The end of November marked the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, a time to see family and friends and for people to eat together. But for many Palestinians, the Eid was not so festive. Rajaa Abu Rahmah, aged 19, only has one wish this holiday — to see her father freed from prison.
On 10 July 2009, Adeeb Abu Rahmah, a leading activist and organizer from the occupied West Bank village of Bilin, was arrested during the weekly demonstration at the wall. A man committed to nonviolent direct action, Adeeb was charged with “incitement to violence,” a blanket charge often used to indict leading members of Palestinian communities resisting against the confiscation of their land. A judge initially ruled that Adeeb should be released with restrictive conditions forbidding him from attending demonstrations, but an appeal filed by the military prosecution was upheld, meaning that Adeeb would be held until the end of legal proceedings. Trials for Palestinians in Israeli military courts often last for over a year, leaving Adeeb’s family fatherless for the holidays.
Jody McIntyre spoke to Rajaa, Adeeb’s eldest daughter, to see how the family were coping during Eid al-Adha.
Rajaa Abu Rahmah: I have seven sisters and two brothers. I study medicine at al-Quds University.
Jody McIntyre: Why do you think your father was arrested?
RA: Because he struggled against the wall and the settlements, and to defend our land. They said in the judgement against him that they would serve a high punishment to make an example for others participating in the nonviolent resistance here, so I suppose they are using my father as a symbol to dissuade others from continuing with the struggle.
JM: The Israeli authorities are trying to present Adeeb as a violent man who incites riots, but what is your father really like as a person?
RA: All the people who struggled with him every week will tell you that he is not a violent man. But more to the point, we have a right to be on our land, so you can’t stop this person from resisting against an occupying force that has come and illegally confiscated that land. My father was fighting for his right in his own way, by going to the wall to demonstrate, and shouting to make his voice heard. You cannot say that it is wrong for a man to defend his rights.
JM: How has your family life changed since your father went to prison?
RA: I am the eldest child, so there are no brothers to take care of the family. Most of my brothers and sisters are small children. Since my father went to jail, we have no source of income, so our financial support is depleting. But it has also affected our feelings, we have no sense of security or safety now our father has been imprisoned.
My youngest sister is always crying when she thinks of our father, and all the kids are very frightened when they see the Israeli occupation forces. I think seeing the soldiers reminds them of why they cannot be with their father.
It has been especially difficult during the holidays, first Eid al-Fitr [the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan] and now Eid al-Adha … this is the second holiday we have been forced to spend without our father. The Eid is supposed to be a time to meet all the family and be happy together, but without our father here with us there is no joy. It is even more upsetting for us to think that he is not somewhere comfortable, but suffering in the cold of an Israeli military prison.
My sister Duaa is 18 years old; she was due to get married this summer, but now that our father has been imprisoned we have had to postpone the marriage until he is released.
JM: Do you know when your father will be released?
RA: The court said that it could be another 14 months, but they can renew the sentence indefinitely, so none of us know when we will see our father again.
JM: How has your father’s arrest affected your studies?
RA: This semester I am facing many problems with paying my university fees, and I keep missing the deadlines to pay. It also affects my feelings, as it is difficult to concentrate on my studies while I know my father is in prison.
However, the experience has also made me feel stronger. As the eldest child, I know that I am responsible for my younger brothers and sisters, and I want to try to fill the hole that our father has left.
JM: What is your message to the authorities responsible for keeping your father in prison?
RA: My father hasn’t done anything to you, and he has a right to defend the land you have stolen, so you must release him.
JM: When your father is released, what will be the first thing you say to him?
RA: That I missed him.
Jody McIntyre is a journalist from the United Kingdom, currently living in the occupied West Bank village of Bilin. Jody has cerebral palsy, and travels in a wheelchair. He writes a blog for Ctrl.Alt.Shift, entitled “Life on Wheels,” which can be found at www.ctrlaltshift.co.uk, where a version of this article was originally published. He can be reached at jody.mcintyre AT gmail DOT com.