The Appalling Loss of Humanity

The refusal of a military judge to allow a Palestinian man being held in custody without trial to receive photographs of his newborn son illustrates the level of cruelty that the Israeli occupation has reached.

Last Monday, attorney Leah Tsemel wanted to give some photographs to her client, who was standing a few meters from her in the military courtroom at the Ofer base near Ramallah.

The photographs were of Quds, the firstborn son of administrative detainee Abed al-Ahmar, who is being held in custody without trial. Quds was born two months ago, while his father was in military custody. Military judge Major Ronen Atzmon refused to allow the photos to be passed to al-Ahmar, who has never seen his child. Atzmon was unwilling to assume the security responsibility for such a move.

This incident may seem trivial in view of the mutual bloodbath of the past few days, but it is precisely these minor events that show the level of cruelty that the Israeli occupation has reached. The story of our moral deterioration is to be found here, no less than in the acts of killing.

Al-Ahmar can't see his newborn son because family visits to security prisoners were banned three years ago and have not been reinstated. The fact that his wife is a Jewish Israeli is of no help. Thousands of Palestinian prisoners and detainees have been totally cut off from their families for three years without a telephone call or a visit. There are not many regimes in the world that treat their prisoners this way.

Last week, al-Ahmar's administrative detention was extended for another six months for the 17th time (not consecutively); he is one of about 1,000 detainees being held today without trial. It has to be said again that, if the defense establishment has any material against al-Ahmar and the other administrative detainees, it must put them on trial. If not, they must be set free.

"Instead of apologizing for not letting me see my son, they won't even let me have the photographs. I never believed things would come to this," al-Ahmar said on the weekend in a telephone call from prison. "Do you know what I felt when the judge refused to let me have the photos? That I am living in the age of slavery, when children were taken from their fathers as soon as they were born."

Still, al-Ahmar's fate is better than that of Asmaa Abu al-Haija, a 37-year-old woman from the Jenin refugee camp. She, too, is being held in prison without trial; no one, including her lawyer Tamar Peleg, knows why. Meanwhile, her five children are abandoned in the refugee camp. Their father and older brother are also in prison, having been convicted of being Hamas members.

Al-Haija has a tumor in her head, which gives her headaches and a partial loss of vision. According to recent testimonies from Neve Tirza women's prison, she sleeps on the floor because the blinding headaches make it impossible for her to sleep in the bunk bed in her cell. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) says the prison authorities have so far denied her medical treatment of any kind. An urgent request submitted by the group's Michal Bar-Or to the head of the Prison Service's health department, Dr. Alex Adler, to give al-Haija a CT test at the urging of her Palestinian doctor, went unanswered for weeks, until a "prisoner's petition" was filed.

A Prisons Service spokeswoman, Hanna Nitzan, said in response that the prisoner was examined and is receiving medical treatment. Al-Haija's lawyer said the arrest warrant issued against her by the military commander of the region referred to the prisoner as a male: "He is endangering the security of the region." No one bothered to change the standard text.

But the cruelest aspect of al-Haija's story is that she is not allowed to phone her five children, the youngest of whom is a 6-year-old girl. Five children remain without a father and a mother, and it does not even occur to the prison authorities, in view of the harsh family circumstances, to consider the possibility to depart from the regulations prohibiting security prisoners from making phone calls.

The official response: "The security prisoner is denied telephone calls because of a procedure that applies to all the security prisoners in Israel." Has no one seen fit to show a modicum of compassion, at least for the children who have been left without their parents and without a house, which was destroyed by missiles in an IDF operation?

A state that prevents a prisoner who has been held in custody for years without trial from receiving photographs of a son he has never seen? That prevents a woman who is under detention without trial from phoning her children, whose father and brother are also in prison? We are even capable of this. This has nothing to do with the war against terrorism. The battle against the murderous terrorist attacks cannot justify such behavior. Even at a time when Hamas is perpetrating horrific suicide bombings, Israel is liquidating people and everything is going up in flames, we must not ignore what appear to be relatively small-scale incidents that reflect such appalling loss of humanity.