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A Visit to Beit Ummar

On June 26, 2008 MPT went to the village of Beit Ummar to assist PSP (Palestine Solidarity Project) with some of its activities. PSP and MPT went first to the office of a school superintendant to ask permission to use school classrooms for a children’s summer program PSP has initiated.

The response to PSP’s summer program has been overwhelming, with so many children participating they cannot all be accommodated in the PSP house. The school official asked for a written report he could review with the school board, but assured PSP of a prompt and positive response to their request.

Then PSP and MPT went to the mayor of Beit Ummar’s office to ask about using a public wall for a mural to be created by Beit Ummar children as part of the summer program. The mayor approved the use of two walls in the building where the city council meets, saying that many people pass by these walls and would thus see the mural. PSP explained to MPTers that their presence as volunteers at these two meetings was useful because it showed international support for the summer program.

Administrative Detention

Next MPT traveled with PSP to the village of Taffuah west of Hebron to interview the families of two men who have been imprisoned in administrative detention for ten months. These families wanted to tell their stories and have their stories publicized to the world.

Administrative detention refers to the Israeli practice of holding Palestinians in prison without charges and without trial. The Israeli army uses administrative detention as a tool to dispel political dissent and break up Palestinian resistance to its illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territories. They also use it as a way to disrupt the fabric of Palestinian communities.

While administrative detention is ostensibly used to imprison Palestinians who pose an immediate threat to the security of Israel, its use has risen significantly without relationship to the security of Israel. According to B’tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, the average number of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons under administrative detention between 1999 and 2001 was less than twenty. By 2003, during the second intifada, the number was over 500. In 2008, when the second intifada has ended and a peace process is underway, over 900 Palestinians are being held in Israeli military prisons without charges or trial.

Ktziot Prison in the Negev Desert

(Image found online)

The first family PSP and MPT visited in Taffuah was that of 35-year-old Shaher Sadiq Irziqat. Shaher is a farmer and father of three. One night ten months ago Israeli soldiers broke the window in the door of his house and entered his home. He and his family live with his mother, who has a degenerative bone disease and cannot walk on her own, and his father who is in his mid-sixties.

Although he had never been arrested before, Shaher was declared a security threat and taken away. Since initially being “sentenced” to six months in prison, his prison term has been extended twice by three months each time. A majority of Palestinians in administrative detention remain in prison for more than a year.

Visitation of administrative detainees is severely restricted. Most administrative detainees are held in Ktziot Prison inside Israel and are only permitted visits by their immediate family members. Family members wishing to visit their imprisoned loved ones must first get travel permits into Israel, which are not often granted.

When his wife and three small children went to visit Shaher recently, the prison guards, who often humiliate and abuse not only the prisoners but also those who visit them, assaulted his three year old son, slamming a door into the back of his head and creating a large cut. To make matters worse, Shaher was not even allowed to see his son, let alone hold him, as visits are conducted through telephones with a window painted black in between.

The head wound from the soldiers slamming the door.

Sharer’s cousin, Ramadan Mohammed Irziqat, age 23, was arrested the same night as Shaher, and has also had his detention renewed twice for a total of ten months so far. His family has been particularly hard hit by his absence because his wife, who was pregnant at the time of his imprisonment, has since given birth to their child Ramadan has never seen or held.

Ramadan’s family is also suffering great economical hardship due to the loss of their one wage earner. Another daughter, age two, has a heart condition which will soon require surgery, an expense the family has no way of affording. The family also suffers because a brother of Sharer was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier a number of years ago at age fifteen.

Perhaps the most devastating element of having a family head of household or other loved one held in administrative detention is the perpetual state of not knowing the future. No one knows when his or her father, husband, son, or brother is coming home. MPT notes that that this uncertainty applies to friend and co-founder of PSP Mousa Abu Maria, his 17-year-old nephew Omar Abu Maria, and several other men and boys from Beit Ummar.

PSP Summer Program

PSP and MPT returned to Beit Ummar just in time for the afternoon classes of PSP’s summer program. Four days a week, two days for girls and two for boys, children come for lessons in English and in art. It was easy to see why more space is needed for these classes as well over fifty girls were present on this day for their lessons.

MPT was impressed with the eagerness of the girls to participate and the dedication of PSP and other international volunteers in conducting the classes. In addition, it was clearly the happening place to be in Beit Ummar. Boys showed up and had to be shooed away because it was not their day. Kudos to PSP for starting something good!

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