“Hit me one time in the face, and then hit me again, and again, it will start to feel normal. That’s what the occupation is like. That’s what losing my sons is like.”
DHEISHEH REFUGEE CAMP, occupied West Bank — Malka Abu Akar doesn’t have a single son left to join her at the dinner table this Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and feasting for Muslims. Although this isn’t the first time she’s been without her sons at the table, it never gets easier.
As Operation Brother’s Keeper — the Israeli Defense Forces operation launched after three Israeli settlers went missing on June 12 — comes to a close with the discovery of the bodies of the three missing Israeli teens on Monday evening, hundreds of recently arrested Palestinians still await their fate in Israeli jails. While two suspects in the kidnapping case have been identified by Israeli authorities as members of Hamas, many of those arrested during Operation Brother’s Keeper are not affiliated with the group.
Malka Abu Akar’s son Nidal, a known member of the secular Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was arrested on Saturday by the IDF. Two of her other sons are currently being held in Palestinian prisons for their political involvement, and another died at the age of 19 from injuries sustained after being shot in the stomach by the IDF.
Nidal is one of around 550 Palestinians that have been arrested by the IDF during the military operation that started nearly three weeks ago. It is not known whether the most recent developments in the case will lead to the release of those arrested during the search for the three missing settlers, but rhetoric from several prominent Israeli officials on Monday evening pointed to a potential escalation of force in the occupied Palestinian territories.
“Alongside deep sorrow, we will remain resolute to punish the atrocious terrorists,” President Shimon Peres said in a statement on Monday evening. “Our war on terrorism will only intensify and will not waver so that this murderous terrorism won’t dare to rear its head.”
Now that the current military operation appears to have come to a close, Malka can only hope that Nidal will be released in the coming days. Yet she fears this is unlikely, as Nidal was arrested under administrative detention, an Israeli legal practice that allows Israel to jail Palestinians without charge for up to two years, with the potential for renewal. Because of his status as an administrative detainee, his family worries that he could be imprisoned in Israeli jails for months, if not years, to come.
Nidal was asleep in his family’s home when the soldiers busted through his door at 5 a.m. on Saturday, but his wife, Manaal Abu Akar, happened to be awake.
“I was headed to the bathroom when I saw the front door shaking. It looked weird, like maybe the wind was moving it, but before I could do anything it flew open like a blast,” Manaal told MintPress News. “No one knocked, I would have just opened the door. We are used to Israeli soldiers in Dheisheh.”
Manaal recalled how the IDF stormed her house with guns drawn, pointing them at her, but without making enough noise to wake up the rest of the family. She was pushed to the side and surrounded while approximately 50 soldiers fanned out through her home. Manaal and Nidal’s 19-year-old son
Mohammed was asleep in his bed when he was awoken by the butt of an IDF gun being jammed into his arm.
“I didn’t know what was happening, they hit me with their gun and screamed, ‘Get up! Get up!,’” Mohammed said. “I didn’t feel like I could get up, they were screaming at me but I was surrounded. There was nowhere to go.”
The IDF rounded up Nidal’s immediate and extended family and forced them to gather together outside. All the homes in the building — a structure in which homes are stacked one on top of another, since there is only room to build up, not out, in the crowded refugee camp — were then raided and ransacked, the rooms left in disarray. According to the family, the IDF never mentioned the three missing settlers or implied that they were looking for anyone other than Nidal.
Nidal’s family told MintPress they had no idea why he would be arrested two days after Israel announced that the suspects in the kidnapping case were two Hamas affiliates from Hebron — Nidal is not affiliated with Hamas or involved with politics in Hebron.
The night Nidal was arrested was one of chaos in Dheisheh Refugee Camp. The IDF and young men from the camp clashed on the narrow streets. Young men threw rocks at IDF soldiers, who responded with tear gas, rubber-coated-steel bullets and live ammunition. A 15-year-old boy was taken to a nearby hospital with shrapnel wounds.
Like Nidal, camp resident Shadi Maali was arrested and taken by the IDF during their incursion in Dheisheh.
Not far from Nidal’s family home in the refugee camp, Shadi’s mother, Sarah, spoke in a quiet but defiant voice to MintPress about her son’s arrest on Saturday. Looking forlorn in the sparse living room, she explained that unlike other arrests and home raids, the army took her son in the morning.
“They came in and they broke everything,” Sarah said. “Shadi wasn’t at home, so they left. But then in the morning, Shadi was home with us drinking tea, and my grandson, Shadi’s boy, came running inside saying, ‘Soldiers! Soldiers!’I didn’t think they would come for Shadi because Shadi had just gotten out of jail three months ago. I never thought they were coming for him of all the men here.”
Sarah expressed confusion over her son’s arrest. Like Nidal, Shadi is aligned with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, not Hamas.
Notable human rights organizations including B’Tselem and Amnesty International sent joint a letter to Israel’s Ministry of Defense last week to call for an end to the mass arrests and home raids, stating that Israel’s current operation reflects a campaign of collective punishment, rather than one of a search for missing persons.
In response to this and similar accusations made by other organizations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently stated that Israel was not using the search for the three missing Israeli settlers as a way to implement collective punishment.
“We’re not taking action against the Palestinian population, there is no collective punishment or anything like that,” Netanyahu told NPR’s Morning Edition.
Yet with the Israeli campaign to find the three Israeli teens coming to a close, both families remain in limbo, unsure of what fate will await Shadi and Nidal, who are both jailed under administrative detention.
With the tactic of administrative detention being used extensively during Operation Brother’s Keeper, along with large-scale destructive house raids, Gavan Kelly, advocacy coordinator for Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner and human rights organization, says he has no doubt that the mass arrest campaign was nothing but a form of collective punishment against all Palestinians, as well as a way to unhinge the Fatah/Hamas unity deal — a deal that was meant to bring the two conflicting Palestinian factions together under one united government.
“For Israel, the only option for most of the prisoners is to put them on administrative detention,” Kelly told MintPress. “Why? Because they have no evidence. Israel uses administrative detention when they have no evidence, and in this vast round up of around 550 individuals because of their politics, it is their only option to keep them imprisoned. Clearly there is a political agenda here, rather than looking for the settlers.”
Continuing politics despite the risks
Political involvement almost always presents a risk for Palestinians, who fear their own government at times, but Israel’s occupying force even more so. Five men have been shot dead since the beginning of Operation Brother’s Keeper, and arrests, clashes and night raids have occurred frequently — these sorts of activities are typical, but during military operations, the rates increase.
With around 550 Palestinians having been arrested in the latest military campaign, and over 5,200 Palestinians currently residing in Israeli jails, many Palestinians feel that Israel is purposely trying to provoke the population by jailing individuals in such large numbers.
“For me, I think this army is stupid, they hit and hit and they try and make a problem where there is no problem. Out of nothing,” Shadi’s younger brother, Imran, said.
Shadi and six of his eight brothers have already spent long stints in Israeli jails. But despite this, their mother has never asked her sons to end their political involvement.
“If you hit me one time in the face, and then hit me again, and again, it will start to feel normal. That’s what the occupation is like. That’s what losing my sons is like,” Sarah told MintPress. “But I have never told my sons to stop being involved in politics. If my sons feel politics are important, then I will never stop them. Everything for Palestine — for Palestine we are willing to lose everything — I only hope fate is on our side.”