Testimonies from the Heart of Darkness (Part II)

By Tamar Fleishman – The West Bank

What does a military judge know about childhood in Qalandiya refugee camp, about growing up in the shadow of the wall, by the checkpoint that in its very essence is an entity of violence, in a habitat of poverty and wretchedness that for a while now has been serving as a hunting range for soldiers who with no hesitations follow the order/commander that says: "make them feel hounded…" and perform what is known in their jargon as a "violent patrol" (both expressions are based testimonies of soldiers from Breaking the Silence)?

What do the military judges know about life of precariousness, where locked doors are busted open in the middle of the night, when a father’s arms and a mother’s bosom aren’t able to provide protection in face of the incrimination, the theft, the damaging, the false accusation and the beatings?

On the way to Ofer I have always hoped that I do not recognize those on trial, that the anonymity be preserved and that I only get a glance of their desperation, that the names won’t be familiar or the faces be carved in my memory, all my hopes were crushed one morning when I froze in front of a child who was the youngest of all those I had ever seen on the bench of the accused.

Ibrahim Abu-El-Aish who was sixteen but whose body appeared smaller than would be expected at that age.

This was before they changed the defining age of adulthood for Palestinian children, to create an appearance of equality before the law. Up until not long ago anyone who had reached his sixteenth birthday was an adult in the eye of the military court system. None of Ibrahim’s family members were present, there was no one to give him words of encouragement or a supportive look. It took a while until I managed to catch his attention, to detect a sparkle of acquaintance, to greet him and get a frail response, a smile, tilt of the head. A little detached. As though only his body was present. As if he had shrunken himself and made himself smaller than he actually was. The face of a child, the body of a child, but according to the laws of occupations, a man was on trial. 

I entered when the judge Moshe Levi announced: "An indictment had been served on the grounds of sabotaging an IDF facility which caused damage to the blockage, a metal bar, that belonged to the security forces".

Meaning, that Ibrahim was caught in front of the checkpoint while wiggling the metal bar that blocked the vehicle lane to Ramallah.

The procedure:

– The defense attorney requested that the teenager be released: "The defendant didn’t cause any damage. It was a child’s game at the checkpoint, at Qalandiya passage, all the children play it and no damage was caused to the bar".

– The representative on behalf of the prosecution requested that the bail be set for 3,000 Shekels on top of some additional terms.

– The defense attorney: "In light of the financial status of the family and in light of the circumstances and the minimal damage caused, a hundred should suffice.

– The judge: "There is a prior conviction of stone throwing. It was indeed nothing more than a folly of youth with no actual intent to cause severe damage to an IDF facility". And as a humanitarian gesture he ordered that the prisoner be released under terms that amounted to 5,750 Shekels (= payment + bail + bail from a third party) and set a date for a proceeding meeting in which the indictment would be read.

In light of the financial status of Ibrahim’s family, the sum set for his temporal release was unattainable, the terms weren’t fulfilled and Ibrahim wasn’t released. 

I came back to watch the reading of the indictment and the list of detainees in the children’s hall had twenty six names on it, twenty six ID numbers, twenty six faces and sins, twenty six severed childhoods that came before the juvenile court judge Sharon Rivlin Ahai, each had his wrist handcuffed to the child next to him.

I shall write about a few of them:

* About Ibrahim Mahmud Hasin Abu El Aish that since seeing him alone and neglected that day when he stood on trial, had surprisingly been released. We saw him again in the allies of Qalandiya refugee camp, at the rear of the checkpoint in silence. We thought perhaps they scared him, perhaps they made him swear not to tell a thing. Some tried talking with him but he was persistent- he held his peace and kept silent. After a while he disappeared again. His brother said he had been arrested. During the months that past the child did not only grow up but his offence had also been upgraded: "possession and distribution of weaponry".

The reading of the charges against Ibrahim before the judge didn’t take more than ten minutes, as was the case with the charges of the others. The ten minutes were taken as opportunity for an exchange of words between the child and his family, ten minutes in which tears ran down the mother’s pain and suffering-ridden cheeks. The court would adjourn the following week for further discussion on the case. 

*About Ayad Husni Muhamd Bazia’s parents who I met as they were rushing to get out of the pen’s yard so as to make it on time to hand in the payment required from them by state- two thousand Shekels, on the grounds that a while back their son had been convicted of throwing stones at a military vehicle and had finished serving his time.

* About seventeen year old Zuhib Esa Haled Habel whose charges against read: on trial for "creating and throwing an inflammable object". Hastily, as though she was in a hurry, the judge read the clauses of the charge. The translator was also in a hurry and I was in chase of them both to quickly write down what was being said. I might have missed a clause or two, but what I managed to pick up was enough to understand that in the four stated dates Zuhib threw stones at passing vehicles on road 443 (an apartheid road that Palestinians are banned from using in spite of the fact that it had been paved on lands taken from them and that it was declared as a road for their benefit). Apart for the stone throwing, Zuhib was also accused of making and throwing a Molotov bottle.

Zuhib denied all the allegations. The deliberations on his case as well were postponed.

– On a different occasion I entered once again the gates of the site, standing on trial in judge Sharon Rivlin Ahai’s hall were again children from Qalandiya who had their childhood taken from them and destroyed:

*Fares Halil Yussuf Badran was there, a slim fifteen year old who stood on trial without an escorting parole officer (as is obligated by the law of the Israeli state) and without the presence of his parents. The charge against him: "possession and distribution of weaponry".

The witness for the prosecution, a representative from the police, said that Fares and two of his friends were caught trying to transfer a bag with a Molotov bottle through Qalandiya checkpoint, intending to hand it over to some people who were waiting on the other side.

The discussion prolonged and focused on the question whether Fares knew what was in the bag, while the obvious question had remained unasked: how could anyone imagine that a teenager whose home is located in the refugee camp could cross Qalandiya checkpoint, and even in the event of this improbable occurrence, Fares, who lives there, must have been aware, as are all the children and people in Qalandiya, of the military cameras that document each corner and angle in the checkpoint and its surroundings, and had this improbable occurrence taken place and the Molotov bottle had miraculously slipped under the noses of the cameras, the teenager and his " luggage" would have to pass through a magnetometer.

*Seventeen year old Ayad Husin Bazia who was accused of throwing stones at a military vehicle was there that day. His father was happy to inform that his son would be released in four days: "I’ll put down the fifteen hundred shekels and he’ll come home!" But soon enough someone stacked the cards. After the judge had authorized the plea bargain and the fine, the records showed that Ayad "had a past", that a prior conviction was written regarding the same offence, that he had already been caught throwing stones at soldiers, that he had already done time for it, that there was a "suspended sentence" that had to be regarded, and  that: "Had he gone to school and not thrown stones", said the judge in a pedagogic tone "he wouldn’t have ended up in jail"…

(In order to better understand the reality of the military court I recommend reading Ofra Ben Artzi’s article : The guilt of the judges.)

(Translated by Ruth Fleishman)

– As a member of Machsomwatch, once a week Tamar Fleishman heads out to document the checkpoints between Jerusalem and Ramallah. This documentation (reports, photos and videos) can be found on the organization’s site: www.machsomwatch.org. She is also a member of the Coalition of Women for Peace and volunteer in Breaking the Silence. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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