Child Arrests: Mahmoud

25 August 2011

This week PSP visited with the family of Mahmoud, a 16 year old school student and local Community Centre volunteer from Beit Ommar. Two weeks ago Mahmoud was arrested whilst helping women and children to escape an Israeli military attack on a party to commemerate Palestinian prisoners at Beit Ommar’s public park. Mahmoud’s parents Yusuf and Sahir, along with his sisters Suhair and Hikmat, tell us of the trauma they have suffered since his arrest.

Mahmoud’s father, Yusuf, told us of his response to hearing that his son, who had been helping out at the commemoration, was arrested. He draws a breath and looks into the distance. “This has never happened to any of my children before” he says. “When I received the phone call telling me, I was so shocked that my legs gave way and I fell to the ground. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach but I knew I had to pull myself together and go find him. So I went to the watchtower on the edge of the Beit Umar to ask the soldiers if they knew where he was interned but they would tell me nothing. “

The next day, Yusef went to the nearby Etzion detention centre where he was told by the officials that they had no record of his son being held there. He drove further to Kiryat Arba police station and it was here that he accidentally met a humanitarian aid worker who told him that his son was indeed at Etzion and would be held there until his trial the following week. And so Yusef would have to wait six days before setting eyes on his son again. “When I saw him in the court the following week, I wanted to hug him” he tells me, “but they would not even let us talk. Mahmoud looked so shocked and so drawn – very different to the son I know.” Yusef describes what happened next as a tragic joke. “There appeared to be some mix-up and the charge papers could not be found so the case was adjourned. I have never been in an Israeli court before but what I saw seemed like theatre play rather than reality – the accused have no rights, the Palestinian lawyers are not free to speak they way they want to and so there can be no hope of justice.”

Still Mahmoud waits without formal charge in Etzion detention centre. His sister Suhair tells us that she cannot sleep because she has nightmares about what her brother is going through. “The house is deathly quite without him” she says “Mahmoud has always been like a human dynamo, laughing and teasing us and making jokes. My youngest sister who is thirteen cries every day. Mahmoud used to walk her to school to protect her from bullies. Who will be there to do this when September comes?”

The family’s fears will only have been increased by a recent official report released by the Israeli Justice Ministry on the conditions of the prisons and detention centres in Israel and the West Bank. The report describes a form of punishment whereby many inmates are cuffed hand and foot, sometimes for up to several months, having to call out if they need the toilet. General living conditions are at best described as unhygienic, extremely crowded and excessively punative and as of yet there have been no suggestions for improvements. (Haaretz, August 16th 2011).

PSP asked Hikmat if she worries about the long-term effects for Mahmoud of being in Etzion. “Of course I do” she answers “His honour and dignity have been insulted by this act. We know there will be psychological problems but my mother hopes that this experience at least will strengthen his will to end the illegal occupation of Palestine – and as a family we know that the only way to do this is through getting a strong education.” At this point Mahmoud’s mother begins to cry silently.

PSP then asked Suhair what she will say to her brother when he finally gets home. With tears welling up in her eyes she looks at me and laughs “I will tell him that if he ever leaves us again I will kill him!”