Prisons and parties

The illegal settlement of Ariel overlooks the Palestinian village of Marda, near Nablus, in the occupied West Bank (Photo: International Women’s Peace Service)

On May 18, after four weeks in prison, Jaber Dalany (the Palestinian man with meningitis who was arrested at Huwara checkpoint), was finally presented with charges. As expected, the charges are preposterous, not to mention the fact that they all refer to incidents that supposedly happened more than 2 years ago. The first two relate to membership in Hamas (which he and his family deny) and providing food, shelter, and cell phones to “wanted” men (his brother stayed at his house shortly before being arrested a couple years ago). The third charge is both the most serious and the most ridiculous, stating that Jaber and two others had “planned to introduce an explosive vehicle into the settlement of Ariel, near its movie theater. The plan, however, was not carried out when the defendant and his comrades discovered that Ariel had no movie theater.” It would be laughable if we weren’t talking about someone’s life here. I mean really, if I had planned to blow up Ariel’s movie theater and then found out it didn’t exist, I’d probably blow up their hotel. Or their mall. Or their college. Or the mayor’s office. Or the police station. Or the army headquarters. No cinema, no bomb? Doesn’t make much sense. The charges don’t even state that there was a bomb, just that they had “planned” something, meaning at most that someone could have thought about an action. As an Israeli friend said to me last night, “I can’t even count how many times I’ve thought about blowing up things in Ariel.” We talked about trying to organize 1,000 people to walk to the police station in Ariel to confess our thoughts about the place, but decided against it.

So Jaber is still in prison, with a trial date scheduled for June 27. His wife is due to give birth around that time, and his three children (a 4-year-old son and 1 1/2-year-old twin girls) continue to wake up every morning and say good morning to the picture of their father. I went to visit the family on Monday, and as Jaber’s brother pulled up to the house with me in the car, 4-year- old Kassam came running out, laughing and clapping his hands and chanting, “Ajaat Hannah, ajaat Hannah!” (Hannah’s here). I decided he’s my new best friend. He sat on my lap for much of the time I was there, and then took me around the yard on a tour of all the plants and trees. I marvelled over his knowledge of the land. After only 4 years of life, he can point out to me olives, figs, apples, sage, thyme, cauliflower, tomatoes, cabbage, parsley, almonds and more. Khulud, Jaber’s wife, called us in for dinner: maklube, my favorite Palestinian dish, with extra cauliflower, my favorite fried vegetable. I was touched, and again amazed. I hadn’t even remembered telling her my food preferences, but she knew. And she didn’t even try to get me to eat chicken (although her mother-in-law did, insisting it’s not really meat).

On Saturday I stopped by an international friend’s house in Ramallah for a going away party. There were probably 10 internationals there, but what I noticed more were the number of Palestinians and Israelis, and their obviously close relationships with each other. Usually when I’m with Palestinians and Israelis together, we’re at a demonstration, so it was nice to see folks interacting with each other socially.

We left Ramallah around 8:30 pm to try to make it back to Jerusalem by 10, which under normal circumstances is no problem. When we got to Kalandia checkpoint, however, we saw a man being held with his hands cuffed behind his back. I quickly went around to a group of people watching him through a fence, and asked, “Do you know him?” A man who appeared to have been in tears (either that or extremely exhausted) responded, “He’s my son.” They had been coming from Ramallah on their way to a wedding in Al Ram about an hour before. Soldiers had glanced at everyone else’s IDs and waved them forward, but when they came to this young man (28 years old), they pulled him aside and told him to wait while they checked his ID. Fifteen minutes later they put him in cuffs. He had just gone through that checkpoint yesterday with no problem, his father told me, completely perplexed as to why the soldiers would want his son. The father began talking to the soldiers in English, saying he works for the UN and this is his son and they’re on their way to a wedding, etc.

Finally they asked me to talk to the soldiers and I stepped forward with a few futile attempts at, “Excuse me, what’s the problem?” Finally the commander came out to our side of the fence and told everyone to go home. The father protested, and the commander said fine, you can stay, but the rest of the group should leave. “What are you doing with him?” asked the father. The commander replied, “We’re waiting for the police car to get here so we can take him away.” “Where are you taking him?” I asked. “We don’t know yet,” the commander responded. “Why are you arresting him?” I asked. “Because he needs to be arrested.” Trying to get information from soldiers can be one of the most frustrating and useless tasks. We gave the family the phone number for Hamoked, an Israeli organization that can sometimes help in these situations, and they called. Hamoked promised to make a few calls to the army. There wasn’t much else we could do. The soldiers were not being particularly violent and it didn’t seem they would start being violent in our absence, so we gave the father our card and continued to Jerusalem. About a half hour later, the father called to tell us his son had been released, and the whole family was told to go home. So they weren’t able to go to the wedding, but things could have been much worse. We were relieved. In the grand scheme of occupation here, this major injustice is a relatively minor hassle.

This week, like every other week in Palestine, has been full of stories of prisons and parties. I find myself not wanting to write these days, not being surprised by anything and not really seeing any changes on the ground. But I know the danger of forgetting. Just because injustice is systemized and commonplace does not mean we should ignore it. So here it is. And in that vein, below is a partial list of incidents this week, incidents you probably have not read about in the mainstream media.

This week’s update from IMEMC (International Middle East Media Center) Published on Friday, 27 May 2005

A report prepared and published by the Information Center revealed that 347 violations to the truce were reported, including 57 shooting incidents against civilians, causing four deaths and 25 injuries. 27 invasions were conducted, and 57 arrests were made.

Soldiers closed roads and Separation Wall gates 113 times, and installed 52 portable checkpoints.

Israeli soldiers and settlers bulldozed and uprooted family orchards, especially lands planted with olive trees, 7 times over the last week, causing considerable losses.

19 attacks were conducted by the settlers against Palestinian homes and residents.

Soldiers annexed farmlands from the village in order to widen settlements and construct sections of the Separation Wall.

Soldiers broke into dozens of homes, detained residents and interrogated them after forcing them out of their homes.

Soldiers stopped a school bus near the northern West Bank city of Qalqilia on Thursday, forced the children out of the bus, punched and clubbed several students; at least five children were injured.

Checkpoints and crossings were repeatedly closed and border crossings were blocked, barring the residents from leaving or entering the country.

Video footage broadcast on the Israeli TV Channel 10 showed soldiers breaking into a Palestinian home in Hebron area and taking over the TV room in order to watch a soccer match. The footage showed damage in the home - broken windows and furniture - after the soldiers seized the TV room. The family reported that five soldiers broke into their home to view the Champions’ League final between AC Milan and Liverpool. Anan al-Zrayer, a teenager from Hebron, said that he was walking down the street when the soldiers stopped him and asked him if his family has a TV set and a satellite dish. “I said yes, but we don’t have Israeli channels, and after they entered our home, I gave them the remote control, and they carried out a search after kicking us out into another room”, Anan said. A Hebron resident told Channel 10 that this is not the first time that soldiers had taken over Palestinian homes in Hebron to watch TV. The resident added that about two weeks ago, eleven soldiers broke into his home and stayed for the whole night while watching TV.

Friday morning, Israeli soldiers invaded the village of Beit Liqya, south of Ramallah, and arrested eight residents. Two weeks ago, Israeli soldiers invaded the village and fired at children; two were killed.

Hannah is a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement.