Ayoub Shehade, of the Qalandia refugee
camp, was arrested on the night of 29 June 2010. It was 2 am, the
soldiers banged on Ayoub and his wife’s door, and they did not hear.
Nibal, Ayoub’s mother, who lives under her son’s home, woke up in fear
and looked out and saw the soldiers – and froze. And then they knocked
again, harder this time, and she ran to wake him up.
He was taken away with his hands bound with plastic handcuffs, still in
his night clothes, his eyes covered.
Until Ayoub was taken,
all 22 young men and
boys recently arrested in the Qalandia refugee camp had not been
people we actually knew, and that was something of a relief.
We know twenty-two-year-old
Ayoub Shehade very
well, and have known him for years. Ayoub, when he was 16 was shot in
the thigh by soldiers when standing in line to buy falafel for his
family. Other soldiers destroyed his kidneys later on, in prison.
But his time passed, and things got better, and he got married and he is
working, and his wife is at the end of her ninth month of pregnancy.
And we thought of Nibal, too, his mother, who only recently was
diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and this whole house, so poor and so
warm, and what the hell do they want from the youth of Qalandia.
On Wednesday, August 5th, we went to hear his detention hearing at the
Ofer Military Court.
While we were waiting to be let in we saw, through the barbed wire
fence, the families of the prisoners crowding by the gate, where they
rode to in transit vans from all over the Occupied West Bank.
Everyone is summoned for 9 am, even if their son’s trial will only be
held at 5 pm. The families are never told when it will be.
Let them wait.
They put anything they brought there into lockers before even being
allowed into the Ofer facility.
The only thing they can bring is money.
Not food, not a book, not anything else.
And indeed, they’ll be needing money over the long hours of waiting.
They’ll need it if they want to have a bite to eat at the expensive
kiosk which is purportedly there to serve them. Money that they just
don’t have. Money they could have saved if bringing food in was
Some of them hardly have the money to make it to the military court.
Are they forbidden to bring in food just to make them spend money?
Maybe it’s just because they don’t count.
A soldier sat on a chair, on the other side of the gate, legs spread
wide apart, reading the names of the prisoners summoned for that day.
Every time the name of a detainee was uttered, the two members of his
family who are allowed to go in, come to the head of the line.
That’s how it goes, name after name.
“Irja’,”[get back] the soldier said, all of a sudden, it’s not clear
whom he said that to, or why.
And the people retreated, their eyes asking an unanswered question. And
then they walked up again. And the reading of names continued.
And again, after some time, “Irja’, do you hear?”, and again, the
hesitating looks, a step back, and then they walk up again.
And name after name, pair after pair of parents, come in to be examined
in the closed room before they are allowed to go into the families’
facility, and from there into the courtrooms.
Again the soldier uttered a name, and an older man quickly tossed his
cigarette to the ground and crushed it with his foot and hurried to the
head of the line. He knew that if he was smoking when he went up there
the soldier could tell him that he’s not allowed to go in.
Because that’s how it usually happens.
“Hey, hey, pick up the garbage,” the soldier shouted at him, in Hebrew.
At first the man did not understand it was about him – but then he did,
and with a hesitant look bent down, looked around until his eyes came to
the cigarette, and then he picked it up off the ground.
After we went through the examination, too, we ran into the courtroom
Ayoub, in brown prisoners’ garb, shackled to the leg of another
prisoner; his mother, Nibal,
had just told him that his first baby daughter was born a few days
earlier (on Saturday, 31 July, 2010) stood up, all at once, stunned with
excitement, and the other prisoner, the one shackled to him, stood up
with a pleasant smile, perhaps because of the magnitude of the moment –
a tad embarrassed.
The policeman gestured them to sit down, and they sat down.
The trial had not started yet. We embraced Nibal quickly, greeted Mazen
with a nod, and sat down.
Nibal looked great, despite the cancer she had recently been diagnosed
with, stood erect, beautiful and happier than we had seen her in a long
“Here, take her,” Nibal said, lifting the absent baby in the air. “Take
her.” Handing her battered, lost son an image of his daughter.
