By Tamar Fleishman
‘This place is the carbuncle on the ass of the occupation,’ said Dalit Baum as the gates of Ofer prison closed behind us.
The Palestinian residents of the West Bank, who had been living under occupation for over forty years and are deprived of their basic rights, are brought to justice in military courts. This entire legal system- investigators, prosecutors and judges- is comprised of men and women, in uniform, who are subordinated to and serve, not the principles of justice and law, but the mechanism of the occupation.
Ofer prison/detention center/court sits on Palestinian lands that had been confiscated from their owners.
For some months I sat in court and documented what was taking place there. I had witnessed the attempts of the system to create an illusion of a court house that concurs to the articles of the treaties and the international law, while in reality it was nothing more than a cynical farce.
In this place, aside from the adults, children of all ages are incarcerated as well. Helpless children whose faces I had seen screaming without sound. Children who are hunted down in the streets, in the allies and in their parents’ homes, in the dark of night and in broad day light.
To these children who are tortured and treated with violence, whose physical and mental scars will never heal, whose childhood had been taken away from and crushed, to the children who are incarcerated, to the children who had finished serving their time and the children who had yet to be notified of the date of their imprisonment which hovers above them like a perpetual threat to their daily lives- For all these children I have a duty to tell the story ..
The first time I crossed the threshold and entered the gates of the court, before understanding and learning the rules of the place, the rules of arbitrariness and of the erasing of human beings, on entering the hall in which young grief and pain stricken people are trailed, my gaze was fixed on the face of a teenager with handcuffs on his arms and legs, and two streams of tears piercing his cheeks. The tears ran down from his black shinning eyes in silence and his gaze was hung on the distant corner of the room where his mother sat, her facial features were the same as her son’s, tears were running down her cheeks, her eyes shining towards his holding with him a shrieking conversation without sound or language, that went back and forth from the mother to the son and from the son to the mother.
At the court I saw Yazun Ta’ar Hamuda Elhatib, a seventeen year old from Ramallah, he was accused of: “throwing stones”. Upon seeing his parents’ faces who sat at the back row, the row preserved for the relatives of the detainees- as far as possible from their loved ones- for fear that they might touch each other, the mother touch her son or the father his child (while I, a stranger, was entitled to sit on the benches in the front), the face of Yazun lit up with an enchanting and wide smile, the father hurried to ask his son whether he needed anything, Yazun: “No, nothing”. The father: “Perhaps money for the canteen?”, Yazun smiled: “No need”. Suddenly, as though from an inner source the smile came off, his face fell and he started tearing. He immediately collected himself, whipped his cheeks and hurried to put on the smiling mask that he used to hide his sorrow and pain, a tool for overcoming his yearnings and for soothing his parents.
And I also witnessed at the juvenile hall the frail fifteen year old Wasim Said Saadi Elharhi from Hebron, accused or one arbitrary thing or another.
Wasim had the face of a young child and the entire time he sat detached from what was taking place, as though it had nothing to do with him and his fate, and when judge Sharon Rivlin Ahai reported that the plea bargain that was being settled between both sides would include a fine of 3000 Shekels, the child’s father rose and shouted that he hadn’t the means to pay such a sum.
The judge said to him: “What are we going to do with his kid? (phrasing it in plural as though she and the father were partners)- he isn’t walking down good paths…” Wasim looked at his father with a yearning and longing gaze as the judge proceeded and finished with a patronizing tone: “He should get a profession and be a man!” Wasim remain in detention.
Outside the hall I asked the father what was Wasim’s crime and he replied: “You know, we live near the Cave of Machpela, he stole a gas bottle from the soldiers”. Then a person standing near us explained: “he means a gas grenade”.
As the weeks and months pass and one goes on visiting this place, the faces, the names and the stories emerge as a thick web of despair and sorrow for the shattering of life and the loss of hope, for childhood and adolescence entrapped in a splint with no way out.
This must be told to everyone, the children and teenagers, the specific stories the likes of which are thousand others, are a portrait of the Palestinian society and to us, the Israeli society, they must serve as a warning sign, a mirror that portrays our reflection.
(Translated by Ruth Fleishman)
– As a member of Machsomwatch, once a week Tamar Fleishman heads out to document the checkpoints between Jerusalem and Ramallah. This documentation (reports, photos and videos) can be found on the organization’s site: www.machsomwatch.org. She is also a member of the Coalition of Women for Peace and volunteer in Breaking the Silence. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.