Palestinian Family, Pleading for Son's Release, Says Israel Forced Him to Confess Terrorism Links

Bara Farid Abu-Dheir, 26, suffered brain trauma as a toddler and never fully recovered. His father, a journalism professor, encouraged him to travel to Turkey and Jordan to look for work. What happened when he tried to return to Nablus is every parent's nightmare.

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Bara Farid Abu-Dheir.
Bara Farid Abu-Dheir.Credit: Alex Levac

When Bara Farid Abu-Dheir was 2 years old, one of his toys fell off the small bridge near his home in the West Bank city of Nablus. Trying to see where the toy had gone, the toddler himself fell off the structure from a height of 6.5 meters (21 feet) and sustained serious injuries: a brain hemorrhage and a skull fracture. The event changed the course of his life and that of his family. His parents, Basmah and Farid, hurried back to Britain, where Farid was working as a university lecturer, with their son. For the next three years, Bara underwent treatment in St. James’s University Hospital, in Leeds. He developed hemiplegia – paralysis of one side of the body – lost the power of speech and for years suffered from memory loss and an inability to concentrate. In time, thanks to intensive treatment, his condition gradually improved. He regained his speech and the paralysis passed completely – but he did not recover completely from the brain injury.

Today, at 26, Bara has difficulty forging social ties and is introverted and solitary, although he has been an excellent student. His parents dote on him, he has been the apple of their eye. The couple have four other, younger children, but Bara is their primary concern. He lives with them and has accompanied them back and forth between Britain and Nablus, in the wake of Farid’s academic career. Currently, the father is a lecturer in communications at An-Najah University in Nablus; among other things, the subjects he teaches include media ethics, international media, public opinion and introduction to media studies.

A week ago, Farid issued a desperate appeal, in Hebrew, English and Arabic, to Israeli and world media and human rights organizations: “The Israeli Occupation Authorities have arrested my son, Bara Farid Abu-Dheir Since his arrest, Bara has been subject to an intensive investigation, accompanied by extreme pressure in the investigation center at Petah Tikva. On his first appearance in front of his family at Ofer courtroom, Bara was in complete astonishment and severe breakdown. He was crying heavily, telling the court how he was forced to confess things that he has never done, how he was forced to fabricate lies. I hereby give this plea to human rights organizations and Israeli parties with such concerns, related authorities and the media to stop this comic play, to avoid an innocent human be[ing] tried without proof Thank you for your kind concern.”

We met Dr. Farid Abu-Dheir, 53, this week, smoking a narghile on the elegant broad porch of A-Ram restaurant in the western section of Nablus, between Jneid Prison and An-Najah University. His son Bara was born in Britain, the father says, while he was studying there. The accident occurred in 1992, during a year the family spent in Nablus. They have lived in its shadow ever since, constantly concerned about Bara’s health.

Bara went to school in Britain and afterward in Nablus, obtaining an undergraduate degree in computer science from An-Najah University in 2014. His father proudly shows us a photograph from the graduation: Bara is wearing a black robe and cap. In the two years since, he has been trying to improve his proficiency in three-dimensional animation while looking for a job. He also had a stint at a Jordanian television station in Amman to better his skills.

Farid was invited to Finland to take part in an international conference sponsored by the United Nations to mark World Press Freedom Day, May 3. Since his flight passed through Istanbul, he suggested to Bara that he accompany him and stay with his, Farid’s, nephew, who lives in the Turkish city, and try to find work there or do courses in 3-D animation. Bara spent a month in Turkey, went for job interviews and looked into the possibility of continuing his studies, all to no avail. His father then suggested that he try to pursue M.A. studies at a British university. He registered his son at Bournemouth University, where Bara was accepted for the fall semester, subject to passing an exam in English, in which he is fluent.

Farid explains now that he thought it would be good for Bara to be in Britain and to learn how to live independently, far away from his parents’ home and from the “Nablus prison,” as he calls the city under occupation. On May 29, Bara left Turkey for Amman, where he had another job interview with a production company, and the next day set out for home in Nablus.

