Friday, May 27, 2011

Palestine-Israel, Youth Arrest in Nabi Shaleh by Ben Ronen*

In the morning we arrived at the Ofer compound, one of the many luxurious compounds built
for the comfort of over 6000 Palestinian prisoners currently being held by Israel. The
compound contains a huge prison and a military court in which Palestinian prisoners, young
and old are judged by Israeli military officers.
Here there is no racism or
discrimination, because here everybody without exception has the right to an unjust trial.
At the entrance to the military court there are two cages, a small one for those
arriving from the Israeli side and a bigger one where Palestinian detainee’s families are
waiting. -- Some of them have been through a long and expensive journey in order to get
here and meet their loved ones, be it for just a few minutes.

We arrive at the big metal gate that separates us from the beginning of a fastidious
security check. Like everything else on this day, the long wait to go in is another well
planned game between the visitors and the guards, who, despite having a clear list of the
visitor's names will do everything possible to delay and humiliate the family members.
Some of the guards are Arab speakers but most of them settle for a few basic words such
as: “come here”, “go away”, “I.D!”, “what’s your full name” and a variety of orders that
they take pleasure in using in order to demonstrate the hierarchy of the occupation at any
given moment. The rules are very simple: you need to beg and I will decide when I feel
like letting you in.
Immediately after our arrival we saw Abu Hanni and his wife Um Fathi approaching us from
the Palestinian side. Abu Hanni, a man in his late 60's attacks us directly with his
walking stick. Born in Jaffa in 1945 the long years of life under occupation have given
him a cynical and sarcastic approach towards his surroundings and this old timer who has
lost three of his sons in combats with the Israeli army is now awaiting the hearing in the
matter of his youngest son, Fathi.

We are also here to meet Fathi and his friend Jaudat. Both of them were arrested a month
ago, in the middle of the night in their village of Qarawat Bani-Zeid,. They were
kidnapped by the army during a massive military operation as part of a wave of arrests
intended to suppress the popular resistance in the villages of An Nabi-Salih, Qarawat,
Beit Rimma and Kufer Ein. The resistance surged in late 2009 surrounding the issue of
expropriated agricultural lands belonging to the people of Nabi Salih and villages around
it where an ancient spring used by the villagers is located. The spring was declared an
“archaeological site” two years ago and entry to it was prohibited by the army.
Nevertheless, the Jewish settlers living in the nearby settlement of “Halamish” use it on
a daily basis. After several non violent actions in attempt to reclaim the spring that
were met by a violent response and confrontation by the army and settlers, the
Palestinians decided to turn the protest into a weekly demonstration in which they go out
into the streets with the goal of reaching their lands symbolizing their protest against
every possible aspect of the occupation.

The uprising of the villagers has led to big demonstrations participated in by hundreds of
youths, men and women from the four surrounding villages and in collaboration with Israeli
and international activists.

From the beginning, these demonstrations were characterized by a high level of violence
from army and police, meaning massive use of a variety of non lethal weapons including
tear gas, various types of rubber bullets, sound bombs and various other things in an
attempt to oppress the demonstrations, which resulted in the injury of dozens of people.
After futile attempts to oppress the demonstrations the army's tactics changed turning to
mass arrests in which the youths were the main target.

Youth Arrest (2/3) by Ben Ronen

Fathi and Jaudat are part of a group of over 40 women and men who were arrested in
response to the demonstrations, and like most of the other arrestees their indictments
include a single accusation of stone throwing. The way the trial is being held there is no
need for a specific date on which the alleged event took place, but rather a general
description “ ...a few times...between March and August..”, and there is also no need for
witnesses or evidence. The court relies entirely on the results of the investigation that
the arrestees went through.

Like most of their friends they will also spend the next few months in prison instead of
being at school where they are supposed to be from the beginning of September. Like most
of the Palestinian prisoners that are sentenced in Israeli military court they will get to
know the judicial system of “the only democracy in the Middle East”.

We met Fathi at the demonstrations in Nabi Salih many months ago. He was one of a big
group of youths from Qarawat that came on a regular basis to the demonstrations, initially
coming with the other boys but soon enough our connection strengthened so that he used to
wait for us in the centre of his village and drive with us the rest of the way to Nebi
Salih, always laughing, always smiling even in the harsh situations that we experienced
and until the last hours before his arrest when he didn't forget to send us a text message
bravely saying, “my time has arrived and I shall see you in a few months...”. The
following evening we sat on the porch in Jaffa with fallen faces far away from him. We
reminisced about all that we had been through together and we were heavy with sadness
thinking of all the dear friends who are being held in small windowless cells instead of
running outside as they love to do.

We were thinking about Amjad and Omar, about Luay and Rassem, and about all the shabab and
the ways not to let the enemy break the spirit of the wonderful struggle that we became
part of and that became part of us.

This is not the first struggle that we have participated in but this it's definitely the
most exceptional one, mainly due to the amazing variety of people that go out into the
street. The women and brave young girls who form a straight line in front of the soldiers
making it clear to them and to all the men around that this is also their struggle and
because of the boys, the girls and the youth who know exactly who they are, what they are
shouting for and are willing to pay the price for it.
This is a wonderful struggle because of its stubbornness, determination and the way in
which it exists that doesn't let go, not from us and not from its cause.

Back in the Ofer compound the metal gate finally opens up and the warden agrees to let us
into the security check. Each step that we take is followed by looks and comments that are
only meant to demonstrate control. Nothing is allowed in except cigarettes and money - no
water, not a book and definitely not a phone. After we put our shoes through the x-ray
machine, walk through the metal detector that doesn't beep, we are led into a small room
for a final humiliating full body search.

