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From the field

Testimony by Muna Haj ‘Ali, 42, a married mother of five from the village of ‘Einabus, Nablus District; her son Ahmad was arrested when he was 17 years old

Testimony from B'Tselem report: "Minors in Jeopardy: Violation of the Rights of Palestinian Minors by Israel’s Military Courts", March 2018

On Sunday, 22 January 2017, I was at home, waiting for my son Ahmad (17) to come back. He was out buying clothes with a friend of his, Amir, and was late. Then the phone rang. Amir’s father was on the line, and he told me that soldiers had arrested our sons at a flying checkpoint and taken them to the police station at Ariel. I couldn’t believe it! My son is young, and I found it hard to believe he’d done anything. We tried to find out what was going on with them, but couldn’t get any answers.

I thought they’d probably been arrested for a traffic violation or something of the sort, and that they’d soon be released. That didn’t happen. I was very worried about Ahmad. I didn’t know where he was, what state he was in, whether he was hungry, cold, perhaps in pain? I had lots of questions swirling around in my mind. On Tuesday, Amir’s family told me that the two boys were being held in Megiddo Prison and a hearing scheduled at the Salem court on Thursday. We didn’t know at what time the hearing was supposed to take place and were worried they would go first, so my husband and I set out very early in the morning to get to the court on time. When we got there, we were patted down and then we went in to the waiting room. The room can hold about 30 people, but there were 70 or maybe even 80 people there. I stayed there with the other women and the men waited outside, in the cold.

We visited the court several more times. Waiting there was tough and very tiring. Every time I got back from there, I’d fall onto the bed exhausted – mentally and physically. We’d set out very early, at 6:00 A.M., because we never knew what time the hearing would be. Sometimes, the hearings were held very late and we only got home around 6:00 P.M. On those days, I couldn’t do anything around the house and just wanted to sleep. We felt degraded by the frisking every time we went in and out of the court, and spent most of our time there just sitting around, waiting. There were more than 20 hearings altogether, almost once a week. When I was there I couldn’t pray, because of the conditions there. Also, there was a leak in the yard coming from the toilets, so we had to lift our clothes to keep them from getting wet.

Inside the courtroom, I could see Ahmad only from far away. He look tired and lost a lot of weight. You could see he was suffering. His hands were even a bit blue and when I asked him why, he said: “Because I’ve been handcuffed a long time”. I was so sad to see what my son was going through. He’s my spoiled little boy, how could all this be happening to him?

During the hearings, the interpreter translated only some of what was being said. Most of the time he played with his phone and ignored what was going on in the courtroom. He couldn’t care less what was going to happen to the boy or his worried parents. I didn’t understand a thing. My husband understood some of what was said and translated for me. I gathered that Ahmad and Amir were being charged with throwing stones at the main road, disturbing security forces and endangering their lives. I also understood that the soldiers were supposed to come and testify against them. Every hearing, the judge waited for the soldiers to arrive, but they never showed up and the judge would postpone the hearing.

In the courtroom, the lawyer explained to us that what the soldiers had said was enough to convict Ahmad and Amir, even if they didn’t testify in court. He recommended that we take a plea bargain, because they would each be sentenced to seven months in prison instead of 18, and pay a 2,000 shekel (~570 USD) fine. I thought Ahmad wouldn’t like it, but I managed to get across to him from across the courtroom that seven months were better than 18 and that “there’s nothing left, the time will pass”. So we took the deal and the judge issued the sentence at the next hearing.

During the hearings, I just watched my son and felt how unjustly the soldiers there were treating him. They looked at him and behaved towards him with contempt, like he was a fly or a piece of garbage. He tried not to look their way, but they kept looking at him all the time. The minute the hearing was over they whisked him away, and I would take advantage of the seconds we had as he passed through the courtroom on the way out to ask how he was doing and encourage him to be patient. In the first hearing, I wasn’t familiar with the procedures. When I saw the soldiers leading my son in, I called out to him and asked loudly how he was doing. The soldier who was there got furious. She yelled at me and wanted to remove me from the courtroom. I promised her I wouldn’t speak to him again, and in the end she let me stay.

The testimony was given to B'Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i on 7 January 2018