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Girl with a movie camera

Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I don't know Bianca Zammit personally, but as a general rule I don't find it a good idea that people should be shot, and I tend to feel rather sorry for those who have been. I therefore feel sorry for her and wish her good health.

On the cause she was fighting for when she was shot, I don't have a clear opinion. I'm not well-versed enough in the history and politics of the area to make up my mind. On the basis of superficial impressions, I empathise with Palestinians who are forced to live a life of checkpoints, fences, and funerals.

At the same time, and also because I once shared a house with a couple of Israelis, I tend rather to see the point that the underdog is not necessarily right. I also suspect that a good chunk of anti-Israeli feeling and activism is actually anti-Semitism in borrowed robes.

That said, there is a sense in which I find the case of Zammit very fascinating indeed. Few people had heard of her before the shooting.

In the hours and days following the event, however, a number of sources (the media, politicians, ambassadors, online commentators, and so on) came together and cooked up a character. The Bianca Zammit we now all 'know' is a mythological being, a Frankenstein put together from various bits and pieces.

Bianca Zammit the myth is four things: Young, a woman, naïve, and Maltese. Let's look at each of these in turn and try to separate fact from fiction.

First, young. This is what the Israeli ambassador Gideon Meir had to tell us in last Sunday's interview: "I am telling every Maltese mother and father - don't let your children go to combat zones, it's dangerous." Wise advice, if any Maltese parents could be found who were thinking of giving their children a break from Mużew and private lessons and booking them on the first flight to Darfur, or Waziristan, or Gaza.

Zammit is 28. She's been round the world collecting degrees and human rights activism experience along the way. She is not a 'child', and she definitely doesn't need permission from her 'Maltese parents' to do her thing.

She is therefore also responsible for her actions. I say this in her defence, because I think it outrageous that someone should banalise her by calling her a child. She is an adult, and her political activism deserves to be taken seriously rather than relegated to some sort of unorthodox school outing.

Second, a woman. "How is a girl with a camera a threat?" asked the Sunday Times interviewer. Again, terribly patronising. Apart from the reference to childhood ('girl'), the implication seems to be that women can be many things but never a threat on the battlefield. If the Israelis must shoot people, the least they could do is aim at the blokes in the keffiyeh.

I don't need to make the point that as long as a woman has a functional trigger finger, she's as lethal as any man. The point would be particularly lost in a context where female suicide bombers have become a symbol of Palestinian resistance on one hand, and female soldiers a symbol of the Israeli 'defence force' (as the army is known) on the other. It's the Intifada we're talking about, not a Puccini opera.

Third, naïve. The Israeli ambassador spoke of glib individuals "used" and "sent" to the frontline by Hamas and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Zammit's father said she did it "for the glory of God". A host of online commentators went on about 'innocence' and such.

But Zammit (as reported) has a home in Gaza. She knows the West Bank area well and seems to enjoy very close relations with Palestinians on the ground. She has an MA in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford. She's worked as an activist in Britain, Germany, and Malta. Hardly the stuff of gullible innocence I'd say, let alone some sort of manipulated latter-day child crusader.

Fourth, Maltese. In Parliament, the opposition pressed the government to stand up for the rights of Maltese citizens. The government responded by putting forward a 'diplomatic protest' to Israel. The online comment boards mentioned boycotts. Thank goodness Malta is not in the habit of sending in B-52s and bunker-busting missiles.

Except, Zammit is no longer Maltese. She was born and raised in Malta, has a Maltese passport, and is a citizen of this country. In her role as international peace activist, however, she has gone well beyond her nationality and joined a cosmopolitan group. Her protests have nothing to do with Malta; if they did, she would be walking down Republic Street waving a 'Stop Piano' or 'Vote Lawrence, get Bill' placard.

As far as her work with the ISM is concerned, our government has no business to defend her. By analogy, I wouldn't expect the Malta Arts Council to protest to its US equivalent in the unlikely event of Joseph Calleja being pelted with eggs at the Metropolitan. Nor would the US be justified in bombing us if a Maltese madman decided to assassinate Barack Obama.

We may carry Maltese passports but that doesn't mean we go around representing Malta all the time. If that were the case, Zammit would be hugely irresponsible to risk jeopardising Israeli-Maltese relations for her personal beliefs. On the contrary, I admire her for going for a cause that well transcends her local patch.

In sum, Zammit is not a child, nor a harmless woman, nor naïve, nor a meddlesome Maltese. She's an adult, highly qualified, experienced international peace activist, and deserves to be taken seriously as such. Until we boot out Madame Butterfly, the bullet in her thigh will be quite wasted.

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