Now that we have finally graduated Ofer's security system we enter the wide yard with a
blazing August sun high in the sky leaving not even a corner of shade to hide in, we sit
down in hope of hearing the names of Fathi and Jaudat being called. Names of the detainees
appear on an electronic board but there is no indication or evaluation for an exact hour
in which the hearings will take place and although the family members arrive at 7:30 in
the morning they often wait until the late hours of the afternoon for the hearing they
came for - the hearing that might not even take place. All the waiting is based on tension
and expectation for a name to be called upon.

We desperately waited to enter the small caravan that functions as a “hall of justice”,
even though bearing more resemblance to an army supply room. We wanted their names to be
called so we could see them smile but at the same time we wanted to run away from this
place that represents in a unique way all that is evil, cruel and repressive around us.

We sat in the yard talked and laughed with Fathi's parents who didn't look too happy about
the situation. After all, they have been through most of what the occupation has to offer;
now they just want to see their 16 year old son who grew up too fast. For many families
these court hearings are the only time they will get to see their family members (visits
are allowed only after the arrests are sentenced, a process that can last for months), to
ask after their well being, to pass on news from the family and village and to smile at them

The hours pass and the heat doesn't let up. At about 14:30 they finally called their names
and we hurried to room number 4...There they were, sitting close to us (but so far)
dressed in those horrible brown prison uniforms. Fathi had cut his hair and doesn't look
so well but he smiles any way. Still, you can see the tiredness on his face. Jaudat
doesn't stop looking at us for a moment. Later we will find out that his family hasn’t
come because they were not informed correctly about the date of his hearing.

Youth Arrest (3/3) by Ben Ronen

The man that who runs the court is some kind of high ranking officer (that the title judge
could have easily been replaced with the title of a janitor ) sitting comfortably and
looking at the show that is being held in front of his eyes. The prosecutor, a thin
religious young man speaking in a heavy French accent is the only one treating the
situation in a serious manner, since neither of the boys has a lawyer to represent them
the hearing lasts less than 10 minutes. Even in cases where there is a lawyer present (and
even in cases when this lawyer is Israeli) the way in which the hearing is being held is
far from being reasonable or sane. The hearings themselves are conducted in Hebrew while a
soldier acts as a translator. Of course his duty is to translate to the prisoners the
exact words that are being said, but in reality, sometimes he will translate a whole
sentence other, times random words, and the rest of the time he will be busy answering
telephone calls, flirting with girl soldiers that arrive to keep him company or in some
cases he will just fall asleep. All of this time the hearing is being held “over the
heads” of the prisoners that more often than not understand nothing of the process except
for their charges and the date for their next hearing. The judge decides to schedule their
next hearing to two months later. Quickly and simply, with no hesitation, he keeps them in
custody. No one is in a hurry - they will be found guilty anyway of a crime they didn’t
commit and the time waited in prison will just be deducted from the punishment they will
receive anyway.

Military courts like to deal with the convictions of the arrestees. Those who are arrested
in demonstrations and are charged with stone throwing will in most cases go to jail. The
process is simple: in the first days after their arrest they are put through a series of
investigations and torture that have two objectives. The first one is to make them confess
on their acts (whether they committed them or not) and the second goal is to get
information out of them about their friends in order to frame them as well.
The army investigators, in a smart combination of muscle and false promises place a simple
choice in front of the youth, either you confess and spend 5-8 months in prison or you
don't confess and might even be acquitted but the process itself can take years in which
you will be held in prison waiting for trial.

The combination of fear, torture, false promises and the fact that in many cases these
youths are important (or many times the only) bread winners of their families, leads many
of them to confess to the charges brought against them.

This way of oppression is not new; it is an integral and important part in the
sophisticated system of repression that was developed by Israel in order to crush any kind
of popular uprising.

Before Nabi Salih the village of Nil'in suffered a similar attack where at its peak more
than 60 of its inhabitants were imprisoned at the same time. The system of repression did
not succeed in breaking the spirit of the villagers, although it did manage to weaken
considerably the power of the demonstrations by hurting their leading forces and the youth
that chose to resist.

The hearings of Fathi and Jaudat are over and the hearing of the third man who was sitting
beside them begins. He looks insecure but is determined to say something to the court. The
judge approves reluctantly and he stands up proudly and addresses all the people who are
present in the room: “my confession was forced out of me while using force and torture; I
do not recognize the existence of the state of Israel or of this trial.” He stands still
while the soldier translates his words to the judge who in return looks at him with
penetrating gaze.
I look at this young man, my heartbeat getting faster, he looks at me and I show him the
sign of victory. I admire the force within him, the force within them.

The warden rudely orders Fathi and his friends to stand up. Fathi tries to say one more
thing to his mother before he is pushed out. Abu Hanni stands up and thanks the honorable
judge, the soldier translates his words but none of the military men seem to understand
the cynical tone in which the words have been said.

Once out of the caravan, we try to shout a few more words to our friends who are being
moved away from the other side of the fence. Now the only thing that connects us is the
sound of the metal chains tied between their legs and in a few seconds they will also
disappear in the quiet and depressive heat of this place.

The process of exiting towards our cars is done in silence. Now we need to stand in a
small cage and beg to a soldier whom we cannot see through a dark glass to return our
identity cards. We need them so we can escape from this place that we hate so much but to
where, without doubt will be back next week.

In the last cage we say our goodbyes to Abu Hanni and Im Fathi. We kiss and hug, promising
to visit again and keep in contact. They leave from one side of the cage while we go out
from the other side.

When the last gate finally closes after us, when we are supposed to feel “free” and
“liberated” we stand next to our cars quietly and there is nothing that will lift our
spirits. All we can do is to think of those that even the smallest amount of freedom has
been taken away from them just because they chose not to be silent.
Posted by Front Line Echo at 2:40 AM 1 comments
* On the joint struggle of the anarchists agains the wall with villages activists
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