And he watched her, mesmerized. He watched her rock the child. Before
his tearful eyes he watched her kiss the baby. Watched her feed the
baby. Watched her sing to the baby.
And the words are silent. No sound is heard. And occasionally a sound is
heard, but only a very faint one. Words that he did not entirely
understand, except for a few, but whose intent he understood. His gaze,
locked in hers, drinking her in, drinking in her movements, her
gestures, a wide open smile on his face, alight with happiness.
His mother cooed and cooed, lovingly tending to his baby daughter, and
Ayoub’s face reddens and he glows with happiness, confused, and she is
with him. His mother. And his tiny daughter, imagined, between them.
“Sit down,” the policeman says to Ayoub, who gets up, again and again,
to catch sight of his mother’s face.
“Stop talking,” he barks at Nibal.
Neither he nor she obeys or looks.
The judge, who heard the scolding policeman looked up from his papers
and glared with visible displeasure at Ayoub and Nibal, but he said
nothing. Maybe it was because we were there. We, the visible, “worthy”
people, friends of the transparent ones.
I think Nibal was so happy because she finally got to see her son,
Ayoub, and it was easier for her to see him than to think what could be
happening to him,. And, I think, this is also due to the fact that
although she could never hand Ayoub a life of liberty or material wealth
or safety, and save him from that fate that was surrounding him and
soaking into him and seizing him, she could finally give him something
good, today, something that was purely good, with no bad in it; the
image of his baby daughter whom he had not seen, and who knows how long
it will be before he sees her. And she did just that.
And time froze and stopped and they were inside it. A mother and her son
and the baby girl that had only-just been born. And there was no world,
and no occupation and detention and cancer and poverty and limitless
loss, and there was only the birth and its absolute glow.
All court proceedings which occur at the same time are carried out in
Hebrew. No one explains a thing to the defendant or his parents. The
words are not translated. And the entire discourse simply goes on over
their heads, ignoring them. First the judge, then the prosecution. And
then with Advocate Samara, there for Bilal Mahfouz, Ayoub’s attorney,
who is late.
And all this time Ayoub looks only at his mother. Deciphering her
gestures, drinking them in. And his mother, like him, her glance
entwined in his, holds and holds his imaginary daughter up to him,
cradles her, sings to her, coos to her, kisses her.
The two of them, mother and son, are both blind to the course of reality
around them. But Reality, as always in Ofer, has nothing to do with the
truth, with the facts, with justice, with logic.
Fates rise and fall in the sea of darkness, and the Palestinian
defendants are only extras in a pre-determined guilt which cannot be
refuted. All you can do is get to a plea bargain, which means admitting
things you have usually not done, and in the best case get off with time
served, which was interrogation time, meant not to discover the facts
and the truth but rather, to recruit collaborators, to squeeze out more
and more names of Palestinians, to crush and undermine the society and
its resilience, its soul. Finally, there are always fines to pay. Money.
Why not, so many boundaries have already been crossed, why not the
boundary of greed? More and more money, from people who do not have it
And then the judge suddenly said something that we could not hear, and
the policeman got up, all of a sudden. “That’s it, it’s over,” he told
the stunned parents. “Get out.”
Nibal, ignoring him, went on miming the baby, and Ayoub, ignoring too,
looked over the policeman’s head desperately, trying to keep his eye on
his mother’s face, both of them gulping down the last moments of time
they could steal together.
“Get out of here already!” shouted the policeman again.
They got up, shaken. Mazen’s eyes downcast, Nibal, her face suddenly
fallen, with tears starting to roll down.
And again the policeman shouted at the parents that they should leave,
although Ayoub was still in the courtroom, not removed from it. They
left, grieving and confused, Ayoub still looking at them, despite orders
by the policeman, and we hoped nothing would happen to him. Not again.
We, by the way, were allowed to remain, if we wanted to.
We, the strangers. Not they, his parents.
Only because we are not Palestinian.
After they went through the courtroom door Mazen and Nibal still
lingered. They could not believe that was it, that time was up.
“Get out of here!” thundered the policeman, who went out to see that his
orders had indeed been obeyed. “Do you hear me?”
