Wednesday 25 February 2015

I will never leave you alone

Many untold stories in the occupied territories are buried under rubble, olive tree ashes and weeping voices. Occupation would have not been possible without you. You normalised oppression and injustice in Palestine and you normalised the suffering of this land and its people. Normalisation takes many forms – in one way, it is described as the occupier colonising the minds of the oppressed people to the point their reality becomes confusing, oppression becomes the status quo, suffering becomes comfortable and even memories become colonised. In another way, normalisation is when you are no longer outraged by the horrendous stories of military occupation, when you think the Apartheid wall was built to prevent terrorist attacks, when you consider the 99 checkpoints in the West Bank to be terminals, when you name the 2008 Israeli siege of the Gaza strip a “war” instead of a massacre, when you feel you should stay neutral rather than taking sides because history is too complicated, when you naively continue to believe in “peace talks” and in “the two sides should come together” rather than in justice, when you ignore the power asymmetry thus choosing the side of the persecutor. Can you understand that an oppressed and colonised people can never have equality with their oppressors and colonisers? When you say peace can be achieved through dialogue and understanding, are you aware that settlers are permitted by Israeli law to carry arms at all times, and that settler violence against Palestinians is as old as the settlements themselves? I dare you to have an understanding dialogue and co-exist with those who tear gas your children on their way to school. Go on, try. While you say Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, do you know that under the military order no. 101 non-violent resistance is forbidden, including raising the Palestinian flag and young people are targeted in peaceful protests to further the goal of “self-deportation”? Does that make you angry? If not, thank you. Occupation would have not been possible without you. Your mind was also colonised. Break away from it. What’s happening in Palestine is not normal. 

And it is not normal what happened to you, Hosam. But it’s not new, so it ceases to be of interest to the rest of the world.

I knew I will write about you after the first days we met, when you told me about your trip to London. You just wanted to get lost and never return. You tried but there are just too many maps in London so you came back to Palestine. That would have been a different blog post though. Right now I can still picture us running away from sound grenades, choking on tear gas and sniffing on an onion like it was our only escape. That car wash turned out to be our shelter and you took a photo of my teary red eyes for memories and we laughed so much, adrenaline still rushing through our bodies. I thanked you for staying with me. I will never leave you alone, you said. Little did you know I was the one to abandon you shortly after we decided to go back to our friends. 

The faces of the two soldiers who cornered you are alive in my head. The brave army of defense. Them against peaceful unarmed protesters. Palestinians stand up to soldiers every day, using as weapons their strength, courage and an unshakable faith in the freedom of their land. And this is contagious for the international people who stand by their side. The flag in one hand and hope in the other. Before everything turned into chaos, I told you I kept looking directly into the soldiers’ eyes to see if there’s any conscience left in there. How can a pair of green eyes be so inexpressive?  He can’t be older than 18, I whispered. But the other pair of dark eyes damned you. He said you threw rocks when you were just watching the bulldozer destroying your homeland. For what happened next I can only say I’m sorry.

I wrote a statement for your military court. I said you were with me all day, not throwing stones at any point. I said I have photos of you during the protest, not throwing stones. I said I have videos of you during the protest, not throwing stones. They denied your rights to a witness or a witness statement. They believed the green and dark eyed soldiers. Not many know that Palestinian prisoners are presumed guilty until proven innocent and not the other way around. Not many know that from now on, you have a security record and you and your family will be continuously targeted. Not many know about the crushing practice of releasing a prisoner only to re-arrest him/her within a short time, often within weeks, aimed at destroying hope and creating despair. Not many know the horrifying stories of Palestinian prisoners – the ill treatment starts from the moment of arrest and continues with physical violence, verbal abuse, threats, humiliation and intimidation, hand ties and blindfolds, transfer to the interrogation centre on the floor of a vehicle, the shame and embarrassment of being strip searched, solitary confinement, confessions and documentation written in Hebrew, sleep deprivation due to long hours of interrogation, and the constant state of fear. Not many know about the military order 815 that authorizes Israel to hold Palestinians in administrative detention for up to six months without charge or trial or that these detentions can be renewed indefinitely. Not many know that the likelihood of a Palestinian to have a just trial is non-existent in a judicial process operating within a colonial-settler system.

I was so close to you two days ago. I came to Ofer Prison or Incarceration Facility 385 as they call it. Everything about that place frightened me. Of course there were checkpoints and of course there was a wall. But what saddened me the most was the unnecessary cruel treatment and the mocking of families by soldiers – from making horse sounds while people passed through the checkpoint gates to calling family members inside the “court” by one soldier and then told by another one to go back and wait some more.  The “waiting area” was made up mostly by mothers – some with teary eyes and holding prayer beads, sign they’re not used to being there; some with rigid faces and steady presence, sign they’ve been there too many times. The so called court is actually seven boxes – seven tiny white buildings with two doors each, one through which the prisoner enters and the other one through which family members and lawyers enter. They’re separated by another wall. Photography that could show the world this inhumane “facility” was forbidden. Each prisoner is allowed to have two members present in the court. Your mom and uncle were there so I couldn’t mention I came for your hearing. A father whose 15 year old son, Mohammed, was imprisoned, came alone and kindly agreed to say I’m his son’s friend. Mohammed was sentenced to 6 months prison for throwing stones. “Generous” sentence if we think that the maximum penalty for throwing stones is 10 years. I was grateful for not being his friend.

I’ve been told I should try and write happy stories from Palestine. I have so many to tell. I can write pages about how beautiful Palestinians are. Today I met the most energetic and joyful girl in the university. She lives in one of the many refugee camps. She told me she doesn’t want the world to see her as a victim but as a survivor. Yes, every single Palestinian is a survivor. So are you, dear friend. But for now, I can only write about your grieving homeland because too many are normalising the abnormal.

Hosam is free. Palestine will be free.

Ofer Prison

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