‘Unpolite visit by IDF after midnight to our house in Attil to arrest my nephew.’ Those chilling words were transmitted via Facebook. My friend and colleague, Sadi, knows only too well what these words would mean to his friends. Sadi works for B’tselem, an Israeli human rights organization that investigates violations of Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
B’TSELEM – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories was established in 1989 by a group of prominent academics, attorneys, journalists, and Knesset members. It endeavors to document and educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, combat the phenomenon of denial prevalent among the Israeli public, and help create a human rights culture in Israel.
B’Tselem in Hebrew literally means “in the image of,” and is also used as a synonym for human dignity. The word is taken from Genesis 1:27 “And God created humans in his image. In the image of God did He create him.” It is in this spirit that the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights.”
As an Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem acts primarily to change Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories and ensure that its government, which rules the Occupied Territories, protects the human rights of residents there and complies with its obligations under international law.
I had often accompanied Sadi as he interviewed victims of abuse for B’etsalem. He would conduct the interview in Arabic and then translate for me; our respective reports would be forwarded to our organizations. Sadi would have no illusions as to the implications of such a detention!
I have been instantly transported back to my last interview in Azzun in the West Bank of Palestine.
The father of a 16-year-old boy who had been taken from his home by the army the previous night, was more agitated than any other father I had interviewed. Three days before, the maternal grandfather had died and the family had been mourning in his village. Their son had wanted to stay there that night but his mother had insisted he come home because he had school the next day. They arrived home around 11:00pm, prepared a meal, and finally fell, exhausted, into bed around one.
Shouting through a loudspeaker and stones thrown at the door startled them awake; soldiers had arrived. This is the ‘modus operandi’ of the Israeli Army; soldiers plan their incursions for the middle of the night, often terrorize the family, often violently search the house, sometimes…. perhaps depending on the professionalism of the Unit…. steal money, cigarettes, etc. and often, detain one or more of the sons.
This boy – a small, quiet boy according to his father – had also been arrested nine months before, when he was 15. He was placed in a solitary cell and left there for two days and then, without comment, released. He was traumatized by this experience. He started bed wetting and seldom left the house. He was under a doctor’s care for his stress.
His father was like a ‘cat on a hot tin roof’, unable to settle. We took his information but were reluctant to leave. He seemed to need our presence and so we stayed until others arrived to sit with him as he waited.
Our translator that day, Abed, when asked what would be the probable outcome of this detention, said that the boy would probably be released the next day because he was not well and of no use to the army. There have been approximately 150 boys and young men rounded up in this fashion during this two month period. The general feeling was that the army was looking for collaborators; leading to another issue when the boys are released….no one knows which of them was ‘persuaded’ to be an informer.
I was on another assignment when our team was called back two days later. The boy had been released but the news was bad. He had been bound by his wrists while in detention, raised off the ground and kicked and beaten by the soldiers. He was in no condition to talk to anyone.
I had previously been in touch with Sundrus, the outreach worker for ‘Doctors Without Borders’. They, because of the extreme need in Azzun, had set up an office there for the treatment of boys suffering from the traumatic effects of detention by the Israeli Army. This information was relayed to the family.
This boy would have to appear in court in a few months to answer to whatever charges he had admitted to under interrogation.
This case is not unusual for an investigator for B’etsalem. Here, on the other side of the world, I also sit and wait for the outcome. I hope his nephew fares better than many other Palestinian children caught up in the brutality of living in an occupied land.
B’Tselem has published scores of reports, some comprehensive in scope, covering most kinds of human rights violations that have occurred in the Occupied Territories. The reports have dealt, for example, with torture, fatal shootings by security forces, restriction on movement, expropriation of land and discrimination in planning and building in East Jerusalem, administrative detention, and settler violence.