Five Days in the Life of a Palestinian, Erased

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Jaber Albaraa, 20, of Hebron, who was arrested on false charges by Israeli authorities on Aug. 1, 2021
Jaber Albaraa. "The judge asked me, 'How are you?' I said, 'Really bad.' The judge asked, 'Why bad?' I said, 'I have been wronged.’''Credit: Courtesy of the family

“And what brings you to such a case,” asked military judge Lt. Col. Azriel Levy in surprise, on August 5, shortly before releasing Albaraa Jaber from a false arrest that erased five entire days from his life.

What Levy probably meant to say was: After all, this is a negligible case in the military court assembly line, and we judges are accustomed to the presence of journalists only in “heavy,” widely covered, famous cases. But that’s it – it’s precisely cases of arrest like these, anonymous, banal and numerous, that indicate how the military establishment works in the service of the settlement enterprise.

Jaber, who is 20 and lives in Hebron, in the West Bank, was suspected of possessing a weapon and was arrested on August 1. Despite the suspicion, the soldiers who raided his home did not carry out any search there. His father and I knew that it was a trumped-up accusation related to his family’s refusal to give in to the settlers. Since December 2020, settlers have been trying to take over a plot of the family’s land in the Al-Baq'aa region east of Hebron, but their attempts have been repelled.

And indeed, in the military court Lt. Col. Levy declared that a day earlier, the military prosecution had ordered Jaber’s case closed, which is why the judge decided not to transfer the young man from the site of his arrest in the Etzion military detention facility, on the lands of Bethlehem, to the Ofer military court, on the lands of Beitunia, but rather to conduct an online session.

Four days after his release I met with the tall and skinny young man, and wrote down 2,000 words of his testimony – a treasure trove for understanding the ease with which the Israeli military establishment robs Palestinians of their time.

For lack of space I will skip the details of the raid of his home and the interrogations (I mentioned them in brief in an article last week), and the number of times that the shackles on his feet and hands were replaced.

The arrest by Israeli forces of Albaraa Jaber, in Hebron, on August 1, 2021Credit: Human Rights Defenders

In the detention room in Etzion, Jaber recalled, there were between three and five other young Palestinians: from Jenin, Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem. “Every day we went outside to the yard three times, for a while, also in order to eat. But there’s not much food, nor is it edible. Raw fish, spoiled sour cream, rancid bread. The egg – I open it and it spills out as though they didn’t cook it. There’s no coffee, only water. And I open the faucet and wait half an hour until the water gets cold.

“It’s terribly hot in the room, there are no mattresses. There are iron beds, but it’s impossible to sleep on them because they creak. We slept on the floor, on blankets, and I rolled one up into a pillow. There weren’t enough blankets for everyone. We asked for more blankets and they didn’t give us any. It was too hot to sleep. The room was filthy; every day I asked them to give me something to clean the room, and they didn’t.

"After three days I cleaned it with my shirt. (The Israel Defense Forces spokesperson: The food is identical to the food given to the officers at the facility. The beds and the mattresses are also proper and standard military equipment, which the staff also uses.)

“Most of the time we stayed in the room. Bored, angry, tired. I knew there was supposed to be a trial (the first remand session in front of a military judge) on Thursday. That day, at about 11 A.M., a soldier called from outside ‘Albaraa, Albaraa.’ I said, ‘That’s me,’ and he said: ‘Yalla, come.’ Everyone who leaves the room is handcuffed. He didn’t handcuff me. He took me to the soldiers’ room.

“Then a Zoom conversation began. The judge asked me, ‘How are you?’ I said, ‘Really bad.’ The judge asked, ‘Why bad?’ I said, ‘I have been wronged.’ The judge asked: ‘Do you want to return home?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’m tired of this, I’m bored, I’ll kiss your hand.’ And then the judge said to me: ‘You’re leaving today.’ I felt as though he was making fun of me. I didn’t believe it. And then they brought me back to the detention room.

“At 2 P.M., when we went out to the yard, I approached the soldier in the container (the room at the entrance to the detention facility) and asked whether it was true that they were releasing me. A soldier said he didn’t know anything. I continued asking, and in the end he told me that five were being released today. I asked him to tell me the names, and my name was among them. I returned to the room and stayed until 9 P.M., satisfied.

Jaber didn’t know that Lt. Col. Levy had ordered to free him immediately, in other words at about 12 noon. He didn’t know that attorney Riham Nasra had repeatedly called the facility and demanded his release – or that starting at 6 P.M. I also began to pester the IDF spokesperson (the spokesperson's explanation: “human error”).

“Then the soldiers came, and said: ‘Come, a release.’ When I left the room they shackled my hands and feet, and took me to another room where they returned my money, my cigarettes and my ID card. I signed two papers, written in Hebrew. Afterward, on the way to the jeep, they removed the shackles and only bound me with plastic handcuffs, and for the first time they blindfolded me.

The jeep stopped, and they said we were in Al-Aroub. The soldier removed the blindfold, but he didn’t have a knife to cut off the handcuffs. I told him it was no problem, I would get rid of the handcuffs. ‘How?’ he asked. And I twisted my hands until my left hand was freed.”

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