Saturday, December 18, 2010

Each of these detainees has a family.

I got the following from Buma Inbar, a bereaved father and tireless activist who spends much of his time and energy wandering the mountain paths of the West Bank and providing help and support where they are needed. He can be contacted at

The early morning hours of a weekday. This special time when the first rays of the sun appear, accompanied by the melodious chirping of early rising birds. At such moments of grace one may quietly drink a cup of coffee, look out into the street and enjoy the sounds of the waking world, until the pastoral image fades and daily routine takes over.

Recently, my early morning hours include a new element. Every morning between five and six, there is a specific news item joining the news flashes which had been rolling through the news websites overnight. A modest, laconic news flash announcing: "Tonight IDF forces operated on the outskirts of Qalqilya, (or at the approaches to Nablus, or in the Jenin District) and arrested two suspected Palestinians (or three, or ten, or thirteen)." Invariably, the flash would end with the words "The suspects were transferred to Security Forces interrogation". By about Nine AM, when the roads are already full of traffic jams, this news flash would disappear, only to come back on the following morning.

This ritual takes place every day, except on weekends and Jewish holidays. I doubt that the security forces are not active on these days. More likely it is the conscripts on duty at the IDF Spokesperson's bureau who take their weekend rest and fail to issue the daily bulleting. These two or three terse sentences conceal whole worlds of meaning.

The detention of a Palestinian has many implications for family members, and not only with regard to the judicial process itself. It is not so well known that such a detention is enough to immediately put all first-degree relatives of the detainee on the list of those denied entry to Israel, on the theory that one of them might seek revenge. The arrest of one youthful member of the family turns the entire family into security risks. Simple calculation shows that the "club" of detainees gets every month dozens of new "members".

Recently, the laconic lines got – where I am concerned – a clear human face. Early this year the night's detainees included M., the son of my acquaintance Khaled, director of the Palestinian Bereaved Families' Forum. Now also Khaled, a man who invests all his time and energy in promoting peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, is denied entry to Israel.

I ask myself: was there a justified reason for all these detentions? I would have liked to believe that none of them was tortured and that they all get a fair trial. I would so very much like to believe that the system of which I was part and whose members I appreciate and love is doing the right thing. So much I want to believe that M., who like his father took part in many dialogue and reconciliation meetings with Israelis, would be set free without his experience of detention changing him or his any of his family members.

Every time I come to take my turn at the Shalit Family Tent opposite the PM's residence in Jerusalem, I remember these news flashes and I wonder. Each of these detainees has a family. Each of them is an entire world. Some of them are teens who have not yet turned eighteen. How many of them did truly engage in terrorist activities against Israel? How many of them are truly so dangerous that there is no choice but to detain them? And the most important question - are we Israelis really aware of the impact which that small item, running among the news flashes between five and six every morning, has for our lives and our future?

List (in Hebrew) of Y-net reports on detentions of Palestinians