Tuesday, May 24, 2011

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.

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