ISM founder Huwaida Arraf was taken into custody at Huwara Checkpoint near Nablus on June 18th after she protested the abusive treatment Palestinians were receiving from Israeli forces.
Huwaida began negotiating with soldiers to secure the release of 2 Palestinian men who had been detained in the sun with their hands tied behind their backs for over 3 hours. One of the men has a bad back and was detained while trying to cross the checkpoint on his way to an appointment with a physician.
While Huwaida was negotiating with the soldiers a 3rd Palestinian man trying to cross the checkpoint was threatened by soldiers who held a gun to his head. Huwaida tried to negotiate with the soldiers over the treatment of the Palestinian man and was arrested. She was interrogated at Huwara Military Base and later taken to Ariel Police station where she was placed under arrest.
[action request on this issue now void]
Follow-up message from Huwaida Arraf after her release
Thank you for the calls and the emails. I am embarassed to have taken up your time with my case when there are so many other Palestinians that need your help. The officer filling out my release papers commented that I “must have many friends all over the world.”
I was put under arrest today for “obstructing the work of soldiers” and though I didn’t go to prison, I’d like to ask a few minutes of your time to tell you about what happened today, and the larger prison that all Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are in.
I arrived at the Huwwara checkpoint at around 12:30pm with a newly arrived American volunteer, Rick; we were on our way to Nablus. The queue was long, at least 70 people, and it didn’t look like the three Israeli soldiers that were manning the checkpoint were letting anybody through. A few of the Palestinian men, who had already been at the checkpoint for over an hour, seeing my companion was an international, advised us to walk around the checkpoint to avoid what would surely be another 3-hour wait, at least; “If you have an American passport, you’ll pass, no problem.”
Though we were in a hurry to get Rick to the ISM training in Nablus, there was no question that we’d refuse to take advantage of the racist system that would allow an American into Nablus, but require a resident of Nablus or a surrounding village to wait for hours, to be checked by Israeli soldiers and then given a verdict of whether he/she could go home, to work, or to school. So we waited.
Soldiers make Palestinians stand in a female line and a male line and so our Palestinian friends, who were trying to save us time, urged us to at least get into the shorter female line. We did. A half an hour later a soldier came over and let a handful of women pass. I was one of the ones singled out to pass. Rick came with me. When we approched the soldier that was to check our IDs, we noticed a family, a man, woman and two children who were standing aside. Apparently the soldiers did not want to let the man through (he had a British passport) and his wife, a Palestinian from Nablus, was refusing to leave without him. They were also refusing to turn back.
The soldiers kept asking of the Brit, his “hawiyya” - ID, insinuating that he had a Palestinian ID (in addition to the passport) and was just refusing to show it. I then noticed two yound Palestinian men, in their early twenties, crouching up against the cinder blocks that form the checkpoint, their hands tied behind their backs.
An old woman was pleading with the Israeli soldiers, her son (one of the young men), was sick and had back problems and was on his way to Rafeedia Hospital in Nablus. She was trying to show the soldier her son’s papers and x-rays, but he wasn’t interested. “His back! His back!” she cried, but the soldier only yelled at her to go away. I interfered to ask the soldier why he was yelling at the old woman and holding the young men. He said he wasn’t interested.
I learned from the two men, Rashed and Ramsy that they had been held for 3 hours by that point (since about 9:30am) and the soldiers had confiscated their ID cards. They weren’t told why. I got on the phone with HaMoked, an Israeli human rights organization in Jerusalem that often turns in complaints of abuses to the Military District Coordinating Office, and gave them the names of the young men. Rick and I decided that we would stay by Ramsy and Rashed until HaMoked was able to get back to us.
Ramsy stood up to show us that his cuffs were on way too tight. It looked like he was losing circulation. I pleaded with one of the soldiers to loosen his cuffs, Rick pointing out that the boy could be seriously hurt. The soldier screamed at Ramsy to kneel “or else.” Another soldier, calling himself a beast, said “I want to kill him today.”
The soldiers told me to leave the area, as I was in a closed military zone.
