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

category mashriq / arabia / iraq | community struggles | news report author Saturday May 28, 2011 00:52author by Ilan S. - AAtW, A-infos, Matzpenauthor email ilan at shalif dot comauthor address Tel Aviv Report this post to the editors

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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