Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Youth Arrest (1/3) 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.

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