violence, for the Palestinians, it still feels like home. 

Ahed achieves this by immediately transporting her readers into the enchanting Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, based next to Ramallah, a place where the warmth of community radiates through every sun-kissed stone and every tender smile. 

Everyone knows everyone here, and their bonds extend beyond bloodlines – it is a connection of struggle and a shared mission. Nestled between olive groves and gently rolling hills, she summons readers to take part in the experience by inviting them into the village houses carrying the scars of a history enriched by resilience.

Readers are introduced to 28-year-old Mustafa Tamimi, a distant cousin and neighbour, who was shot directly in the face by a tear gas canister, fired at close range by an Israeli soldier during the weekly demonstration in their village. 

The devastation of witnessing the murder of a loved one for the first time left Ahed grappling with the raw emotions of grief, anger and a sense of helplessness. 

A deep sense of emotional defeat from the injustice weighs heavily on the pages of her story as she is forced to acknowledge the stark reality that the soldier responsible for Mustafa's death will never face accountability or be held in jail, awaiting trial for murder, manslaughter or even negligent manslaughter.

However, it was when 15-year-old Mohammed Tamimi was shot in the head at short range by an Israeli soldier and collapsed, bleeding to the ground from a height of three metres, falling into a coma, which was the final domino that prompted Ahed’s hand to strike against the soldier's face. 

As news spread of the 6-hour-long emergency surgery Mohammed underwent to extract the bullet from his head, in addition to the removal of half of his skull, the powerful video of Ahed taking a stand against the armed soldier quickly went viral, sparking a global uproar and shining a spotlight on the harsh realities for residents of the Nabi Saleh village of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Born to a vocal couple, imbued with a sense of mission, Ahed's fate seemed intertwined with imprisonment, much like her father, Bassam Tamimi, who was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

With every turn of the page, as Ahed grew bolder and braver, the foreboding feeling, like the doors of the Israeli prison were opening, grew closer and wider.

Infuriated by the international recognition she brought to the plight of Palestinians following the slap, Israeli authorities ordered the arrest of Ahed, who was woken in the middle of the night by Israeli soldiers raiding her home and assaulting her family members.

In the book, Ahed writes:

“Even though I was a child, I understood that my life had to be devoted to a cause greater than myself. My parents instilled the notion in me and my brothers that if we didn’t do anything to benefit our homeland, then we didn’t do anything to benefit ourselves. If I was successful in life but my success didn’t help Palestine, then it wasn’t truly a success. 

They planted this seed in us while we were very young, but even if they hadn’t, everything I had witnessed from a young age would have been enough to make the liberation of Palestine the main goal of my life.”

Ahed's arrest drew worldwide attention to Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians, in addition to the Israeli policies of detention of Palestinians, particularly women and minors. 

Readers are given a painful insight into her interrogation by Israeli male officers, who resorted to inappropriate intimidation tactics, including sexual harassment, in an attempt to force a confession from her. 

Nevertheless, Ahed, in her candid and unapologetic tone, acknowledges that it was during this transformative period, in a cell cramped with five others, she was inspired to pursue her studies in international law and hopes to, one day, lead cases against Israel in international courts. 

She credits her newfound ambition to a Palestinian activist, academic and elected representative, Khalida Jarrar, who taught classes to all the young Palestinian girls under pressing conditions of the prison.  

To crush the soul, embed fear, quell dissent, and fracture any hopes and visions for liberation, Ahed vividly describes the tactics used by Israeli authorities, which does not limit its torture to the body. She describes the freezer-of-death cell in which they are forced to wait in for hours outside the courtroom, and the tormenting journeys inside the bosta, in which she is forced to sit beside Israeli criminals charged with rape and murder.

Her eight months of imprisonment in narrow, dim-lit cells made up of rough, bare walls and foetid odour all contributed to the mental torture. However, the tormenting journey developed in her the invaluable qualities that have shaped her into a stronger and more resilient activist. From patience and tolerance, to unwavering strength and heightened political awareness, Ahed emerged from the ordeal with a deeper understanding of her purpose and an unyielding commitment to her cause. 

From the beginning till the end, Ahed Tamimi never lacked self-confidence. Or strong opinions. She does not shy away from calling out leading figures taking an active role in being complicit in Israel’s apartheid, such Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

From her perspective, Abbas is corrupt since he works in coordination with Israel in the name of “security” for personal economic gain at the expense of Palestinian lives.

Moreover, Ahed’s name-dropping tales - from being invited for tea by Turkiye's President, Recep Erdogan, during which she confronted him asking why she needed a visa to travel to Turkiye when Israelis did not, to flying to Tunisia to mark the thirty-third anniversary of Israel’s bombing of PLO headquarters with President Beji Caid Essebi — the memoir of Ahed’s life is crucial for even students of history and politics. 

Throughout the book, Tamimi navigates the delicate balance between anger and hope and between despair and determination. With her compelling voice, she roars through the pages, demanding attention and change. “They Called Me A Lioness” is a testament to the power of not just one individual's bravery, but a whole village’s commitment to fighting for justice in the face of adversity. 

Winners of the Palestine Book Awards

  • They Called Me a Lioness: A Palestinian Girl's Fight for Freedom
  • I Sing From the Window of Exile
  • Imagining Palestine: Cultures of Exile and National Identity
  • Transnational Palestine: Migration and the Right of Return before 1948
  • Among the Almond Trees: A Palestinian Memoir
  • Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear: Poems from Gaza
  • Tolerance Is a Wasteland: Palestine and the Culture of Denial
  • Reclaiming Humanity in Palestinian Hunger Strikes : Revolutionary Subjectivity and Decolonizing the Body
  • Psychoanalysis under occupation: practicing resistance in Palestine
  • Power born of dreams: my story is palestine
  • Al-Haq: A Global History of the First Palestinian Human Rights Organization
  • Sambac Beneath Unlikely Skies
  • Places of Mind: A life of Edward Said
  • Except for Palestine: The limits of progressive politics
  • A history of Palestinian Islamic Jihad: Faith, awareness, and revolution in the middle east
  • Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands
  • Against the Loveless World
  • The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017
  • Life in a Country Album
  •  There Where You Are Not