We go to the villages of Salem and Deir al Khatab, near Nablus, as frequently as a person visits an especially close friend. In various, colorful ways we’ve been entering these villages for the past six years.
The present procedure is to stop on our way at the Israeli army HQ of the Nablus area brigade and sign a document releasing the military from any responsibility for our wellbeing. The girl-soldiers know us and receive us warmly, the operations officers on duty whom we notify of our coming ahead of time know us personally. The HQ passes word on to the battalion and from there on to the Beit Furiq Checkpoint.
However, it takes us exactly three minutes to drive from the brigade HQ base to the checkpoint. There, we do not run into the phone message that was supposed to precede us. We then have to be delayed at the checkpoint and wait for the soldiers to be instructed by Battalion HQ (whom we released of any responsibility for or wellbeing etc.) that we do indeed have permission to cross the checkpoint into enemy territory, as the sign says.
But, you lose some, you win some.
Our waiting time usually gets filled with talking to the soldiers. It almost always begins with a question one of them asks us: Say, what are you doing there? The soldiers change from visit to visit, so does the tone in which the question is asked, as well as the content of the conversation that succeeds it.
Today as well, Thursday the 18th of September, 2008, a young soldier asked:
“Say, what do you do there?” The tone was uninviting, to say the least, perhaps rather defiant, but I chose to answer truthfully.
“Visit friends”, I say.
“Friends???????!!!!!” repeats the young soldier in a tone ranging between astonishment and fury.
“Friends”, I assure him quietly, and continue: “You too, probably, have friends you visit. Everyone does.”
“But they’re all shit, all of them”, assures me my young acquaintance loudly.
“How do you know?” I ask (still patient).
“Because it’s on their account that I have to be here” the soldier answers.
I really listen to him, which slightly lowers the level of tension and hostility in his face. I use this slight lapse and answer:
“I think it’s really hard for you to be here, but it’s not their fault, it’s the Occupation.” (I breathe, take a slight pause, and continue): “When you finish your military service, and will not be here any more, I think you will be able to tell yourself that there are a lot of fish in the sea. That among them, too, not everyone is shit, just as among us not everyone is identical”.
He didn’t answer. For a moment, we could sense this suspended quiet of someone trying to process what he’s just heard.
I respect this quiet, looking at him generously, and then we both hear another soldier saying: “You may proceed!”
I don’t hurry off.Neither does he.Then he tells me very decidedly, like someone who has really weighed the matter and reached the only possible conclusion:
“I’ll never ever think differently. They’re all of them shit. This will not change till the day I die.” He made his announcement, turned his back and retreated from this surreal conversation.
So did I. Our close friend, Ayman of Deir al Khatab, was already waiting for his dear friends on the other side of the checkpoint.
This time we managed to visit four of our friends in these villages. We visit as well as ‘take care of business’ – check out who’ll be our contact person in the village between the olive-harvesters and the military who are supposed to protect them against the colonist settlers; talk with another about how to release the family-father sitting in jail who’s reached the third trimester of his prison term; with another friend we discuss how to help him find consultation in Israel for his child, ill with a rare disease, etc. etc.
Around 1 p.m. we reached the home of our good friend Abu Zaki, in Salem. Our last visit for the day. These are the fasting days of Ramadan. Our hosts insist on serving us drinks, at least, and we accept. We sit and talk. The children are already back from school, and their presence enhances our meeting. Ehud plays around with mischievous Zayd, and try my Arabic with the family’s beautiful daughters.
Shortly after we arrive, Amid enters the porch where we were sitting. He is Abu Zaki’s nephew. 17 years old. On his way home from school, carrying his books still, he passed by his uncle’s. Sat with us for a while and parted at 15:20, going to his own home on the hillside, just under the army base.
About five minutes later Abu Zaki drove us back to the checkpoint on our way home.
Arriving home at kibbutz Shoval (about an hour and a half drive from Salem), Abu Zaki reaches us on the phone, and tells us, his voice choked with pain, that the army arrested Amid who is being held – handcuffed and blindfolded – at Beit Furiq Checkpoint.
Abu Zaki was informed of this as he returned from the checkpoint after having drove us there. A 3 minute ride. So Amid was already at the checkpoint. In other words, Amid was caught about 5 minutes after saying goodbye to us. In this phone conversation with Abu Zaki we already realized that Amid would be taken into custody for 96 hours.
That’s how it is when you are a Palestinian.The law allows Israelis to be held only 24 hours in custody, without trial. If Friday-Saturday are at hand, and you are a Palestinian, and you have not yet been questioned for the same reason (being a Palestinian), your custody will be extended for another 96 hours, because you are a Palestinian and the law allows you to be held in custody for 8 whole days without police interrogation and without trial.
We began to act quickly. We got a lawyer, and tried to use our connections with the operations officer and people from Ariel police who are suppose to interrogate Amid. When our appeal has to do with Palestinians, the friendly treatment we sometimes get from the military and police establishment suddenly turns into a ‘knowledgeable’ operational matter-of-factness that leaves us utterly helpless.
We did what we could do. Our hands too are tied. From here on only the intervention of a lawyer, preferably Israeli, can be of any use. And so we did.
Very late, very tired, I got into bed, but the pain does not cease.
Amid, they say, threw stones and tried to burn the pillbox (the military watchtower).
I don’t know if this is true or not. There has not even been a preliminary interrogation yet (it is now Sunday), let alone a trial. But I do know I saw Amid five minutes before soldiers shot at him while he was on his way home, and I do know his family is peace-seeking. And I know from his uncle the words that the boy cried out – “I didn’t do it, uncle!” (while the uncle brought him the breaking-the-fast meal to the checkpoint, after we intervened with the DCO).
And I do know that one of the soldiers who brought Amid in, said that Amid threw a Molotov cocktail at him, and the policeman on duty at the station said that Amid threw stones, and the latest version (for today) is about trying to burn the pillbox.
And I do know that on the morning of this stormy day, a soldier at the checkpoint said to me: “But they’re aaaall of them shit. I’ll never ever think differently.”
Below: A photo by MachsomWatch, of Amid held in the check point. The photo was takin some two hours after he was arrested.
Written by Erella, following a visit together with Ehud