Prison walls

A Palestinian woman is forced to wait with her two sons at an Israeli army checkpoint in al-Tuwani. (Christian Peacemaker Teams)


“Nasser says hello,” the woman said as she stood in my doorway and smiled. I was barely able to choke out, “Say hello to him too.” Nasser, the woman’s husband, was in prison. He was arrested on 20 July during a peaceful demonstration in his West Bank village of al-Tuwani. He did nothing wrong, nothing but build a house on land he owns. A Palestinian need do nothing more to be treated like a criminal.

For the last month, Nasser’s family has been waiting for him to come home. Nearly each week, an Israeli judge considered Nasser’s case and Nasser waited to be told when he would be released from jail. “There will be another hearing next Thursday,” the judge said each time. “Maybe then he can come home,” I said to myself.

Last week, Nasser’s family was told that he could come home if Nasser paid a fine of 15,000 shekels (approximately $4,000), an impossibly large sum for someone from a village that has been impoverished by the confiscation of its land. The court never spoke with any of the Palestinians who witnessed Nasser’s arrest. My colleagues with Christian Peacemaker Teams videotaped the entire incident, but our tapes were never entered into evidence. The court just levied the fine and, frantically, the village of al-Tuwani gathered the money together. Last Monday, they tired to deliver it to the court, only to be told that the court would only accept the money on Sunday. Come Sunday, the court asked for another 5,000 shekels. And Nasser’s family continued to wait for him.

There are more than 11,000 Palestinians just like Nasser. They wait in Israeli jails, not knowing when they will see their families. This is how Israel treats Palestinians going about their everyday lives — building houses for their families, grazing their sheep, or going to work. Meanwhile, the Israeli police refuse to prosecute Israeli settlers for violent crimes. Time and time again, my colleagues and I document settler violence against Palestinians and show our videotapes to the Israeli police. Still, the police refuse to prosecute settlers even when presented with overwhelming evidence. Conversely, it takes only the word of a settler to land a Palestinian in jail.

Ramadan began and Nasser’s eldest son told me that his father was fasting in prison. “But there isn’t good food for him when he breaks the fast,” he explained. “Nasser really wants to come home.” I didn’t know what to say, but the look on my face must have said it all. “You’re just like Adam,” Nasser’s wife said, laughing. Adam is Nasser’s youngest child. He is four years old. “He wants his father, too.”

“It is possible,” wrote the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, “for prison walls to disappear.” Yes, Adam and I both want Nasser to come home. Even more than that, I want an end to the brutal occupation that separates so many parents from their children.

Late at night on 24 August, I saw fireworks in the sky above al-Tuwani and heard the words, “Nasser’s home!” I rushed to his house and there was Nasser, his mouth wide open and eyes shining, laughing the laugh that I have missed for the last month. Nasser’s wife handed me tea and as I took it, I realized that the sparkle in her eyes was back. The change in all of Nasser’s family was palpable. A hole the size of one man — father, husband, brother and son — was filled. But the occupation that tears apart of the lives of Palestinians rages on.

Joy Ellison is an American activist with Christian Peacemaker Teams, an organization that supports Palestinian nonviolent resistance. She lives in al-Tuwani, a small village in the South Hebron Hills which is nonviolently resisting settlement expansion and violence. She writes about her experiences on her blog, “I Saw it in Palestine” at http://inpalestine.blogspot.com.