Thursday 23 October 2014

Abu Shamsiya Family

The city of Hebron is continuously subjected to the most ruthless forms of Israeli occupation and settler violence and its residents are often arrested, without charge, as a form of intimidation and oppression. I travelled to the H2 area of Hebron (under full Israeli military control) and met with the Abu Shamsiya family, who are frequently victims of persecution from settlers and the occupation forces. 

Emad Abu Shamsiya lives with his wife and five children in the H2 area, embedded amongst swathes of illegal Israeli settlers. He took us through the checkpoint he has to pass through everyday, when he walks to and from his house. This checkpoint is sometimes shut and soldiers prevent him from passing through, meaning he has to walk many more kilometres round to the other entrance. We passed through the checkpoint and stood facing Al-Shuhada Street, once a vibrant marketplace within Hebron, but now it is often termed a ghost town where all of the Palestinian shops have been closed. It is controlled by Israeli occupation forces who stand less than a quarter of the way up the road and refuse entry to Palestinians - a policy of separation that couldn’t be more explicit. 

Israeli checkpoint.
Emad took us to his house, less than one hundred metres from Al-Shuhada Street. As we were walking, I noticed he walked with a limp in his right leg. He had been shot six times in the leg and his arms during the First Intifada - whilst harmlessly walking the streets with his friends. Experiences of Israeli violence aren’t rare for Emad. Dealing with this day-to-day oppression is an ongoing struggle and you can see that his experiences have meant that a sense of fearlessness runs through his veins. 

Al-Shuhada Street; a ghost town.
Emad Abu Shamsiya.
As we approached his house, we walked through a small gap in a concrete wall - built by the Israelis. This was the entrance to his house. We continued through a metal fence that surrounds his house, built by Emad himself to prevent settlers from throwing stones and rubbish at his home and his family. On the roof of his home stands an Israeli military watchtower - which is used on Fridays and Saturdays to control and monitor clashes, whilst Emad and his family would sit inside.

He invited us in to his home, a modest, concrete shack, where water and electricity is limited and is cut off whenever the occupation forces fancy. Of course, as is customary in Palestine, we were offered coffee and as we drank, Emad’s children began to return home from school. 

The Abu Shamsiya family, and Emad in particular, are regularly victims of arrest by Israeli forces - the most recent incident occurred on 4th October, when the whole family was arrested. There was no reason given for the arrest and Emad believes that it is just a form of intimidation that is used to eventually force the family to leave their home. There have been countless attempts by Israeli settlers to force their displacement, either through violence and humiliation (throwing stones and urinating on the family’s house) or by paying the family large sums of money to leave. But the Abu Shamsiya family are standing defiant. They know that the Israeli occupation and the settlers have no right to be on their land and they will continue to resist until their freedom is achieved. 

Entrance to the Abu Shamsiya family home.

Fence surrounding the home.

Israeli military watchtower on the roof of the house.
Once arrested, the family were detained and intensely interrogated. sixteen-year-old Madleen, Emad’s daughter, was questioned for four hours and eventually released without charge. The situation was much worse for Emad and his son Awni, fifteen, who were imprisoned for two days and had to pay 1000 shekels, over a month’s wage for many Palestinians, - which they raised from family, friends and also the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) - to be released. Amongst the already harsh prison conditions, Awni was fed just one meal during the two days he was imprisoned.

15-year-old Awni Abu Shamsiya.

Despite only being a young child, Awni is used to this kind of mistreatment. He has been imprisoned on numerous occasions and has experienced violence from Israeli settlers and occupation forces. Some of these arrests have been because of alleged stone throwing, a widespread form of youth resistance in Palestine. But stones are thrown at heavily armed soldiers, who are occupying these children’s land. When a child feels as though they have no opportunities and no freedom in a militarily controlled society, violence becomes their voice, and this is understandable. 

In Hebron, the number of arrests, particularly child arrests, has surged recently and the Abu Shamsiya family is just one amongst approximately one hundred and fifty other families living in this zone of Israeli imposed turmoil. It was difficult for me to remain hopeful whilst hearing the stories of Emad and his family. But whilst the stories were filled with misery, the family were filled with compassion and courage. These are two of the main human characteristics that can be used to overcome the inhumane Israeli occupation, and they are embedded within the hearts of so many Palestinians.

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