They pissed on him and he got eight months.
Humiliation is a subjective matter, depending on people’s personal symbols. For me, for example, what feels most humiliating is not the fact that they urinated on him, but that they stripped him naked. At first Mohammad’s father was ashamed to tell about the pissing. To even say these words out loud. I think that for him, that was the most humiliating thing they did to his son, more than all the other things.
What kind of person, I wonder, takes a 13-year old boy no matter why, and tortures him like this. And then I answer myself, almost any Israeli. Any soldier in the army when it comes to Palestinians. Any person, in fact, if only the local codes designate that it’s permissible.
The day I first saw him was one of those Mondays at the ‘Ofer’ military court, in hall number 2. That’s where the children are tried. 20, 22, 23 children a day. Children and youths arrive in groups of two, three, sometimes four, wearing brown prisoners’ garb, their feet chained, one hand shackled to the next boy’s hand.
The military court is about prolonging custody, most of the time. This is the system, even when it comes to children. Regardless of what the detainee is accused of, or what kind of evidence has brought to his arrest. In this sense, be the role of the military court as it may, it certainly has nothing to do with seeking the truth and respective punishment. Not when children are picked up in their homes in the dark of night, usually as a result of someone else having incriminated them, someone who often is but a child, like them. Usually for throwing stones, or hurling improvised Molotov cocktails. And for this they are arrested, without an option of release with bail, until the end of the proceedings. For months. At least for three. Eventually they are found guilty, nearly always. Although usually incrimination is the extent of the evidence.
And after all, even if it can rightly be said that throwing a stone at the occupier is a crime, and even if it right to say that a child stone-thrower is as culpable as an adult, and even if a stone is equal to the bullet of a gun – even a stone that has not hurt anyone, still under these circumstances there is no way to know what really happened. And this is no failure of the system or a mistake, but the pursuit of the truth is by no means the point. Because the court is an arm of the Occupation, and their purposes identical: oppression, harassment and domination. Nothing else.
At any rate, on that day as on many others, again and again blocs of children entered, shackled to one another, most of them smiling broadly in spite of it all. Because these ridiculous prolongations of arrest (meant especially to let the Occupation forces have more time to crush and squeeze these children and recruit more collaborators) are the only time when these youngsters can see their families. So here comes little Mohammad Mukheir, not smiling to his parents, not waving, and for some reason our hearts just stopped and were rent at first sight. This was before we had learned what this child had gone through. Just this look of his, so soft and scared, his curls so childish, his large eyes overflowing, already singed the soul. And the usual things took place. The warden unshackled him and he sat down. There were a few boys and children before him, a bit older, and everyone’s session was delayed for a another period of time. But in this time at least, they chatted with their families as long as the soldiers and wardens let them, everyone except Mohammad. Who was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and trembling with cold, and didn’t speak, just wept. And his mother could not stop weeping either. And this was unusual since mostly the mothers cry afterwards. After their sons are taken away. And the father, withholding hysteria, kept fingering an imagined phone number on his hand, and murmuring to the boy to commit the number to memory, trying to make sure the boy remembers the number. But the boy’s lips were frozen. Only his tears kept falling. And then it was his turn, and the translator told him to get up and he did. And his name was read. And then he was told to sit and he sat down. His eyes were unfocused, and he looked younger than his 13 years of age. Within a few moments the woman-judge said that the court will be session again in two weeks’ time and the warden ordered the boy to stand up. And he stood up. His gaze clutching his parents’, and theirs his. And the warden shackled him and signaled him to start moving. And his face, wet with all those tears, was pale with terror.
The boy was standing close to the exit, the warden beside him, hurrying him on, his last gaze at his parents, dwelling on them, and the mother clutched her hands, and the father, in some final determination, murmured to him: get a haircut. Get a haircut, he repeated his gestures and the lips mouthing the words, and signaled with his hand at his own hair, and then at the little one’s curls. As if he would leave a better, a more respectable impression if he got a haircut, he thought – apparently. While we thought that he was not right. That it was better for the child to remain exactly as he was. Unruly and childish. For his curls are evidence that need not be blurred, of the real world to which he belongs. His young age. And his deep, inherent right that shouts out of their softness. And then the judge suddenly said: Why is he not dressed? The words were sent into the air, their outlines disintegrating as they became transparent, and the warden continued to lead him on, and he disappeared, and she said no more. And the stunned parents stood up. And hung their heads. And left, bent over, and we hurried after them.
