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The right to bear the blindfold - Israeli detention of Ahmad Salah

Dec. 10, 2018 4:07 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 10, 2018 5:31 P.M.)
Nicholas Vincenzo Barney
By: Nicholas Vincenzo Barney

It occurs to me that there is no word in the English language for a spouse who loses their partner not to death but to an indefinite, crimeless imprisonment. "Abandoned" doesn't quite do it, as among other things it implies a certain initiative on the part of the "abandoner," not the force which has seized the spouse without criminal warrant and holds them not only without limit, but without so much as leveling a charge against them. Regardless there seem to be some macabre similarities between these two "abandonment," and whatever the lacking term may be there is yet another wife and her children joining the innumerous ranks of Palestinians staring down the dismal prospects of seeing their spouse and parent again anytime soon.

For at 3:30 am on the morning of November 24th Ahmad Salah's door was kicked from the hinges by the boots of 10 armed Israeli soldiers bearing, among other items, blinding flashlights, yet no detention warrant. Ahmad was not dragged from his bed, which is common Israeli practice, for the sound of his door being so viciously and unnecessarily removed from its frame in the middle of the night was sufficient to raise the father of three to his feet.

Among verbal assaults and accusations of being left-wing, a "charge" which in any self-respecting democracy should only need elicit from the accused a shrug and a "so what?," but which for Israel and every other twisted, undemocratic regime in history is sufficient enough to stand in place of criminal evidence and detention warrant, Ahmad was handcuffed and blindfolded. Blindfolded. One wonders if something might have been lost in translation from Western to Israeli democracy during the state's 1948 ratification - "You have the right to remain silent," or was it, "You have the right to remain blind?"

Regardless I don't recall seeing a blindfold on the bandolier of any arresting police officer or soldier in the United States or Western Europe, ever. Blindfolded prisoners conjure up images of terrorist theocracies or prisoners in Guantanamo Bay who, by their status of combatants, are at least charged with a crime by their jailors, unlike Ahmad.

Uniform regulations aside, this reprehensible, democratically indecorous cloth was extended not without equity to Ahmad's two brothers, Ashraf and Imad, both middle-aged fathers detained in identical manner as Ahmad that same night. A human collateral if not explicitly designed to intimidate and break Ahmad's wife and two young daughters' spirits by emptying their house of any male protector or provider, at the very least pulling off this callous byproduct in spades. (It wasn't all separation. Ahmad will be reunited with the only other male of the family, 16 year old son Ghassan, a minor who is coming to the end of a 6 month prison sentence and facing an extension, curiously coinciding with his father's detention and forthcoming sentencing. But, more on that later.)

But if that weren't enough detainment and contempt for due process for one night, let alone one family, the soldiers seized every photograph of Ahmad and his brothers they could find adorning the house, leaving Ahmad Salah's wife and young daughters without so much as their father's likeness to turn to in his absence.

Lucky for the girls this is the 21st century, and Facebook and personal photos on the phone can be turned to for images of Ahmad - and with his two open, uncovered eyes to boot. Unlucky for Ahmad's family, however, and the rest of occupied Palestine, Israel and its Occupying Forces continues to act as if this were the middle of the Dark Ages.

The soldiers berated Ahmad about his sources for a video he had posted to his Facebook page, showing a few suspected Palestinians throwing a Molotov cocktail at an Israeli jeep provocatively prowling through the streets of the quiet al-Khader village in Area C of the West Bank at night - a territory that is supposed to account, at least by the last legal border dictates of the 1967 Oslo Accords, as part of a future sovereign, unoccupied Palestinian state. I myself recall hearing that night the live fire lofted into the air by the uninjured Israeli soldiers in retaliation and warning.

Not the smartest move on Ahmad's part, whose various external deletions of his Facebook account had already alerted him to the fact that Israel was monitoring him. But he certainly wasn't the only one who had access to the video, and by no means the only one to have posted it to social media. The day following the flying cocktails everyone was aware of its existence. And it made the viral rounds as it will amongst a people who have been brutalized their entire lives by an illegally occupying force and have no viable, or at least globally recognized force of their own to turn to for defense, what with the unofficial turn the other cheek policy offered insultingly by the international community.

That said, the video seemed to make these viral rounds rather quietly, as the Palestinians, an overwhelming majority of whom will never take part in violence and (whatever their individual records with Israel might say to the contrary) have never taken part in violence in the past, have seen far worse. Far worse. And coming from the hands of Israel, the only ones who are allowed to be armed and move freely about the West Bank, using those arms as they please. All of that done illegally, mind you.

