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Fathers speak on the mass arrests in Hebron

15 September 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, West Bank

On Sunday the 21st of August the Israeli army carried out arrests in al Khalil (Hebron) on a scale not seen since 2003.  Around 120-200 people were kidnapped from their homes in pre-dawn raids and following the release of some, the final number in Israeli custody stands at 50. Interviews with local residents and families of those arrested indicate that the arrests were carried out for political reasons and were not based on new evidence or any security threat. Though the scale of the operation is unusual, Israel’s mode of operation with complete disregard for human rights and fair judicial process is institutional and routine.

We spoke with the father of Ali Natsheh, a 22-year-old law student who was arrested during the raid. At approximately 1:30 am Ali Natsheh’s 8 year old sister awoke to the sound of the Israeli army smashing the windows of her family home. She woke her father as the Israeli army surrounded and entered the house. His son was not home at the time of the raid so the army separated Ali’s father from his daughter and took them away from the house he was made to contact his son, who immediately returned home. Ali’s father explained.

“He knew that if he did not give himself up they would make problems for the family or even shoot him as a fugitive,” he said.

Smashed windows by Israeli military at the Natsheh home

Upon returning to his home, where the army were waiting, neighbors witnessed the army stripping and beating Ali Natseh before handcuffing him and taking him away in a jeep. Natseh’s father told us that his son had been arrested almost 3 years ago for involvement with Palestinian resistance groups but had since become a law student at Al Quds University and had no affiliation with any political groups. He was extremely worried about his son’s treatment. The last time Ali was detained, he became ill as a result of being kept for days in isolation in a freezing cold cell without medical treatment. He has suffered from long-term health problems since.

The arrest of Amer Abu Arafe is quite similar in that he too had been imprisoned in 2007 for involvement in resistance groups but had since completed a degree in media and became a journalist, his father Abdel Halim said. He said Amer was no longer involved with any political or resistance groups and was certainly not a security threat. Though he could think of no reason for his son’s arrest he was not particularly surprised as arbitrary arrests are a disturbingly routine feature of Palestinian life. 40% of the male Palestinian population have been detained by the Israeli army at some point in their life, and there are around 6,000 Palestinian political prisoners currently in Israeli custody.

Badran Jaber, a lecturer at Hebron University and friend of many of the families of those arrested, was highly skeptical that the arrests were for security reasons or based on new evidence. He argued these arrests constituted collective punishment of Palestinians for the attack in Eilat on August the 18th.

“Israeli authorities wanted large numbers to be arrested for political reasons: it does not matter to them whether they are innocent or guilty.”

A lack of evidence to support these arrests is inconsequential when you have a judicial system where military officers serve as judges and operate in collusion with military prosecutors without a jury or adequate provision.

The result of this system is a conviction rate of 96.7% mostly based on signed confessions written in Hebrew. A recent report by Israeli human rights organization B’tselem acknowledges that torture such as stress positions, sleep depravation, exposure to extreme temperatures, painful handcuffing and long periods of solitary confinement are used routinely and systematically to obtain these confessions and more violent forms of torture such as beatings still occur though are less common.

As of July 2011 Israel was holding 243 Palestinian prisoners under administrative detention, which allows for them to be held indefinitely without trial or even any knowledge of why they are being detained.

Despite the fact that it is widely acknowledged that Hamas was not behind the attacks that occurred in Eilat, Israel exploited the events to carry out air strikes on Gaza. The escalation of violence in Gaza and the mass arrests in Al Khalil are emblematic of Israel’s recurring policy of collective punishment, in which the only necessary criteria for being found guilty is being Palestinian.