A One-On-One With Dena Takruri: The Palestinian Journalist Who Co-Authored Ahed Tamimi’s Memoir

Reporting the truth and honoring one’s country is a quality that is present in only a few individuals as it not only requires bravery and persistence, it is also rests upon having moral integrity. One such individual who carries that torch is Palestinian-American news presenter, producer and author Dena Takruri. For a decade, she has been working for AJ+, a media network that focuses on news and current affairs. She also hosts the award-winning docu-series “Direct From With Dena Takruri” where she reports on injustices around the world and amplifies the voices of the unheard. Yet her proudest accomplishment so far was co-authoring Ahed Tamimi’s memoir, “They Called Me A Lioness: A Palestinian Girl’s Fight For Freedom.”

We had the opportunity to speak with Takruri about the memoir and her experience of getting to meet and work with Ahed Tamimi. The entire journey began by mere coincidence as Takruri happened to be in Palestine at the time when Ahed was getting released from an Israeli prison following an 8-month sentence. Several activists recommended Takruri to stick around and interview her once she is out of prison.

“I was granted one of the first sit-down interviews with her immediately following her release. I couldn’t believe I was speaking to a 17-year-old! She struck me as being incredibly wise beyond her years, articulate, strong, humble, and gracious. She eloquently articulated the grievances and aspirations not just of her generation of Palestinian children, but the Palestinian people at large. It was inspiring.”

– Dena Takruri

Along with Tamimi’s striking personality, another aspect of the activist struck out with Takruri which was Tamimi’s village. Prior to interviewing Tamimi, Takruri shot a documentary about Tamimi and her village of Nabi Saleh at the West Bank. The village is quite special because it’s famous for its non-violet protests against Israel’s occupation. “I spent a lot of time inside the homes of her relatives, bonding with them and learning about their unarmed resistance movement over the years… I was astounded by their bravery but also shocked at how much they have been brutalized,” said Takruri.

After the interview with Tamimi, Takruri couldn’t stop thinking about her story and the village for many months and that is why she ended up reaching out to her and her family and proposing the idea of writing a book with Tamimi and that is how their beautiful journey started.

Via Dena Takruri

Titled “They Called Me A Lioness”, we wanted to first get an idea of the story behind the book’s name. Takruri kept it simple, saying that the book’s title pays homage to how Tamimi is an iconic and valiant figure within Palestinian society. If we take a step back, we’ll see that Tamimi was always a powerful beacon of solidarity. Back in 2017, she went viral as the Palestinian teen who slapped an Israeli soldier and since then, she went into an endless spiral of arrests and releases yet she never faltered and kept fighting back for her country.

She is not just a beacon of hope in Palestine but also across the globe. “I learned that I had been dubbed ‘the Palestinian Joan of Arc’ and had been likened to legendary civil rights activists like Rosa Parks,” said Tamimi. Knowing how the memoir dives into such a powerful Palestinian figure, we wanted to dive deeper into how it came to be. Takruri told us all about her entire writing process as well as what it was like working with Tamimi. One year after her initial interview with Tamimi, Takruri returned to Nabi Saleh to get a true glimpse of Tamimi’s life.

“Every day for a week or so, I’d go to Ahed’s family’s home and we’d lock ourselves in a room and talk for hours in Arabic. I must have asked her every question under the sun from her earliest childhood memories to her time in Israeli prison to her biggest traumas, as well as her hopes and dreams for the future.”

– Dena Takruri

Working with Tamimi was a whole other ball game as Takruri constantly felt inspired and enthralled by the young activist. This wasn’t just because of how much she had to face so far as an activist but also because of how emotionally taxing the entire interview process was for Tamimi. She told us how having Tamimi revisit buried memories “retraumitized her and led to frequent nightmares.”

Looking back, Tamimi faced all kinds of brutality, from getting beaten countless of times to being exposed to the horrific conditions of Israeli prisons. That is why the interview process required an immense amount of bravery and that is why Takruri went on to say that “It’s so easy for us to lionize her and view her as this invincible hero, but at the end of the day she’s still a very young person with feelings like the rest of us.”

Dena Takruri

Diving deeper, Takruri also spent time talking to Tamimi’s parents and relatives in Nabi Saleh as well as with Khalida Jarrar who was detained with Tamimi and during her imprisonment educated the girls and women on international law.

The final piece of the puzzle was stringing together all the information that Takruri gathered so when she returned to the US, she transcribed and translated hundreds of pages of recorded interviews from Arabic to English. Along with that, she weaved in contextual information about the history of Israel-Palestine, the occupation and so on to provide a full picture to her American readers.

On September 6, 2022, the book graced global bookshelves after getting published and it was resoundingly successful and even got shortlisted for the Palestine Book Awards 2023. Takruri shared two things she hopes readers take away from reading the book, “I hope readers walk away with a solid understanding of who the Palestinian people are and why they’ve been struggling for liberation for 75 years” and “I hope they are able to put themselves in the shoes of Ahed Tamimi and imagine what they would do if they grew up robbed of a childhood.”

Via Dena Takruri

Today, reading the memoir is very important, especially in light of the ongoing genocide. As Takruri put it, the genocide still remains a daunting, shocking and painful circumstance that many are unable to digest or fathom. “I’m still struggling to absorb the extent to which Israel has annihilated every aspect of civilian life and infrastructure in Gaza. It is unconscionable.” Again, she iterates what many have been saying “Unless and until all people living between the river and the sea have equal rights to peace, security, dignity and the right to shape their own future, we will only see more bloodshed and conflict.”

Hopefully the memoir, icons like Tamimi as well as Palestine’s unsung heroes including the on-ground journalists will continue to share the truth and fight for justice for the land of Palestine.

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