Friday 7 November 2014

Taking Strength From Innocence

In Palestine, coffee shops are places of relaxation and a chance for people to unwind and escape the day-to-day troubles of occupation. Upon entrance in the majority of coffee shops in Palestine, you will be greeted with swirls of shisha smoke and the sights of friends playing card games or watching football. But on the night of 23rd July of this year, the Jaffa coffee shop in Abu Dis, was a scene far from relaxation and enjoyment.

In July, Israel began a campaign of relentless bombing and destruction in Gaza, where the lives of over 2000 Palestinians were taken - in an assault termed Operation Protective EdgeIn solidarity with the people of Gaza and also as a sign of resistance to Israel’s brutal attack, the residents of Abu Dis had organised daily demonstrations across the village. Stone throwing amongst the Palestinians was common during these protests and they were often countered by Israeli heavy weaponry, tear gas and gun fire. 

29 year-old Fuad Al-Hushiea was going about his normal business, managing Jaffa and serving customers, when these demonstrations broke out a street away from his coffee shop. As a sign of precaution and also to protect the wellbeing of his customers from the burning affects of tear gas, Fuad shut one of the doors of his shop and left the other one open. As the protests got more intense, Jaffa was suddenly bombarded by four armed Israeli soldiers who stormed to the back of the shop and arrested Fuad and two of his customers - Abed and Mohanad, who is married with two children. Fuad, flooded with a state of confusion, was accused by the soldiers of throwing stones. The soldiers provided no evidence and Fuad adamantly denied any involvement in the demonstrations - he was merely working. Despite his insistence, Fuad was threatened by the guns of heartless Israeli soldiers and was forcefully searched before being taken to a nearby Israeli military camp in Abu Dis.

Once inside the camp, Fuad was handcuffed, his face was covered and he was put beside a wall and left to be beaten. His mobile phone was cut, meaning his friends and family were unaware of his whereabouts, (and later found out that he was arrested via Facebook) and he was continually beaten for two and a half hours. As if this wasn’t enough of a punishment for an innocent coffee shop owner, Fuad was driven to a police station in the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and was further interrogated. Soldiers offered to release Fuad on the condition that he worked as a spy for them - a widespread method of Israeli intimidation across Abu Dis that is used on many young Palestinians. Of course, Fuad declined the offer. The Israelis then took his fingerprints and photographed him, despite his refutations: “I’m the owner of the coffee shop! Smell my hands, it’s coffee.” 

Fuad Al-Hushiea was managing his coffee shop when he was arrested for "throwing stones".
Fuad left the police station at 8am, nine hours after his arrest, and was taken to Ofer Prison near Ramallah. Given that there was no evidence presented to depict that Fuad was guilty, his prison sentence of three months was an absurd act of systemic injustice. After serving two months at Ofer, he was transferred to al-Naqab Prison in the Negev desert - which has been described as having conditions like the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

Fuad went to a military court nine times, where his voice of supposed “guilt” was contested amongst the voices of “honest” Israeli soldiers. So after serving his full sentence, he was then forced to pay 3000 shekels (around £600) to be released, money that he borrowed from his brother. 

It’s inevitable that three months in prison would have a hugely detrimental effect on any young man. But in the case of Fuad, this was coupled with a complete state of disarray for a peaceful man who is still entirely insistent on his innocence. His brother left his work in a supermarket to manage the coffee shop, while Fuad psychologically perished in prison. Alongside managing Jaffa, Fuad studies English Literature at Al Quds University and his studies were therefore greatly affected.

The Jaffa coffee shop in Abu Dis.
Having been released only recently, on the 28th October, Fuad is still asking why he was imprisoned - “How can I live like this?” he asked me. Demonstrations and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in Abu Dis are still occurring on an almost daily basis and whenever they break out Fuad closes his coffee shop and goes home. Understandably he doesn’t want to face the risks of more time in prison and this single act of injustice will stay with him, probably for the rest of his life. 

I asked Fuad if his time in prison made him any stronger. Smiling, he replied: “We Palestinians are always strong.” I suppose you have to always be strong to be innocently imprisoned without any reason. Or to live under a crippling occupation, where your human rights are violated on a daily basis. This strength is something that we can all draw on for inspiration in our own lives. Which, in contrast to those of Palestinians, are lives of luxury.

"We tried peace in the Oslo Accords. We tried fighting during the Intifadas. Neither worked, so now maybe it's time for God to fix our problems." - Fuad Al-Hushiea.

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