Bara had never been arrested – he had cut himself off from politics completely, his father says, adding, “He doesn’t even know who the Israeli prime minister is.” But at the Allenby Bridge crossing point from Jordan into the West Bank, he was delayed for hours by the Israeli authorities. His father phoned him to say that he’d been waiting for him on the other side for three-and-a-half hours; Bara replied that he was certain he would be released immediately. Afterward his phone went dead.

At 8 P.M., Bara called his mother and told her, “I am under arrest.” She thought he was putting her on. “You’re joking,” she said.

“It hit us like a bolt from the blue,” Farid recalls. “We never thought he would go through an experience like this.”

Subsequently, an Israeli security man – the family thinks he was a soldier – spoke to them and said he would bring Bara’s laptop to Tapuah Junction, south of Nablus. Oddly, in fact, the computer was returned to Farid, but Bara’s suitcase, containing personal effects, was kept by the security forces.

The next day, Bara’s parents contacted the Palestinian Prisoners Club and Addameer, a Palestinian NGO that helps prisoners, seeking help. The International Red Cross informed them officially that Bara was under arrest. In the meantime, they learned that an elderly Palestinian, a retired teacher, had asked Bara to bring $2,600 across the bridge for him, because he’d exceeded the permitted $3,000. The family thought this was perhaps the reason for Bara’s arrest, but they soon discovered that it wasn’t the money that bothered the security people – especially after they questioned the teacher, who told them that he’d thought of buying land in Jordan but then changed his mind and in the end returned with the money in cash.

Bara’s family did not see him for a month after he was taken into custody. They saw him for the first time on June 26, in the military court at Ofer base, north of Jerusalem. Farid wrote in his public appeal, they were appalled at his appearance: Bara looked “frightened, panic-stricken, stunned, like someone who doesn’t know what is happening with him. ‘I said everything they wanted me to say,’” his father quotes his son as saying.

Farid noted in his public appeal that Bara had slit his wrist in prison and was taken to a clinic. Since then, the court has extended his remand several, each time for eight days. According to the father, his son’s mental state has improved in the interim, but he is certain Bara snapped under the pressure exerted on him in the interrogations and admitted to actions he had nothing to do with.

Bara’s lawyer was told, in reply to her query to the authorities about Bara’s mental and physical condition, that he had been examined and found fit to stand trial.

The Spokesperson’s Unit of the Israel Defense Forces told Haaretz this week: “Bara Abu-Dheir was arrested on May 30, 2016, on suspicion of being in contact with an enemy, complicity in bringing terrorist funds into the Judea and Samaria Region, and membership in an illegal organization. He was remanded in custody this week by a military court so that an indictment can be submitted. Abu-Dheir will have the opportunity to put forward all his arguments, relating also to his mental state, before the military court.”

Bara is now incarcerated in Megiddo Prison. On Tuesday, the military court in Salem held another session concerning his remand, but only his mother and his brother were in attendance. “I can’t bear to see him in that condition, arrested and shackled,” his father says. “I saw him once [like that], and I can’t do it again. I told him to tell only the truth. But he didn’t listen to me. Instead, he listened to the interrogators and signed everything they told him to sign.”

Farid says he is familiar with the conditions of Shin Bet security service interrogations, as he himself was once interrogated, in the same Petah Tikva facility, over a period of 22 days, on suspicion of being a Hamas activist. He knows how tough it is. For nine years after that, until 2014, Israel prevented him from going abroad, even though he was never tried for any crime.

Speculating as to why his son was arrested, he says now, “Either because of the money they found on him, or they are trying to question him about my activity, or because while looking for a job in Turkey he met with someone who is under their surveillance or is wanted by them, without Bara having the slightest idea about that. All my life I’ve kept my children distant from that kind of activity.”

Bara was remanded in custody again on Tuesday. He cannot, wrote Farid in his appeal, “endure pressure, offense, torture and humiliation in these investigations, not to mention that his arrest has caused him a severe shock way more severe than the one he has had when he was 2 years old.”

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