13 November 2010
Collective punishment has found a new focus in Beit Ummar. 13 youths aged 15-28 have been arrested for participation in peaceful demonstrations over the past month. Some are arrested during the demonstrations; others are picked up in aggressive midnight raids. Israelis soldiers often smash furniture and break windows, forcing families to wait outside as they abduct their children and vandalise their property.
Hesham Abu-Maria attends the weekly protests in Beit Ummar along with his three young children. When asked if he is concerned that they may be arrested, Hesham explains “No one wants his children to join the demonstration because we are worried for them, but you cannot stop them from going. This is also their struggle.”
Hesham has a reason to be fearful. His 20-year-old son Jihad Abu-Maria was arrested last month during a protest. He was seized by Israeli Special Forces posing as Palestinian youths, throwing stones and inciting Palestinians to violence. Jihad was attacked by three of the undercover Israeli soldiers. They caught him by the neck and threw him to the ground, before beating him with their rifles.
The incident came just eight months after Jihad was released from a 30 month jail sentence, also a result of activism. He has now served another month without charge. His trial has been delayed indefinitely, so that there is no prospect of his being released.
The Israeli military typically arrest youths on charges of rock-throwing. They are then tried by an Israeli court and sentenced, often without access to their families or legal counsel. Conditions are notoriously inhumane during their captivity.
15-year-old Rashid A., another resident of Beit Ummar, was arrested last May and held in jail for one month. He was held in a four-by-four metre cell with ten other prisoners, all of whom were adults. During interrogation, he was slapped and deprived of food and sleep. He could not see or talk to his family during his time in jail, despite his age. He was allowed contact with a lawyer during his trial, and released with a 500 shekel fine.
Rashid has two older brothers in jail. His brother Issa was arrested at 20 years old, and sentenced to 40 months in jail, and his brother Zaid was recently arrested, and sentenced to five months.
With his brothers behind bars, Rashid continues to attend the Saturday demonstrations. When asked if he was afraid of being arrested, he explains that it is his duty to protest. “Every time my parents try to prevent us from going – they are against it. But it is patriotic to my country. I do not mind being arrested.”
Younes Arar, the head of the National Committee for Resisting the Apartheid Wall and Settlements, believes the protestors are manipulated by the Israeli military. “They want to push us to do violence – to contradict our non-violent demonstration and undermine our goals.”
Despite the constant threat of youth arrests and imprisonment, nobody is discouraged. Younes clarifies the feeling of the community. “We are scared, but also proud. We have high expectations for our children and for the future.”