A Dangerous 71-year-old

The Israeli military authorities are keeping a retired Palestinian history teacher in detention without trial, and we’re not allowed to know why. Next comes the decision whether he’s healthy enough for prison

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A military tribunal at the Camp Ofer prison near Ramallah
A military Tribunal at the Camp Ofer prison near Ramallah.Credit: JINI

Badran Jaber, 71, is endangering the security of the region. Thank God we have the Shin Bet security service, which sent soldiers on the night of August 9 to break into his home, hold his seven terrified grandchildren (ages 2 to 10) in a room separate from the adults, and detain him. Jaber, a retired history teacher, is so dangerous that he and we aren’t even allowed to know the suspicions against him.

An administrative detention order for four months was issued against him on August 13, and the military authorities can extend the injunction repeatedly. And so Jaber was added to the 450 or so Palestinians who are now imprisoned without trial. On August 16 the secret information was whispered into the ear of the military judge, Maj. Rafael Yemini, who approved the detention — without evidence, witnesses, an indictment and a right to respond. Has an Israeli judge, military or civilian, ever been born who doubted the word of the Shin Bet?

I’ll let you in on a secret: Jaber is opposed to the Israeli occupation. The same is true of his seven children and his wife. When asked his opinion, he doesn’t hide it. There are pictures of him from a few years ago demonstrating with Palestinians and Israelis in Hebron against the destruction of the city by one of the most violent species of settlers.

“He’s very proud of his relationship with left-wing activists in Israel,” said his daughter Bissan, referring to his ties with Tarabut-Hithabrut, an Arab-Jewish social movement, and the joint conferences in Hebron of the Palestinian left and a genuine, socialist and anti-colonialist Israeli left. When she and her brothers weren’t allowed to travel abroad, she said, they were told that it was because of her father. Israel, the military and democratic power, is intimidated by his words and opinions. Or it’s sending a message: Imprison your thoughts and your words. Keep quiet.

With chains on his feet, Jaber will once again be brought into the military courtroom in Ofer. He will be holding a bag full of medication. Military occupation isn’t a recipe for one’s health, nor were Jaber’s previous periods of detention. Between 1972 and 2006 he spent almost 12 years in prison: in administrative detention, in detention during an investigation, and after being convicted of political activity for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Each time he was behind bars for two to three months to a maximum of 27 months. On Thursday it will be decided whether he is fit for detention, as an anonymous prison service doctor has determined, or not, as his lawyer, Mahmoud Hassan of the prisoner support and human rights group Addameer, will try to prove.

Jaber will be holding a bag full of medication because there’s no way of knowing how long he’ll be kept handcuffed in a kind of waiting cage before being brought into the trailer that serves as the courtroom. During the first extension of his detention, on August 10, which was one of the hottest days of the year, he was kept in that situation from 8:30 A.M. until about 5 P.M. A kind of torture, even for a healthy man, and certainly for someone suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure, has had open heart surgery, is taking medication for prostate cancer and is connected to a catheter.

Bissan, 26, is a lawyer. On the morning before his detention, the proud father joined her when she was furnishing her new office. Thirteen years ago, after being tortured for an entire day in the cage where he was awaiting trial, he told her, his youngest daughter: I want you to be my lawyer the next time. Sure enough, she was there for the extension of his recent detention, before the administrative order was issued.

Her presence didn’t prevent the torture. After about six hours in one cage with a water faucet, he was transferred to another cage without one. There she was allowed to see him. She wanted to give him her water bottle, but the alert prison service guards prevented her and other lawyers from doing so. Beyond the letter of the law the guards brought him a bottle that they filled with water.

During their meeting, Bissan told him that she and her fiancé planned to postpone their wedding, which was scheduled for August 18, until her father’s release. “Absolutely not,” he told her. “I’ll be angry if you postpone it, if you let that interfere with your plans. Our lifelong struggle is only so that we’ll be able to live.”

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