A young man, named Nael, came through, asked the soldier if he could pass because he got word that his father passed away last night and he wanted to visit him before he was buried. The soldier told him to shut up and get back in line. When Nael persisted, the soldier called him a “son of a b*tch” and began pushing him. Nael stood his ground and the pushing got very rough. Another soldier ran over screaming and put his M-16 to Nael’s head. They grabbed Nael and pulled him away, one soldier still screaming and threatening to shoot. Rick and I followed and whipped out our cameras, “Hey, hey, calm down. Calm down!” Nael was also put in cuffs and told that he would be arrested and that he “would be seeing a jail cell and not [his] father.” Another call to HaMoked.
The soldiers kept telling me to leave the area, as I was in a closed military zone and preventing them from doing their job — really annoying them. I refused, telling them that there was no way I was going to leave these guys when it was obvious the soldiers were being very abusive, and even if they considered serving the occupation as their “job” there was no reason not to treat the people as human beings. This whole time they did not let any one through the checkpoint, though every once in a while a soldier would get on the loud speaker and yell at the Palestinians to form straight lines and to stand behind the plastic barricades or else the checkpoint would be closed for the rest of the day.
By 3:30pm, more pushing, yelling, loosing and tightening of cuffs, Ramsy (the sick one) was released. One of the soldiers kept saying to us in English, “I want to kill him today.” I asked why he couldn’t realize that we’re all human beings like he was. He replied, “I’m not a human being, I’m a beast. I’m a beast, OK, and I want to kill him.” He came up behind Rashed, grabbed arms and tightened his plastic cuffs until they couldn’t be tightened any more. When I protested, he yanked Rashed away and threw him behind an area of cinder blocks telling him to kneel so that he was out of sight. Rashed tried to stand up a few times, “my hands, my hands!” Another call to HaMoked. Nael, still cuffed, ordered from a young boy vendor, three colas, for me, Rick and himself.
He urged me to leave, assuring me that he would be OK.
It didn’t seem like any of what we were saying was getting through to any of the soldiers who kept treating the people like they were less than human, denying entry to into Nablus to a new bride and her husband going to visit family, a husband and father, trying to enter with his family (the soldiers only let the wife and kids go) and a half dozen others, as people were ordered to approach one by one, one every 10 minutes or so. The self-described “beast” confiscated two bikes and one trolley - things that Palestinians trying to make a living in an economy with a 70% unemployment rate, use to transport the bags and luggage of other travelers for a small charge (as Palestinians often have to walk distances, owners of trolleys, bikes, and donkeys offer rides or transport of heavy bags for a nominal fee.)
A young boy came up to me to tell me that Rashed had been released. I guess I had had my back turned, and at first didn’t believe it. But Rashed came up to the front of the line to wave and confirm that he was let go. I went up to him, “are you going to try the other way around? Take care.” He smiled, “thanks.” Only Nael was left until the “beast” ran after a Palestinian man who was given to pass, and for no reason, tied his hands up and pushed him down behind some cinder blocks, where Rashed was only minutes before. By now the soldiers were getting pretty annoyed with me (perhaps because the HaMoked calls were working) and a police jeep pulled up. By 4:30 I was taken away. Rick was given the option to leave and it seemed best, though I was worried about him traveling alone on his second day.
I was released at about 11pm from Ariel (settlement) police station. An anonymous friend (a veteran from the first Intifada who had spent 11 years in jail for actively organizing the popular resistance) made the 40km drive in the dark on the windy settler road to pick me up. Rick made it back OK. HaMoked rang to check up on me. Nael was not released.
If you can, please call or write to inquire about Nael Suwaydi from Abu Dis, arrested at Huwarra checkpoint on June 18, 2003 for daring to come from Abu Dis to Nablus, without permission, to pay respects to his father. I never did give Nael my condolences.
Tel: + (972) 36 080 339
Fax: +(972) 36 080 343
Contact the Israeli Embassy in your country: http://www.embassyworld.com/embassy/israel1.htm
In solidarity & struggle,