16 November 2010 | Evie Soli, International Solidarity Movement
An interview with the wives of Abdallah and Adeeb Abu Rahma
Al Eid is a holy time of the year for Muslims. Families gather and visit each other over the four holidays, which are for most a time for families to be together. When one member of the family is missing, it makes it hard to enjoy Al Eid in the same way. Thousands of families of Palestinian political prisoners are suffering because a family member is in prison. For Majida, wife of Abdallah Abu Rahma who has now been held for one year in Israeli jail under the accusation of “incitement,” every day without her husband is difficult. She expresses the pain of seeing her children missing their dad not only during Eid, but every day. Louma (8) and Layam (7) used to go with Abdallah on family visits, and are now crying when talking about their dad. His 1 and-a-half-year-old son Layath does not even remember his dad as he was only 7 months old the night Abdallah was arrested. “He says Baba when he sees Abdallah’s picture, but of course he does not know him, since he was just a baby”, Majida says. Also, for Adeeb Abu Rahma’s children, Eid is not the same without their father. Both families were hoping to have their fathers home for Eid, but the military prosecution managed to postpone the release in both cases.
Arrested in front of his children
I meet Majida and her children during the preparations for Eid. Louma and Layam are helping their mother in the house, while she is making the Palestinian dish “dawali” (rice rolled in grape leaves). She recalls the night when the family was brutally woken up by the Israeli Army breaking into their house: “I woke up by someone knocking the door 1:30am on the 10th of December (2009). Abdallah said it might be soldiers – because who else would come to pay a visit at that time?” Suddenly the door was broken down, and armed soldiers stormed the house. Abdallah was taken out in the stairway, with four soldiers blocking him from seeing his wife and children. He was not allowed to go back to say goodbye or to change his clothes, only his two daughters could pass the soldiers to see him one last time. He had to change from night clothes in the stairway. Nine army jeeps and dogs were waiting outside the house. Majida explains how the daughters reacted: “Louma asked: Am I dreaming? Did soldiers take my dad? Layam was asking the same – they both thought it was a nightmare.”
Missing their father
In the months before Abdallah was arrested almost one year ago, the army was carrying out frequent raids to look for him. The children were used to being woken up by masked soldiers entering the house at night, and were traumatized. After her father was arrested in the last night raid, 8 year old Layam told her mother that she was happy that the soldiers would not come back now. “Imagine how sad it is to hear that for a mother”, Majida says, “But now, when we speak about Abdallah, she cries. They both laugh and cry in the same time, because they miss him and they love him and remember him as a caring father and a friend. And I miss him too.”
While we are talking, Layath is grabbing a 2 meter long flagpole, saying “la, la l’jdar!” (no, no to the wall!), seeming as if he is on his way to a demonstration. “His name means ‘Lion’. He is small, but he is strong. He has to be strong” his mother says. He does not know what happened to his father, but he will when he gets older. The families of the people involved in Bil’in’s non-violent struggle against the Wall and settlements cannot sleep safely at night. Dozens of houses have been raided at night, and children are suffering from trauma after seeing fathers and brothers brutally taken away by masked soldiers. Sleep difficulties, bedwetting, and disorders are common consequences among children who have experienced Israeli soldiers storming their homes at night. Many, like Abdallah’s children, have also seen soldiers beat someone up during a raid.
“Eid is not Eid”
Five months before Abdallah was taken from his home, his cousin Adeeb Abu Rahma was arrested in a demonstration in Bil’in. His wife has only been allowed to visit him once at Ofer Military Prison where both Adeeb and Abdallah are held. Adeeb’s daughter Radja (20) has not been able to see him at all, due to what Israel calls “security reasons”. This Eid is not the same as before for the family consisting of Adeeb’s wife and 9 children, aged from 4 to 20. Radja says, “This Eid there is not happiness like there used to be in this family. In Eid our family used to be together, visiting and having guests. Our father is not here, and we all miss him. Eid is not Eid without him.”