“He lied to his mother” said Tareq, Mohammad’s father. “He said ‘I am in the village’, and he was with the kids, and I don’t know what exactly happened, people said they saw him in the soldiers’ jeep, and that they beat him up… I knew where he was. There’s an army base next to the Beit Horon settlement. It’s at the entrance to Lower Beit Ur, between Upper and Lower Beit Ur. So I went there straight away. And I asked about him. I wanted to tell them, he’s a kid. If he threw stones I’ll jail him at home. I wanted to see what happened to him. And the soldier told me he wasn’t there. That I should try at ‘Ofer’. He said it just like that. I knew he was there. I told them I know he’s there. They said, ‘you have five minutes to leave, or the soldier will shoot you’. It’s that soldier on the tower. The lookout. With his gun pointed at me. So I left.”
“We looked for him for a whole week, until we found out where he was”, the father continued. “Everywhere we were told he was not there. Now I know that after three days in the base he was taken to ‘Ofer’. And was there for a month. And after a month they put him in ‘Rimonim’. That’s a jail for children and women. And this whole month we couldn’t speak to him. Until he had his first court session. And only in court did we see him. He didn’t talk, he only cried. I don’t know what they said there, they set another court date, maybe for two weeks later. I don’t remember exactly. Then we got a telephone call from somewhere in Ramallah. Human rights people. For minors. I was told ‘your son’s condition is not good. He’s got stuff on his feet. He was hurt. On his fingers. With cigarettes. With guns. And me and his mother were crying for a whole week. And not eating.”
“Look it up on the internet, what happened to him”, he added. His lips were pursed as he spoke. Perhaps he had a hard time telling it all outright. And we really looked and found what had been publicized:
|What is he being accused of? We asked.
“Just of throwing stones. That’s what I’ve been told”, said Tareq. “But now they’ve added a Molotov cocktail to the charge. He’s a kid. Doesn’t have an ID yet. If he had an ID it would be different. But he’s too young… He’s been here for three months already. Enough. He’s got his punishment. Now I want to take him home. And have a look at his feet. What they did to him with their gun and cigarettes. I don’t know what is wrong with his feet. In court I told him to be a man. But he only weeps. He doesn’t talk. Doesn’t call. And his mother keeps taking pills.
“We can only wait… Only wait”.
But why did the lawyer say nothing to the judge about the torture? We asked. Why did he not mention what this boy has gone through?
And we thought he’s probably right, even if it’s unbearable to think so.
We have sat through three court sessions where Mohammad’s arrest was prolonged, three of many since his proceedings began.
By the way, nearly every case that reaches the military court ends up with a plea bargain. Meaning that the defendant confesses to whatever he is accused of, or part of the charges. And usually he confesses regardless of having committed the violation or not. Because he learns soon enough that he has nearly no chance of being acquitted. And he has already sat in jail for some months. And a plea bargain sometimes means a sentence more or less equal to the time he’s already sat in jail. Or a bit more. Whereas fighting for his innocence will drag out in time, and usually entail a prolonged prison sentence. So most of them, indeed, confess.
When Mohammad heard his sentence, he sat down and covered his face.
Eight months in prison, and a fine, and a suspended jail sentence – this is what the 13-year old child got, a boy who, even according to the Occupation forces, hurt no one.
I can’t say what seems to me the worst of Mohammad Mukheir’s ordeal. Whether the torture by the soldiers, or the harsh discovery that his parents cannot protect him. And their almighty image, smashed to smithereens. Or was it the insight, cast in him at such a young age, that regardless of who he is, what kind of a person, that for the various Israelis he has met and will meet all his life he is not “who” but “what”. Unseen, unreal, un-human. Mostly. And perhaps after all, the worst of it for me is that I know that after the urine has long been washed and wiped away, and the wounds on his feet hopefully recovered and only scars left, and the not so filling food in jail, and the beatings he got and will be getting, and after hopefully his lovely curls will grow out again, something has been cut, rifted in the life of little Mohammad Mukheir. Something that nothing will ever again erase. Something that is all that has been done to him, and more. And my knowing this, washes the skies of the future and of the past with something hard and sad, like a pulse. A pulse of sadness. And I only hope for Mohammad, and for me, that we shall live to see another world. Where he and I share the same rights on the earth. That he will receive a human face, and that mine will remain human. Before blood washes the land and the earth and the sky.
Aya Kaniuk and Tamar Goldschmidt. Translated by Tal Haran.
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