We visit Salem and Deir El Hattab near Nablus with the regularity one visits a close friend. Over the past six years, we have found various ways to make it into these villages, which are controlled and at times besieged by our military. According to the current procedure, we first stop by the military’s Nablus Regiment HQ, and sign a release form affirming that the army has no responsibility to our fate. The female soldiers staffing HQ know us and receive us with grace; the Operations Officers, who change every few months, know us personally as well. From HQ, information about our arrival is tranmitted to the area battalion, and from there to the soldiers manning Beit Furiq Checkpoint. But since the drive from HQ to the checkpoint takes only 3 minutes, we usually get there ahead of this formal announcement. Therefore, we usually wait there until we are officially allowed to cross the checkpoint, into “Enemy Territory” as the sign there says.
However, there is no pain without some gain. The waiting time is often filled by chats with the soldiers. It almost always begins by one of them asking: But what are you doing there? The askers change from visit to visit, and the question’s tone varies as well – and, naturally, the type of conversation that follows varies as well.
Today, Thursday September 18th, a young soldier asked again: But what are you doing there? The tone was not welcoming, to put it mildly. More like, taunting. But I decided to reply in earnest. “We are visiting friends”.
“Friends ??????!!!!!!!” Repeats the young soldier in a tone somewhere between shock and anger. “Friends”, I calmly confirm, and continue: “you must have friends you visit, too. Everyone has.”
“But they are A-L-L shit”, says this young friend with loud confidence. “How do you know?” I ask (still patiently). “It’s because of them that I have to be here”, answers the soldier.
I really listen to him, an attitude which somewhat softens the stress and hostility in his face. I use this small gap and reply: “I think it is really hard for you to be here, but it is not because of ‘Them’ but because of the Occupation.” (I breathe, make a pause, and continue:) “When you finish your military service and won’t be here anymore, you will be able to tell yourself that there are many fish in the sea. Not all of ‘Them’ are shit, and we, too, are not all made of the same material.”
He didn’t answer. For a moment, there was a fertile silence of someone processing what he’s heard. I respect this silence and look at him patiently, when another soldier says: “you may pass!” I don’t haste to leave. He doesn’t either. And then he says with the definiteness of someone who has thought deeply and reached the only possible conclusion: “I will never think differently. They are A-L-L shit. Until the end of my life this will not change.”
He made his verdict, turned his back and withdrew from this surreal dialogue.
I left, too. Our close friend, Eiman of Deir El Hattab, already waited for us on the other side. This time we visited four of our friends in these villages. Meet, and make practical arrangements. With the first, we check who will be the contact person between the olive harvesters and the military arm in charge of protecting them from settler violence. With the second – how can we promote the release on parole of the family father, who is in the Israeli jail and has served the allotted two-thirds of his sentence? With the third – how to help obtain medical advice in Israel for their child who suffers from a rare illness. And so on.
Around 1 o’clock we make it to our good friend Abu Zaki of Salem. Last visit for today. It is Ramadan. Our hosts insists on giving us something to drink, at least, and we relent (they still fast). The kids are already back to school, and their presence mellows the atmosphere even more. Ehud fools around with the energetic Ziad, and I try my Arabic with the family’s beautiful daughters. A bit later, Amid enters. He is Abu Zaki’s nephew. He returned from school and passed by his uncle on the way home. Amid sat with us, too, and around 3:20 bade us farewell and went home.
About five minutes later, Abu Zaki drove us back to the checkpoint. When we got back home to Shoval an hour and a half later, Abu Zaki calls us and tells us in a pained voice that the military arrested Amid and he is at the checkpoint, bound and blindfolded. Abu Zaki got the notice just as he got back from driving us. Amid was already detained there. This means that he was arrested barely five minutes after leaving us.
We immediately understood that Amid will be in jail for at least 96 hours before being brought to court. This is how it is, when you are an Occupied Palestinian. Israelis can be arrested only for 24 hours without trial. If you are Palestinian just before the weekend, and you have not been interrogated yet, they will extend your arrest by yet another 96 hours, because you are Palestinian and the Occupation law allows them to hold you for 8 whole days without any interrogation or arrest.
We acted swiftly. We got a lawyer and tried to use contacts we have in the military and the Ariel police. No luck. When our requests are related to arrested Palestinians, the friendly niceness changes immediately to an operational businesslike manner of people “who know things we don’t” – and we are left helpless.
We did what we could. Our hands are tied too. From now on, only a lawyer could help – preferably an Israeli lawyer. So we found one. At a late hour, very tired, I lay to sleep but the pain does not let up. The military says Amid threw stones and tried to torch the watchtower. I don’t know whether they are right or wrong. Three days have passed now, and they did not even make a preliminary interrogation – not to mention a court hearing. But I do know that I saw Amid five minutes before soldiers fired at him, and that he was heading home, and that his family is peaceful. And I know from his uncle that Amid cried to him: “I didn’t do it, Uncle!”, when Abu Zaki brought him the fast-breaking meal at the Checkpoint (which he was allowed after our intervention with HQ). And I know that one of the soldiers said Amid threw a Molotov cocktail, but the police officer said he threw rocks – and today’s latest military version is that he tried to torch the watchtower.
And I know that on that damned day’s morning a soldier at the checkpoint told me, “But they are A-L-L shit. I will never think otherwise in my life.”
Erella. (Ehud was partner to the visit)
—————- Sep. 28 Update from Ehud:
At last there was a hearing, but the military judge didn’t pay any attention to Erella’s testimony brought to him by Amid’s lawyer. He scheduled Amid’s trial to 18th November, so he can rest during the holidays and long after, while Amid will rest in jail. We may need your help in raising money for Amid’s lawyer.