After Adeeb’ arrest, the family hoped he would be released shortly. However, after weeks and then months of waiting, the Israeli Military Court sentenced him to 1 year, and his family hoped that they would see him soon since he had almost served his sentence. But the military prosecution appealed and now Adeeb is to be released the 12th December. Exactly 1.5 years will have passed since Radja saw her father the last time.
The financial situation has been hard the last 1.5 years. There is no big brother to help support the family financially. The eldest son Mohammed is 16 years old and still in school. Two daughters are in university, and are now struggling to pay the fees. The family’s income is from their small market, but their household is suffering from the absence of Adeeb’s income as a taxi driver. Umm Mohammed is also alone in her responsibility to raise the children; though they are all helping out as best they can, most of the children are not old enough to have responsibility. She misses her husband, and has been present in every court hearing so that at least she can see Adeeb. But she has not been allowed to talk to him except for the one time she was allowed to visit. Radja explains how Batoul (4) reacted when she visited her father in prison: “She did not understand why he could not be home. At home she cried and was constantly nervous. She asked: Why did they take him? When she saw him in prison she was in shock, she would not speak. After a while, when she realized that he is not coming home, she started to talk. But what can we answer to her question? It’s clear that they took him and still are keeping him because they are afraid of the success of the non-violent demonstrations. It scares them that through the demonstrations the world can see what Israel is doing to us, so they fabricate evidence against the leaders and put them in prison. All Batoul knows is that her father is taken away from her and she does not understand why.”
Success in spite of suffering
Both Adeeb and Abdallah’s families are obviously strong, though given no choice but to manage without their husband and father. They have been waiting in uncertainty for months before the trials, and suffering severe disappointment since the appeal, which deprived the children of their fathers for another half a year. Adeeb Abu Rahma was in July sentenced to 1 year for “encouraging violence”, and another 6 months may be added on Thursday when the state prosecution appeals his sentence. Abdallah Abu Rahma was, according to the first court decision, supposed to be released this week, but his release is now postponed. Despite the frustrations and constant ache, both Adeeb’s and Abdallah’s families express hope because they know why they were arrested. Majida says:
“My husband was visible. He went to every demonstration, and spoke up against the Wall and the settlement. In spite of our suffering, and his son now growing up without knowing his father, we know that his actions were successful. Israel was so threatened by the demonstrations that they had to remove strong characters like my husband and Adeeb.”
Abdallah Abu Rahmah has been a member of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements since its conception in 2004.
At 2am on 10 December 2009 (international Human Rights Day), exactly one year after Abdallah Abu Rahma received the Carl Von Ossietzky Medal from the International League for Human Rights, nine military vehicles surrounded his home in Ramallah. Israeli soldiers broke the door down, extracted Abdallah from his bed, blindfolded him and took him into custody.
After being convicted in September of incitement and organizing illegal marches, on October 12th, Abdallah Abu Rahmah was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment plus 6 months suspended sentence for 3 years and a fine of 5,000 NIS.
Following Abu Rahma’s convicition, the European Union put out a statement condemning the Persecution of Abu Rahmah. Representatives of all EU member states declared that they consider the route of the separation wall built on Palestinian land to be illegal, and that, as Abu Rahmah was “a human rights defender” participating in peaceful protests against this wall, they are concerned about his sentence of 12 months in prison by an Israeli military court.
The military prosecution against Abdallah Abu Rahmah will be petitioning to extend his detention on Thursday, November 18th, the day of his scheduled release.
Adeeb Abu Rahmah, a leading activist in the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, was arrested at 1:30pm on 10 July 2009 while taking part in the weekly demonstration against the wall in Bil’in.
He was sentenced to 12 months in prison for crimes of “incitement” (urging the villagers to come to the weekly protests), but the military prosecution appealed his sentence so he is still in prison after 15 months, pending the decision about the prosecution’s appeal.
Adeeb’s case relied on the forced confessions of four Bil’in youth – 14, 15 and 16 years old – arrested during a night raid by Israeli soldiers and forced to state that Adeeb told them to throw stones at the soldiers.