To Be Palestinian and To be Arrested

 Joseph Dana was recently arrested for his involvement in the weekly nonviolent demonstrations in the village of Nabih Saleh.  As Dana points out, the only extraordinary part of his ordeal was not that he was detained, or beaten, or harassed.  The extraordinary bit was that he was Jewish and received the ‘Palestinian treatment:’

On Friday, I was detained by Border Police officers in Nabi Saleh along with another Israeli. We were handcuffed behind our backs, thrown to the ground and beaten. The other Israeli was beaten much worse than I. His head was smashed against the ground and he was kicked repeatedly in the stomach. All of this happened in front a Palestinian Btselem photographer who captured the whole thing on video. After the beating, we were then detained and held in a Jerusalem prison for thirty hours. This story is only unique because it happen to Jews.

While it seems as though the Israeli authorities are cracking down harder on Israelis who protest the occupation (see also the arrest and conviction of Jonathan Pollak), Palestinians have been subject to such brutality and arbitrary arrests for decades.  Moreover, Pollak and Dana presumably were given the rights guaranteed to prisoners: a lawyer, a phone call…  Unsurprisingly, Palestinians are often denied these basic rights after detention.  The above video is just one example (originally posted by Dana) of the ease with which a Palestinian can find himself in jail.  Note that in the video, the Israeli soldier does not give any warning that the area was closed by military order.

Yet the video does not show what happens after detention, which is where Rami comes in.  I was catching up on some reading at a popular coffee shop (read: arguila bar) the other day when Rami came to sit with me.  I had never met Rami before, but typical of Palestinian kindness and hospitality, he felt the need to buy me a coffee as a welcoming gesture to Palestine.  Rami is in his early 20s and an auditor living in Ramallah.  He has a good job, a girlfriend that he intends to marry, and a full family living nearby.  His grandfather used to live in Tel Aviv before 1948 before being forced out of his home.  For the first many years of his life, Rami lived in the Al ‘Amari refugee camp on the outskirts of Ramallah, but now he has his own place in the center of the city.  It seemed as though Rami’s life, though marked by a history of tragedy, was not so bad.

[tweetmeme] Despite his good job and nice house, Rami has never been to Jerusalem, only 14.2 km away (8.6 miles).  Nor has he been to Nablus, Bethlehem, or Hebron.  In fact, for the last 5 years, he has not left the city limits of Ramallah.  During the Second Intifada Rami, then a student at Bir Zeit University, was arrested.  Not for throwing stones, shooting guns, or even belonging to the wrong political party.  No, he was not political at all.  Yet when a neighbor of his landed in jail and not allowed to see or speak to his family, Rami offered to visit the prison to relay messages to the family.  When he arrived at the prison, Rami was arrested, suspected of planning, well, something – Rami could not recall if the Israeli authorities ever charged him with anything.  He spent 3 months in the Ofer prison (a relatively short time for Palestinians) and was released after paying a $10,000 dollar fine.  He was denied a lawyer for the entire three months and was not permitted to call his family until he paid a guard $150.

Of course, one might think that the dubious circumstances of his arrest were bad enough.  If not, perhaps the blatant violations of his rights in prison or the corruption of the guards might be disturbing.  Yet, perhaps more disgusting is the continuous punishment Rami faces everyday.  Upon being released from jail, Rami was told that he could not leave Ramallah; that he would be arrested if he was caught beyond the city limits.  After telling him that I spent Christmas in Bethlehem, Rami lamented:

My brother and sister went to Bethlehem too.  I feel as though I am blind.  I can see my country on television and I can see pictures of Bethlehem, of Khalil [Hebron], of Jenin.  But I cannot really see.  My father can go to Al Quds [Jerusalem] to pray at Al Aqsa [mosque], but I will never be able to go.  But thanks to God I am here.  LG.  Life is Good.

Though it was surprising to hear Rami’s LG jokes intersecting such a tragic sentiment, it seemed natural for him.  After his family was forced out of their home in 1948, 78% of Palestine was immediately off-limits.  He could not see the ocean, or pick Jaffa oranges.  He was not allowed back to Tel Aviv to see his house.  After he was arrested, nearly everything else became prohibited territory.

I go to work and then I go home.  Maybe I watch television.  Maybe I see my girlfriend.  I come here [the coffee shop] to talk to people.  To talk, to see my country.

Born to refugees from Tel Aviv, arrested without a charge, confined to one single city, Rami comes to talk to me, to ask me, an American, what Palestine is like.  Though it seems like Rami’s entire life is symbolic of the consequences of the Israeli apartheid system, he keeps repeating “al humil’allah, LG.  Life is Good,” as though he is unaware of the fog of irony surrounding me as I describe to him the stones of the old city of Hebron and the taste of kneffeh in Nablus.

One day, insha’allah.  One day.

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