This is a fact Ahmad, born into an occupation over which the only influence he possesses is the means of dissent supposedly protected by democracy and human rights, has been none too pleased about. A fact, mind you, that the UN very occasionally and ceremoniously takes the time to clear it's throat about (though recent throat clearing saw commentator Marc Lamont Hill fired from CNN for his "controversial" pro-Human Rights statements). But to the ears of Israel and the US the international condemnations, the Human Rights Resolutions, and the indictments by the International Court of Justice come off more like voice cracks, to be ignored and laughed at in private while ethno-cratic Israel tends to it's daily schedule of brutalizing non-Jewish Palestinians and illegally subsuming as much illegally evicted land as fits that day's border fancies.

Most states actually say where their borders end, mind you. Not Israel.

Ahmad's current Facebook page didn’t waste posts in calling attention to many similarly obvious facts of the illegal occupation. Ahmad is, true to his captors' word, a leader of a Palestinian Authority-recognized left-wing faction of al-Khader village, a fact I'll say again should only have to be met with a "so what? Now will you kindly replace my fucking door you kicked down?" He is also part of an anti-segregation wall organization that facilitates peaceful protests every Friday along different stretches of the unofficial, illegal border. The protesters are, like the thorns in the side of many undemocratic, oppressive states, armed only with signs, and are thus welcomed in the fashion those on the wrong side of historical issues usually welcome non-violent democratic protests - with tear gas and rubber bullets.

One can't help but suspect these were the real reasons for Ahmad's detention- his outspoken voice and non-violent political involvement. For a country that so prolifically detains civilians for Facebook statuses alone, and often brings as evidence to trials private Facebook messages, Israel could easily find out who sent Ahmad the video, if they didn't already know. In fact, if they didn't already know who filmed the video in the first place. Regardless, the Israeli army certainly didn't have to go after Ahmad's family and sentimental property.

But instead, he and his non-political brothers, living on different floors of the same building as is quite common in geographically and economically constricted Palestine, were detained. What's more, the past week has seen three more male members of the family detained. And again, what the soldiers lacked in warrants, they certainly made up for in blindfolds.

For Ahmad's young daughters looking on, rubbing away the sleep accrued on eyelids that should have still been dreaming, there was no question of whether or not this was real. The excessive force is par for the course of any Israeli detention in Palestine. In the month of October alone, 511 Palestinians were detained by the Israeli army, 18 of them women, and 74 minors, which is actually up from September's total of 35 minors - most of them donning the blindfold.

The term minors of course includes children, lest we forget the detention and indefinitely forthcoming release of eight-year-old boy Omar Rabie Abu Ayyash, detainednorth of Hebron in Beit Ummar. Eight years old. And he was only one of 900 children detained in 2018.

But that's nothing. Omar's parents should be happy the boy is even alive. So far this year, besides the 900 they detained, Israel has killed 52 children. And according to that oft-repeated yet oft-forgotten statistic, Israel has killed on average one child every three days for the past 18 years, an average of over 100 children a year.

Lucky to be alive or not, the boy has joined 270 children currently serving terms in prison, many of them under "administrative" or "executive" detention. Beyond the "most moral army in the world's" penchant for minors, Israel has a breathtakingly despicable system for those of them and their elders to which no crime can be pinned, but which they're just not quite ready to cut ties with. My friend who so kindly introduced me to and translated for what remains of Ahmad Salah's family explained the administrative detention to me (his personal experience under administrative was also the reason he requested not to be named):

"This term is used for prisoners without a charge. They spend 6 months in jail, and they don't know their release date. After the 6 months they get more 6 months, and some prisoners, you know, they've been in jail for 5, 6 years under this Executive Imprisonment. You don't have a file, and you don't know when you're going to be off-leashed."

No opportunity for bail either. And as for the access to and effectiveness of legal representation? Luckily (for me) my dear friend and translator remembered quite well the administrative trial he was part of at the tender age of 18, during 2002s all-out military invasion of Bethlehem (he was accused of having been out past curfew some nights prior to his 3 am detention, a charge which Israel found understandably quite hard to prove, thus turning to administrative). He explained the trials to me:

"You have to understand that these courts are different than any kind of court in the world. It is all procedure. You have a lawyer but he is more a visual, an accessory - a piece that makes the thing happen. You the defendant are not allowed to speak, or your lawyer. He is not allowed to bring any alibi or witness or evidence in defense. And you are not allowed to speak. You just sit in the dock of the bay, watching the ships." He let out a deep chuckle, pulling his head back and dragging from his rolled-cigarette. Sadly, I didn't have the stomach to share the laugh with him.

If the phrase "show-trial" comes to mind, you're probably using your head. Even if it is, let's recap for a moment. In Palestinian territories you can be treated to state-enforced property damage by the Israeli army in the dead of night without a search warrant, handcuffed and blindfolded without so much as a detention warrant, detained without bail and without any charge leveled against you, bequeathed a useless, mute lawyer who is not allowed to speak, defend, or bring evidence at your trial, not judged by a jury of peers but rather prejudged in guilt, sentenced without a charge of committing a crime to a form of imprisonment by which you are not given a file of your status nor release date, nor reliable assurance that you may have regular contact with your immediate family, and then kept deliberately in the dark about how long your sentence might continue to be indiscriminately extended with the fear of spending countless years in solitary confinement not unfounded. If Franz Kafka is coming to mind, you're understating things a bit.

