An unexpected personage, Moses from the Bible, accompanied us for two hours of waiting at the Beitunia checkpoint for five detainees from Khan al-Ahmar who were about to be released. The five from this West Bank village that Israel has marked for demolition were detained on July 4. This is the story of the vicissitudes of their release on bail last Monday evening.
And maybe it was predictable that Moses would accompany us, late in the evening, at a dark plaza where a single blinding light from a military outpost illuminates only the iron gate that blocks access, the barbed wire, and one strip of the road that once connected Ramallah to the villages to its south – and no longer does. (“Don’t go near the gate,” shouted one of the people waiting, a resident of Khan al-Ahmar. “They’ll fire at you.”)
It was also predictable that the Prophet Musa, as he’s known to Muslims, would be mentioned as if he were a family member or a good neighbor, as one of the people waiting for the release of the detainees from Ofer Prison, half a kilometer from us, was Abu Qais of the Jahalin tribe, a shepherd and a preacher who worked in his youth in Israel and with Israelis.
In Arabic seasoned with Hebrew, he told the story of the Prophet Musa, as it is written in the Koran, and at the same time he spoke about the great distress of members of his tribe from Khan al-Ahmar who are about to lose their homes – as meager and makeshift as they may be.
Now they’re about to be expelled once again, and to living conditions not of their choosing, which are foreign to them and all their customs – and next to the largest garbage dump in the West Bank.
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So many large forces have risen up to subdue them: the police, the army, judges, inspectors and senior Civil Administration officials, state prosecutors, prying drones from the pro-settler group Regavim, and the neighbors – settlers whom the Bedouin recall when they had just arrived at these hills at the edge of the desert.
It is within this context that Abu Qais mentioned Moses, who “went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he smote the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand” (Exodus 2, 11-12).
According to the Koran, incidentally, Musa regretted killing a man. “I did it when I was astray” (Surah 26).
Sara Abu Dahouk, 19, saw two members of the Border Police pushing her uncle Ahmed with great force to a concrete railing placed at the entrance to the village, bending him over the railing, trying to handcuff him behind his back. Only a moment earlier he was led by the policemen along the highway, and suddenly this violent handcuffing.
Dozens of village residents and activists came to protest on Wednesday July 4 against the plans to demolish the village. They held a civil disobedience protest and stood among the bulldozers and masses of armed policemen who had invaded the world’s most talked-about Jahalin village. They didn’t lift a hand and didn’t throw a single stone. But suddenly the policemen started to disperse them, and according to people present, they used violence.
That’s how Sara’s uncle, Ahmed Abu Dahouk, was detained. His wife ran toward him to protect him, along with a little girl, a third policeman raced toward them and pushed the woman so hard that she fell to the ground. Everyone who saw it was shocked. Strange men aren’t allowed to touch women, let alone push one to the ground.
Sara Abu Dahouk and another member of the tribe ran over and an uproar ensued – policemen, protesters, beating, pushing, pushing protesters onto the ground and handcuffing them. A policeman pulled off Abu Dahouk’s head covering and her hair was exposed.
“To place a hand on a mandil [headscarf] is to harm a woman’s identity,” a family friend said, explaining why they were all shocked. There were policewomen at the site, but policemen grabbed the Bedouin women and pushed them.
Abu Dahouk’s father rushed to her defense and was detained. She herself was carried into custody by four policemen, and her uncle was also detained. All told 11 people were detained that day; two were released thereafter.
Attorney Gaby Lasky asked to have the others released on bail before Friday; after all, the police had said their investigation was over. But the police opposed this request, saying that “at the Ma’aleh Adumim station preparations are being made for evacuating the Bedouin compound, based on the decision by the High Court of Justice. Such preparations include evacuation routes for the engineering equipment.”
As the police put it, “Yesterday, when the forces arrived to carry out the preparation, there was friction between the protesters and others, and police forces came to protect the work of the equipment. In light of the protesters’ disorderly conduct, the commander of the force decided to arrest them and bring them in for questioning. The undersigned [Superintendent Shmuel Gerbi] decided to jail them for the following offenses: interfering with a soldier, harming a soldier, offenses against public order, throwing an object at a person.”
Cruel and unusual restraining order
Judge Rani Amer, the vice president of the military courts, acceded to the police’s request to keep them in custody until Sunday for a discussion on extending their detention. On Sunday, the police in Ma’aleh Adumim agreed to release eight of the detainees – the men – on bail of 1,000 shekels ($275) each, and to keep them away from the village for 30 days.
For three of them, who aren’t from the village, there’s no problem. For the others, attorney Lasky remarked that keeping them away from home for 30 days was harsh and unnecessary. In any case, a petition was filed on behalf of the village, and a temporary injunction has stayed the demolition.
A military court judge, Ami Navon, agreed to reduce the restraining order to 15 days, but increased the bail to 10,000 shekels per person. The people at the hearing were shocked, including Lasky. Her protests made Navon reduce the sum to 7,500 shekels, still unaffordable. The five remained in custody.
The following day, Monday July 9, Military Court Judge Shlomo Katz lowered the sum to 2,500 shekels. The 12,500 shekels were paid immediately. About 10 residents of Khan al-Ahmar went to welcome the five men, whose release on bail was delayed for several hours due to a bureaucratic error at the military court. No indictments were filed.
When they finally were released at about 11:15 P.M., Sara’s father among them, her absence was oppressive. Several hours earlier an indictment had been filed against her: punching and kicking policemen, and throwing a stone at a policeman from 2 meters away after she was thrown onto the ground resisting arrest.
Lasky spoke in the courtroom about the context: the policemen’s violence, especially against the women. About the tension due to the upcoming demolition. None of that was taken into account, Lasky said to Judge Navon, who ordered that Sara Abu Dahouk remain in custody.
In the week or so since the arrest, dozens of people have come to the village every day despite police attempts to prevent entry during the daytime: diplomats, clerics, activists from the West Bank who also sleep at the site, Palestinian Authority officials who received a photo-op, journalists.
Far from all this public activity by men – including dances that seemed somewhat forced – the women sat and spoke about the humiliation, the insult and the shock they feel at the way men, armed policemen, touched and pushed them. They spoke of children woken up at night by nightmares, about the difficulty of being without their partners during such a sensitive period of uncertainty.
It’s impossible to talk about Moses without Pharaoh, and about Pharaoh without God, who sooner or later intervenes for those who suffer. “Who turned the sea into dry land? Musa’s staff? No! Allah!” preacher Abu Qais asked and answered in the plaza in front of the Beitunia checkpoint.
“All the magicians in the world showed Pharaoh their tricks, and then came Musa’s staff and devoured their magic wands,” Abu Qais added as if to say: Waiting for Allah’s certain intervention for the sake of justice is what provides the strength to keep suffering.
This past Thursday July 12, Military Court Judge Hanan Rubinstein ordered the release of Sara Abu Dahouk on 5,000 shekels bail. The military prosecution is considering whether to appeal, so her release was delayed another 72 hours.
And also this past Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Anat Baron decided that the petition filed by the village residents a week earlier – against the fact that the Civil Administration didn’t discuss the master plan that they prepared – would be discussed no later than August 15. Until then the temporary injunction she issued against the village’s demolition is in effect.