Interview: Living under constant fear of arrest

So far Israel’s night raids into Bilin have failed to suppress Palestinian resistance. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)


Mohammed Ahmed Issa Yassen, 20, lives in the occupied West Bank village of Bilin, where he works in his family’s car garage business as a mechanic. He is also a student at the al-Quds Open University, but since he has joined the Israeli intelligence’s “wanted” list from the village, studying has been difficult. The Electronic Intifada contributor Jody McIntyre interviewed Mohammed about living under the constant threat of arrest:

Jody McIntyre: How many times have the Israeli army been to your house?

Mohammed Ahmed Issa Yassen: During the most recent wave of arrests in the village [which has been over the last four months], the army have been to my house eight times. The first time they came was 3 July; I was not at home, so they started trashing our house and destroying the furniture. My mother, who is 52 years old, was at home at the time, and they told her to bring her son to prison. Each time they came, they were more and more aggressive towards my mother. Nowadays, she can’t sleep at night.

They also went to the house of my older brother, Mazen, and gave him an invitation demanding that he hand me in at Ofer military complex, so that they could arrest me. They didn’t say why they wanted to arrest me.

JM: How have the night raids affected your life?

MY: I can’t live a normal life. I can’t sleep at home during the night, because I fear that the army will come to arrest me, and during the day I must work; my father passed away in January of this year, so I must earn money for the family. We don’t live a luxurious lifestyle, not by any means, but we need to have food on the table.

My young nieces and nephews used to come over to my house to stay with [their] grandmother, but on one occasion the army invaded while they were here, and now they’re too afraid to sleep over again. It’s not just my family though, it’s a problem for the whole village — no one can sleep at night anymore.

JM: What about your studies and relationships with friends?

MY: It was difficult to continue my studies before the night raids, because of the expense of traveling to university and paying the semester fees, but now it is pretty much impossible. The night raids have ruined my education.

Some of my friends are afraid to hang out with me now, because they fear that they might also be arrested. I don’t want to go to stay at my friends’ houses anymore, or to have them over to stay, because I don’t want to drag them into my problems.

JM: Has anyone else from your family been arrested in the past?

MY: At the beginning of the nonviolent resistance in Bilin, towards the start of 2006, they were using a similar tactic as recently, invading the village at night and arresting the participants of the demonstrations. They arrested my oldest brother Bassem, and kept him in jail for four months.

At around the same time, they arrested my younger brother Abdullah. He was just 14 years old at the time. I was 16, and it was the first time I had seen the soldiers at such a close range … the first time I’d had a chance to look them in the eyes. I was terrified.

During the second or third of the most recent raids in my house, they arrested Abdullah, now aged 18, again. He’s been in jail for the last two months, and won’t be released for another four and a half. I miss Abdullah so much … before he was arrested, we would spend the whole day working together in our family’s garage, and then playing around afterwards. I would give him some money from the business’ takings, without telling our mother … sometimes we didn’t have enough money to go around, so I would give him some from my own pocket, just to make him feel like he was living a normal childhood. Since our father died, I’ve felt like a father to Abdullah.

JM: Why do you think the Israeli army want to arrest you?

MY: I don’t know why they have made me into this big criminal … I have to work all day to make sure my family has bread, so I don’t even have time to go to the demonstrations! Young boys from the village, under intense interrogation, supposedly “confessed” that I had thrown stones in the past — this isn’t true, but even if I had, what difference does this make to the fourth largest army in the world? After all, they are the ones stealing our land!

It seems that every couple of years, the army in Bilin, perhaps under different leaderships, try a new tactic to stop our nonviolent demonstrations. Sometimes they arrest people from the village, like they are doing now, sometimes they impose curfews, and sometimes they kill people … like my friend Bassem Abu Rahme.

They think they can stop the demonstrations in Bilin, but they can’t, so they punish us instead.

JM: What is your message to the Israeli government who want to put you in jail?

MY: Leave me alone so that I can go back to my studies, to play football with my friends, and to continue with my normal life. And release my brother Abdullah so I can see him again.

If Israelis want to meet me then we can go to the playground and have a game of football, not in a military prison!

JM: Do you think there will ever be a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

MY:I just want to see a peaceful solution in my house and in my village. For now, it is difficult for me to think about the bigger picture.

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.