OFER MILITARY BASE, West Bank — Palestinian protester Ahed Tamimi went on trial behind closed doors in an Israeli military court Tuesday for slapping and punching two Israeli soldiers — the opening of a high-profile case against the teen who is seen by some as a Joan of Arc-like heroine and by others as a troublemaker or even a terrorist.
Israel's hard-charging prosecution of Tamimi, recognizable by her unruly mane of curly hair, has drawn international attention and criticism. Underlying the case are clashing narratives about Israel's half-century of occupation, the extent of permissible Palestinian resistance to it and the battle for global public opinion.
Tamimi, who turned 17 in prison last month, was led into a courtroom packed with journalists, several European diplomats and members of her family.
"Stay strong, stay strong," shouted her father, Bassem, from the back row. She appeared calm and confident as she took a seat in the dock, surrounded by camera crews and photographers.
After a few minutes, the judge suddenly ordered all spectators except family members to leave and announced that the proceedings would continue behind closed doors. He said he was acting in the best interest of a juvenile defendant.
Defense lawyer Gaby Lasky protested, saying the family wants an open trial.
"The court decided what is best for the court, and not what is good for Ahed," Lasky later told reporters, accusing the judge of trying to keep the world from watching.
In the closed session, the court read a 12-count indictment against Tamimi, including charges of assault and incitement that could keep her in prison for several years.
Lasky argued that the court is an organ of what she described as an "illegal occupation" and that the charges must therefore be thrown out.
"We believe that this is an indictment solely created in order to deter Ahed and other Palestinian youths" from resisting occupation, Lasky said afterward. She said she is still waiting to receive case material from the prosecutor, that her client did not enter a plea and that the next hearing would be March 11.
Tamimi's scuffle with the two soldiers took place Dec. 15 in her West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, home to about 600 members of her extended clan. At the time, protests had erupted in several parts of the West Bank over President Donald Trump's recognition 10 days earlier of contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
In Nabi Saleh, several teenage boys were throwing stones that day at soldiers who fired stun grenades and rubber-coated steel pellets. A 15-year-old cousin of Ahed Tamimi was hit at close range by a rubber bullet and seriously wounded. He later had a section of his skull removed and is recovering at home.
Ahed Tamimi had just learned of his injury when she, along with her mother and another cousin approached two soldiers at the entrance to the courtyard of the family home, according to relatives.
In later events captured on video, Ahed yells at the soldiers to leave, slapping one and punching the other in the head. The soldiers casually fend her off.
The video continues with her leaning against the courtyard wall, calling for large demonstrations as "the only way to reach results," but adding that Trump must bear responsibility for any Palestinian reaction, including stabbings and suicide attacks, and that "everyone needs to do something and to unite."