MIFTAH: Waiting Game & About Israeli Detention “Policies”

By Meg Walsh for MIFTAH | June 17, 2011

In a small village near Hebron, I am invited to attend a wedding with my new friends, Amirah and her mother. Amirah is nine years old. She is quiet yet seems wise beyond her years— always aware of what is going on around her. At the wedding, the women pull me out of my seat and make me dance with them. I tell Amirah to dance with me but she is too shy. She just watches with a smile on her face. Candy is thrown into the air, and the boys are setting off fireworks; it is pure chaos in the streets.

Wedding season has come to Palestine and many summer nights are spent in similar celebration. In the whirlwind of the past few days and countless conversations that I have had, my eyes are opened to the reality that amidst every joyous occasion that takes place here, there is often someone missing. Close to half of all Palestinian males, both in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, have spent time in prison.

Amirah’s father takes us home afterwards and all of us sit outside drinking tea as the night creeps up on us. I later learn that he was a political prisoner for close to 10 years, having been arrested during the first intifada. It was supposed to be a life sentence, but under the Wye River Memorandum of 1998, (an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority) he was released along with a number of other prisoners.

Amirah’s parents were not able to marry before his incarceration, and although she did not know whether he would ever be released, she chose to wait for him. They married after he was set free, and Amirah came into the world soon after. My mind drifts to the uncomfortable thought that the pure luck of his release in this unjust system is what led to her existence.

There is a quiet strength that I sense in Amirah, and I can tell she gets it from her mother. Palestinian women are forced to be strong, forced to carry on even when their brothers, sons, and husbands are taken away—a reality that too many of them have to face.

Palestinian women are imprisoned as well, although to a lesser extent. There is a constant fear of being arrested here, for young and old alike. Amirah’s cousin was just released from jail and is now terrified to venture outside of his home.

As of April 2011, there were 5,604 Palestinian political prisoners being held. These include 217 child prisoners, 37 of whom are under 16.

Perhaps what makes this issue so shocking is the contrast that exists between the justice system regarding Palestinians and that regarding Israelis. Israeli settlers, who are responsible for many attacks on Palestinians, can only be arrested by Israeli police, not the military.

They are then tried in civilian courts. However, most cases of settler violence in the West Bank do not even reach the court system. Under Israeli military rule, Palestinians can be arrested and kept indefinitely with no charges against them. If they are tried, it is in military court by judges who are officers in the Israeli army.

To make things worse, it is not unusual for family members to be barred from visiting their loved ones, especially those who are held within Israel. Imprisoning Palestinians in Israel violates Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which states that an occupying power must detain residents of occupied territory in prisons inside the territory.

Since the family must travel into Israel, they must first obtain an often elusive permit from the Israeli authorities. Thus, in such circumstances where permits are denied, a life sentence essentially becomes a death sentence on a human level.

Since it is Friday night, Amirah’s mother gives her permission to sleep on the roof. She asks me to join her and we sleep out under the open Palestinian sky with the sound of celebrations still carrying on into the night. I am thankful that I got to meet her and her family, yet through their story, I cannot help but think of all the other Palestinians who were not so lucky, who are forever waiting for their loved ones to come home.

Amirah is the face of innocence of all Palestinian children, born into this conflict and forced to live within a system that refuses to recognize the most basic human rights– forced to live without their mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers. When justice prevails, it will be the occupiers who find themselves in the defendant’s seat.

Meg Walsh is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mid@miftah.org.

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