What happened on Sunday night was one of the happiest and most painful things I’ve experienced here so far. Around 10pm, Iyad took us to a celebration in the streets of the village. There were fireworks and music and dancing and people were handing out sweets. The reason for this celebration wasn’t because some Palestinian suicide bomber had just managed to murder some Jews (sorry Zionist narratives), but rather because a young prisoner had just been released.
This boy was a 16-year-old from Bil’in. He was attending one of the weekly demonstrations and photographing it (which is common, as one huge element of the demonstrations is capturing photographic record to show to the world. The soldiers know this and they don’t want the world to see what’s going on, so they often destroy cameras or threaten/beat journalists.) The soldiers took this boy’s camera, beat him, arrested him and imprisoned him for 15 months. They charged him after-the-fact for swearing at one of the soldiers, but there was no evidence to suggest this actually happened (as if saying the word “motherfucker” is legal grounds for a child to be beaten and detained in the first place.) Doing time as a Palestinian in Israeli prisons is much more traumatizing than doing time in other self-proclaimed “democratic” countries: torture, forced interrogations, and all kinds of cruelty run rampant. Human rights organizations like B’Tselem confirm repeatedly that unfortunately, this very much applies to children in Israeli prisons, and that this is accompanied by staggering rates of PTSD. And since these kids are often held without trial for long and ever-extended periods of time, families often don’t know when they’ll be able to see their imprisoned children again. (Obviously all of this is fifty shades of illegal under international law.)
Given this context, you can imagine why there was such a huge celebration tonight when he was released. The boy was lifted up by his friends and community as the crowd danced and marched through the streets for him. He was a pudgy, unintimidating-looking kid with the biggest smile. I’d never met him before, but seeing his face actually made me cry because you could see how much he’d been through and how elated he was to be home. I was speechless (besides saying “congratulations”) when I had the honor of shaking his hand.
It was one of the happiest moments I’ve ever witnessed or been part of, and yet it was profoundly sad. Everyone in the crowd knew that there are hundreds of innocent kids (not to mention innocent adults) just like him who are still locked up in Israeli prisons. They are being tortured, their sentences are being extended for no reason, they are being denied trials. Just an hour before going to the celebration, I met one of Iyad’s brothers who had been imprisoned for 9 years for nonviolent resistance.
The Israeli army often comes into villages like Bil’in in the middle of the night to arrest (read: kidnap and terrorize) kids. If you have ever witnessed this happening, you can’t deny that it’s terrorism. Every parent has to go to bed wondering “Will my child be next?” Every child- regardless of whether or not they’ve ever done anything wrong- has to live with the fear of “Will I be next? Or my friends? Or my siblings?” We’ve only been staying with the Burnat family for less than a week but if one of these kids got arrested, I would lose my goddamn mind. And despite the fact that they’re all sweet and smart and wonderful and nonviolent kids, none of that makes them less likely to be the next victims of this system. I hope that the boy who was released tonight will heal and go on to live a good life after his imprisonment, and I beg the world to please come to its senses and take action so that all of the other innocent children in those prisons can have their own homecoming celebrations.