Palestinian kids are arrested every day. This time it’s my friend’s son

All my friend’s son wanted to do was pass his high school exit exams and go on to study at a university. Now, like thousands of other Palestinians before and after him, he is behind bars. No one knows why.

Palestinian boys dressed up as prisoners protest for the release of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails, Gaza City, 21 April 2007. (Ahmad Khateib/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of Palestinian boys dressed up as prisoners protest for the release of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails. (Ahmad Khateib/Flash90)

Several days ago, a dear friend who lives in the West Bank city of Jenin called to tell me that his son had been detained by the Israelis. Perhaps “kidnapped” would be a more precise way of putting it, since no one bothered informing the family of his whereabouts. It took two whole days to find out where he was being held.

I have known this boy, who is not yet 18, since he was a small child, when his father was imprisoned in Israel. I would meet the father’s friend at the Hizme checkpoint outside Jerusalem to pass along presents for the boy, and while in prison the father would tell me all about his boy, who was then only a small child.

The last time I met the boy was a few months ago; he spoke about his plans to go to university once he finishes high school. He may be the nerdiest teenager I have ever met — shy, studious, and curious. When it was time to go, he and his younger brother gave me a scented candle and prayer beads as presents. The beads have been hanging in my car ever since.

As is quite common in the Israeli military court system in the occupied territories, the boy has yet to be charged with a crime. Moreover, neither he, his family, or his attorney have been informed of the nature of the arrest. His parents cannot even imagine what the authorities might accuse him of. What kind of crime can you pin on a kid whose sole interest is passing his exit exams?

I think about him and then about Dean Issacharoff, the former spokesperson for anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence. After a two-year witch hunt, the Israeli state prosecutor announced last week that he concluded Issacharoff was in fact telling the truth when he said he had beat a Palestinian man during his military service. The saga began after Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked personally called on the state attorney to try and debunk Issacharoff’s claims. She wanted to prove, once and for all, that Breaking the Silence’s top priority is smearing IDF soldiers.

After two years, the investigators concluded that they had questioned the wrong Palestinian — and not the one Issacharoff said he beat. The Israeli army, unmatched in its power and resources, cannot carry out a simple investigation (perhaps because so many Palestinians are beaten up by soldiers). And the moment the Palestinian man who was beaten — by the wrong soldier — no longer serves the system, the system no longer has any interest in him.

That’s because the notion of “justice” in the context of occupation is bereft of any meaning. The beaten Palestinian man was momentarily recognized — only because he would have helped the government delegitimize a human rights organization. The system knows that even if its lies are exposed for all to see, some of the mud will stick.

This is the same system that is holding my friend’s son, like thousands of Palestinians before him and most likely after him as well. My heart breaks thinking about this innocent, kindhearted boy who is sitting God knows where, alone and afraid, waiting for a system to decide what kind of lie will best serve its whims at the moment.