This is repulsive. This is a sickening, unacceptable legal practice, if you may excuse my use of the word "legal." Forget about what a reprehensible insult it is to democracy and the democratic institutions that sealed Israel into existence. And this practice coming supposedly from a democracy. From the "most moral military in the world." From a country that among other solipsism declares a divine right to it's land and thus to these practices, or, if you're of the secular pro-Israel faction, a somehow equally infallible right to the self-determination of only one ethnicity and one religious belief within it's undeclared, ever expanding borders. Then justifying (as every colonial power in history has found a way to do) by sealing into law its illegal practice of "settlements," and the subsequent subjection of all the other human beings dwelling in its desired land into a forced occupation and violent dis-occupation of their most fundamental of human rights. All this, and I quote its law, is described as "a national value."

Ladies and gentlemen if this is not racism and barbaric ethno-nationalist evil, then there is no such working definition of either on Earth. If Israel is a democracy, it is a shambolic one - quasi at best.

And the numbers of Palestinians led into this void of Human Rights by the blindfold seem to be growing unstoppable. Unstoppable in the sense that no one of the international community actually cares enough to stop it.

Ahmad Salah was sentenced December 5th from the belly of this sickening beast in Ofer Prison near Ramallah in Palestine, Israel of course living up to Ahmad and the UN's criticisms and not bothering even to remove Palestinians from their country before depriving them of their rights. But December 5th was curiously the same day Ahmad's 16 year old son Ghassan was scheduled to be sentenced. Coming off six months for throwing stones, Ghassan had been threatened with a 22-month sentence instead of the usual 6. To make his lack of defense even tougher, his father with those hollow (if not in-existent) ties to a Molotov cocktail attack and the more troublesomely crime-less ties to non-violent protest was present to complete the portrait of an unequivocally evil family. Both received the administrative (detention).

To get this nail somewhere closer to its coffin, at the same age of his son some 30 years ago, Ahmad spent 8 years in prison. Is the pattern starting to emerge? I will leave the lie to those who claim that Ahmad and his son's history with the Israeli army does not speak in some way for the majority of Palestinian generations' relationship since childhood with an illegal occupying force that detains indefinitely and indiscriminately for bogus suspicions. No doubt the fact of Ahmad's past imprisonment will not be omitted by the Israeli's. No doubt it will be used to prove guilt.

Though I am indebted for this story to the translation of my friend, there's one aspect that isn’t true of what my he told me. He claimed the Israeli courts "are different than any kind of court in the world." But this isn't true. We have and will continue to find these courts in every chapter on the wrong side of history. Wherever colonialism, ethno-nationalism and fascism convene, we find this kind of legal system. No evil is complete without them, from the Salem Witch Trials to the Soviet Union to Cuba to China to Nazi Germany. And yet even they, the Nazis, who wrote the book on the show trial, were given long, laborious, democratically-observed trials in Nuremberg. This was the decision of the United Nations, which apparently once actually cared for Human Rights - toothless resolutions aside.

Before I left Salah's house, his wife asked if I knew of some Children's Rights or Prisoner's Rights group or lawyer I could send to Ghassan's trial. There is nothing that can prepare you for the feeling of looking in the eyes of a mother of such a desperate personal and global plight, who you cannot help, a feeling that makes all the rights you grew up revering and enjoying suddenly so meaningless and alienable, a feeling which for a moment gives a small hint at what being a Palestinian must feel like.

Driving from Salah's house towards the al-Khader Gate, what is more like an intersection of downtown roads that if driven in the right direction will take you to Bethlehem, my friend and I felt the unquestionable itch and sting of tear gas in our eyes and nose. Before rolling up his window my friend inquired to a nearby Palestinian with his shirt over his face what had happened. He answered that a few kids had thrown stones at a passing Israeli army jeep and they commenced to tear gassing the entire street.

We drove away and for long after we could hear the intermittent sounds of tear gas being shot out into the roads. I thought of Ahmad Raed al-Zaatari and Shadi Anwar Farrah who, at the age of 12 were detained and at 15, after a 3 year sentence, were finally released. I thought of Ahmad Salah and his son Ghassan, and whether or not I turned too quickly from the eyes of his mother, asking me if I knew of anyone who could help her son. I didn't. And one week later, three more male members of her family were detained in similar fashion to her husband and son.

The views expressed in this article are the authors' and do not necessarily reflect Ma'an News Agency's editorial policy.

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