Two teenage girls, both living under occupation, albeit some 2000 years apart.
We have no photos of Mary, although of course there are thousands of paintings, statues, and icons.
We do have photos of Ahed, looking straight at the world as she is placed under arrest at Ofer prison in Israel.
And while, to most reporters, Ahed’s life prior to this week seems irrelevant, much is known about the 16 years of her life. Ben Ehrenreich, a Jewish American, tells us about the family life of Ahed and the experience of living within her village of Nabi Saleh. (The Way to the Spring – Life and Death in Palestine). Her home is a village in the Occupied West Bank, a village which has been resisting the impact that illegal settlers have made on their life.
The resistance has been costly for her family. In 1993, her father Bassem was interrogated by the Shin Bet. They shook his head back and forth for so long that he lost consciousness. He came out of a coma paralyzed after having a surgery to relieve a cerebral hemorrhage. This was one of the 10 times he had been arrested and held under administrative detention. In 2012 Ahed’s cousin Mustafa was killed, shot in the face by a tear gas canister. A few months later, in November, her Uncle Rushdie was killed, shot in the back by an Israeli soldier.
Hours before Ahed confronted soldiers at her home, her 14 year old cousin Mohammed was shot at close range by an Israeli soldier. The bullet entered his face below his nose, broke his jaw, and lodged in his skull. His future is uncertain.
Given this history, it is no small wonder that Ahed slapped the soldiers invading her home. After Ahed’s arrest, her mother Nariman was arrested. Her charge of incitement was for filming the incident at their home.
In writing about Ahed following her arrest, Ben Ehrenreich pleads “Please don’t make Ahed a hero. Heroes, when they are Palestinian, end up dead or behind bars. Let her be a kid. Fight to set her free, so that one day she can be an ordinary woman, in an ordinary land”.
On December 22, Jeannie Alexander chose Mary to be the focus of her reflection on Advent in The Daily Advent Reader. She declares that “Advent is the stillpoint in the midst of war.... Mary’s words of hope are most surely a declaration of war as well; not as the aggressor, but as one whose body is the target of a system that displaces and crushes; one whose body refuses to yield. The child growing inside of her is an act of resistance, and there is nothing meek or mild in her declaration of soul force. Systems hide their war on targeted populations through language and words…...
“Mary knows that Rome’s justice offers no peace to her people, no security for her child. And so she holds space in the tension of resistance, and clings to a hope which must surely look like madness in the face of empire. Giving birth to a child you know will be targeted by a system is an act of Advent. Living with purpose and intention in the face of an impossible life sentence, is an act of Advent. ……Advent is the beginning of the end of domination. The mighty will be brought low, the walls will fall, the prisons will burn, deportation centers will crumble, those who are occupied will inherit the earth, and the hard-fought resistance will yield reconciliation. But all of this exists in the not yet, in the going forth. And so we keep going forth, daring not to die, birthing a new world, one Advent act of resistance at a time.”
2000 years after Mary’s birth-giving, the witness of Ahed challenges us to be active participants in giving birth to a new reality for the people of both Palestine and Israel, and indeed the whole world.