Tuesday, May 24, 2011

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.

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