And they left, despondent, and went to the families’ area. And so did
And just then Ayoub’s attorney came, Bilal Mahfouz, who had just been
replaced by Advocate Samara.
And just then Nibal remembered that she had not shown Ayoub the
photograph of his daughter, that she had brought with her, deep in her
clothes, and she tearfully pleaded with the attorney that he gives Ayoub
the picture, and the attorney said that there was nothing he could do.
“But what about the name?” Nibal said, still in tears. “What about the
And the attorney looked at her – and saw – and contained her suffering –
and ran inside and pulled whatever strings he had and showed the
photograph to the young father, and came back with a piece of paper
bearing the name Ivan.
An odd name.
An odd name for an odd world, we thought.
And we all talked for a while about Ayoub. About the charges. About what
would happen. And the attorney told the parents that he would try and
postpone the next meeting until after the Ramadan, because everything is
always harder in the Ramadan. And Nibal looked at him, eyes full of
concern and disappointment. He saw her face and explained that Ayoub
would be in prison for a while in any event, whether or not he did
anything, it doesn’t matter at all. Because bringing the incriminator
and confronting Ayoub with him, cross examining him, the thing that
common sense would dictate for a court proceeding – that would take a
lot of time. That’s how it is. It’s built into the system. It is the
constant. It would take more time than the verdict that he thinks he
could get, himself.
This way, the time waiting for the trial would be count as time served,
so Ayoub would lose nothing. Of course he would never be released on
bail. And we understood. We knew what we had actually known before. What
Nibal actually understood, too, despite her maternal concern, what we
all know: that it does not matter in the least if Ayoub was holding a
bag or not, if there were bullets in the bag or not, Ayoub was not about
to be acquitted, because the system does not allow for it. Because the
system does not allow for due process.
Because under due process, he could not even be arrested based on such
nonsense. Someone saw him holding a bag, and could not see what was
Under due process, the judges and prosecutors and jailers would be tried
by an international court of law for having cooperated in the oppression
and occupation of another nation. Their job was to serve the occupation,
not justice, not morality, and they put up the pretense of a court which
had nothing at all to do with justice, all to serve the regime and its
ways an its goals, whatever they were.
Ayoub is accused of possessing and dealing in weapons.
“How do you interpret this?” we asked Bilal, the attorney. “This is
somewhat spurious even for them, isn’t it? Weapons? For a bag whose
content was not seen?”
“It’s because there is a new commander in the area,” he told us. “He
wants them to bring in as many people as possible, to recruit
collaborators, that’s what they’re saying.
But since there is only one incriminator in this case, and he’s fifteen,
and there is no second incriminator who saw him holding a bag which, in
his opinion, held 150 bullets,” he hopes to get off with only a few
months. Four, he hopes.
The Ofer court has recently been changed. The paths are more neat and
clean than before, flanked by barbed wire on both sides, leading to the
families’ area between the entrance, after the security check. Like
every other place under occupation, the bells and whistles only deepen
the sense of despair, the fateful feeling everywhere. They give the
feeling that they are not temporary, that they are here to stay. The
bells and whistles aren’t used on the few Jews who even come there. They
believe that only few of the Jews care about, want to know about, what
is being done in their name. The Occupation Forces make it hard even for
those who want to come, and do so on purpose. Maybe because there,
between the walls of what is mistakenly called a court house, there is
no actual court. There is only the occupation.
And the prosecutors and judges all act not under the rules of law and
justice but under the interests of control.
And that means that in this court, no one is innocent until proven
guilty, as is common under justice. The reverse is true. Every
Palestinian – because he is Palestinian – is guilty until proven
No one is innocent.
There is no evidence.
There is no bail.
All there is are plea bargains, which are somewhat worthwhile for the
Palestinians, because in this framework of injustice, the “deal” is
sometimes preferable, since in most cases the prison sentence amounts to
less than what would have happened if the legal proceedings went their
Because guilt is not tested in the first place, facts are not found in
the ordinary way.
Because they are guilty, no matter what.
In this sense, the families of the detainees are just as guilty as their
detained sons, guilty a priori in their own right. And not because they
had done anything but because they are Palestinians.
