Thursday, May 12, 2005

Word from the "MidEast"

Some of you may know Lasse. Others may know him as Susie’s boyfriend. Others still haven’t a clue about who I’m on about, but that’s OK, the following is still interesting (or upsetting, to be more specific) even to those not party to my small coterie of acquaintances.

A couple of weeks ago, Lasse (and Susie) were attending an anti-wall demo in Ramallah. A non-violent, peaceful demo protesting against the construction if Israel’s wall which is designed primarily to steal yet more Palestinian land in the guise of “security” (nearly everything Israel does to the Palestinians is done in the name of “security”, from shooting children in their classrooms to closing universities to bulldozing marketplaces). Anyway, this demo against a part of the wall currently being constructed (a part of the wall that is 4 km inside what everybody, aside from a few nutjob fundamentalist settlers, recognises as Palestine, 4 kms from Israel) was attended by Palestinians, Israelis and a few foreign nationals. Everything was going fine until, of course, the IDF showed up.

To quote Susie:
I was standing right next to about 10 to 15 soldiers. We were inside a small village, standing on the road. The front garden of the home where we were standing had an olive tree in it and some blooming azaleas in pots on the front porch. I could hear cartoons on the television. I was telling the soldiers that they were scaring the children inside, that they didn't need to be here. I could hear Lasse asking them why they were in this village, 4 kilometers away from the green line (Israel).

The soldiers were ignoring me, ignoring Lasse, they were focused on the children throwing stones about 60 feet ahead. I saw three soldiers run into the front yard with the azaleas. I saw three run into the olive orchard across her house. I saw them bend down, bring their guns up to their faces, aim at the children, and fire. I begged them to stop, I heard Lasse do the same. 10 seconds later, Lasse was under arrest

Fortunately, after 32 hours in jail, a judge freed Lasse. The evidence was so overwhelmingly in his favour (in the form of numerous eyewitness accounts, video tape, and clearly trumped up charges) that the lawyer representing the prosecution actually invited Lasse and Susie to have Passover dinner with him at his house out of embarrassment at the case he was supposed to argue. Both say that everyone was extremely nice to them – police, jailers, lawyers, and of course the Israeli human rights community who supported them throughout the ordeal. Only the military were at fault. It was the soldiers who arrested him for no reason, it was the soldiers who opened fire on children, it was the soldiers who will seemingly do anything to stop foreigners watch their actions.

To close, a section of an email, sent by Lasse after he had been released:
"Dear Friends,

It is now more than a week ago that I was arrested during a demonstration against the wall and spent 32 hours in an Israeli jail. While it all happened I was calm and peaceful - even in court, when the police prosecutor opened the hearing by saying that he wanted us kept locked up for an additional five days while they worked out our deportation. All the way through the actual events I felt certain that nothing really bad would happen to me. I didn't believe they would harm me and I didn’t believe they would deport me.

It is nine days ago that I was released late Saturday night in Jerusalem. The first thing I did was to embrace Susie. The second was to call my mom in Denmark. The third was to go to a bar and buy a round of drinks for all the wonderful people that had helped and supported me: Susie, the lawyer, my Swedish cellmate, the ISM activists that showed up for the court hearing and the Israeli activist that vouched for me and risked 2,500 US$ to get me out. Does anyone remember "the five" young Israelis who went to court trying to fight for their right to be conscientious objectors from serving in the Israeli army? They didn’t succeed and served 21 months in prison. One of them was there at the hearing to translate for me (the court provides no translator) and afterwards he signed the paper vouching for me.

I have been wanting to tell you about Amar from Hebron ever since my release. He is 22 years old and was 'residing' in the cell just across the hallway from mine. We could communicate through the hole in the cell door that the guards handed us food through. Amar had been in the cell for one month. His parents visit him for one hour twice a week, but besides that he is completely alone in there – and he is never allowed to leave the cell. He has no books, no newspapers, no pen and paper to draw or write, not even the Quran. My Swedish cellmate had managed to smuggle in a pen and we handed it to Amar along with the receipt from when I handed in my money, my shoelace and my belt. We wanted him to give us his phone number. After ten minutes the paper came back with the phone numbers but many other things as well. He had done drawings of birds being shot by soldiers and a bleeding heart and lots of Arabic writing (for example; "no peace with the wall'). In the bottom of the paper was written in big letters: "Ammar I love Palestin” in red. Above it was written with the black pen: "its my blod". Just to make sure we got it straight he whispered: "it is my blood" when he handed us the paper through the hole in the door.

Amar told us that he is in so called administrative detention, which means that he is detained for up to six months at a time without right to see or talk to a lawyer or a judge. All it takes is that one Israeli military officer signs a form saying that you are a security threat to the state of Israel. Amar has been told that he would be held for six months, but the truth is that he never knows for sure. Like the hundreds of other detainees, Amar’s detention order can be prolonged with six more months if any officer in the Israeli army officer wants it. Sometimes the detainee gets released just to be detained once again one of the following days. Still without having the right to lawyer or judge.

Amar’s crime was living in Hebron and working in Jerusalem. Palestinians need a special permit from the Israeli authorities to enter Jerusalem legally and like most Amar couldn't get one. So every day he would go to Jerusalem illegally to work, but of course one day a month ago he was caught.

At one point when he had been quiet for more than an hour, I asked him what he was doing. "Thinking of my family," he said. He is the oldest of seven - four brothers and three sisters – and he misses his siblings. Later I heard him sing to himself in the cell.

For me the last five days has been somewhat of a downer. We still don't know if I'll be deported or not. My lawyer says it won't happen now that we haven't heard from them in nine days, and it would be silly, as they would have to fly me back into the country within the next three weeks to testify in the investigation of the shooting of Brian Avery. But uncertainty is very hard. Last Wednesday Susie started packing our stuff just in case I would be forced to leave. But we never finished it because of lack of energy.

I feel my rights have been violated, which upsets me daily when I think of it. Being upset all the time is draining too. I am so tired these days. Just getting out of bed in the morning is a challenge. And having to deal with lawyers, arranging for having my visa prolonged, thinking of whether to file an official complaint or not, trying to get money from the security in Ben Gurion airport from when they destroyed my laptop four months ago ... and then having to teach and do the last bit of work on my Capstone paper as well.

My compassion for people who are in conflict with authorities grows for every day. It is not just the one day or the one month or the one year that is hard. It's what comes after as well. It is the struggle for justice. It is the psychological reaction that comes along. It is the uncertainty of life.

Today one of my good friends at the university told me about a nightmare he had last night. He dreamt that he was at home, when the Israeli border police came and knocked on the door. His father opened it and my friend was arrested and taken to the jeep. In there he saw a little baby. Its face was burned, but the baby was still alive. He woke up wet of sweat and couldn’t fall back to sleep. It made me think that it is no wonder that many people give up resisting and fighting for justice. It takes so much energy and the results are so little – here and now. It takes so much effort and so much patience and being in the middle of it I understand why people think “Why? What’s it for? They always win anyway!”

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