We, on the other hand, the visitors, identifying with them, we also walk
these paths. But we cannot entirely absorb the spirit of the place, its
full terrible power.
The spirit of the place has something to do with the fact that most of
the people who walk there are also imprisoned.
Because the parents have not come to the prison from liberty, but only
from the larger prison. That prison with a sky, the Occupied Territories
In that sense it is almost reasonable for the paths that the parents
have to take are nearly identical to the prison itself.
We all came to the window where you have to hand in the receipt for the
identification card, to get it back.
Through the window we could see two young men sitting. Soldiers, of
sorts. Mazen and Nibal stood quietly by the window. Nibal held the
number in the air. She showed it, but demanded nothing. We saw the
parents’ pent-up fear. Their patient fear. They wait, not taking up any
space. The two young men standing before them, young soldiers of
occupation, giggling about some private matter. Looking and looking at
something they have in their hand, giggling. They can see Nibal and
Mazen: their eyes are young, they are healthy; and yet, they cannot see
Because they do not see people.
And time passed and stretched out in a long, tense, frozen moment, and
we also waited, ashamed to use our extra powers to demand appropriate
consideration. In silence.
A prison service soldier suddenly came up to us.
“Irja’!” he shouted at Nibal and Mazen. His shout was reflexive,
automatic. He saw Palestinians and shouted. They leapt back. Used to
such things. But they did not know where to go, because no place is more
right than any other, all they knew was that they had to move, and they
moved. Their fear was visible. Nibal held her lip, Mazen clasped his own
hands. We seamed in our anger.
After the soldier shouted at them, releasing whatever he wished to
release, he took Nibal’s numbered receipt from her and handed it to the
two giggling soldiers behind the glass. They got up immediately to bring
the ID card. The soldier took the IDs they brought and asked aloud “Who
is Nibal?” she nodded that it was her. “And who is Mazen?” Mazen
answered in Hebrew that it was he.
The solider looked at them for a long while, as though he were comparing
them to the photographs in the IDs and then said to them, in a rough
voice, “Irja’”. Move, move.
And they did not know where to go, and how they could leave without
And again he raised his voice: “Irja, did you hear me?” He indicated the
revolving gate outwards with his chin, gestured that they should go
Concerned, not understanding, they start to go through the last
revolving gate, heading out, waiting again, hoping to get an
explanation, hoping to get back the ID, and again he yelled, and they
went through the last revolving gate, and went out.
Guilty, until proven innocent.
And only then he handed them the IDs, through the slats of the fence.
And they took them, bade us fare well, and went on their way.
I have a memory of Ayoub from several years ago. Wearing a white
T-shirt. Tamar and I were near the checkpoint, she was taking pictures,
and I could see him from a distance. He called our names with such joy,
and waved, and came running.
He was so young and looked so healthy, despite the occupation, despite
the damaged leg and kidneys.
We laughed, I think. And we talked. We were happy because he looked so
open and young and full of possibilities, despite everything.
Today, only 22, life had already left its mark on him, and this was hard
There was another court hearing, after that, and we came again.
“I did not do it,” Ayoub said, again and again. “My daughter was born. I
did not see her. I did not do what he says. Bring him.”
And again the attorney said, as though handing a gift, that he hopes
Ayoub would “only” be in prison for four months.
Four months for something he had not done. Based on the testimony of a
fifteen-year-old boy, who is also detained. Who said only that he thinks
that the bag – whose content he did not see – had live bullets in it.
Even the forces of occupation know that the boy does not have x-ray
eyes, that he could not guess what was in the bag that he claims Ayoub
was carrying down the main street, whether it had bullets or bread that
he’d just bought or milk or falafel, or even if it was Ayoub, at all.
They also know the Shabak’s methods, the interrogations, and the likely
unfolding of events that led the youth to say what he did, and why he
did so. But they don’t think it matters.
Did the incriminating youth see Ayoub or not? Were there bullets in the
bag or not? It just doesn’t matter.
Ayoub is Palestinian.
That’s the whole story.
That is his guilt, and that is his fate.
Translation: 1. Dena Bugel-Shunra [
http://hebrew.shunra.net] 2. Ofer Neiman