Giving Voice to the Voiceless: Tales from the Parents of Tortured Palestinian Children
By Miko Peled
Story Code : 1012169
Beit Hanina, Occupied Jerusalem – The United States House of Representatives submission to Israel and Zionism is both pathetic and enraging. This total submission to the will and interests of the Zionist movement and the State of Israel does not serve the interests of the American people, and only goes to support a state that has been recognized as a racist, violent apartheid regime. As one Palestinian said to me recently, U.S. foreign aid for Israel goes towards my oppression and the killing of my people.
Nowhere is Congress’ blind support for Israel more heinous, more horrifying and more outrageous than the lack of support for the bill proposed by Representative Betty McCollum and known as, “Defending The Human Rights Of Palestinian Children And Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act”, or HR 2590.
When I asked the now defeated Representative Andy Levin about this issue, he said to me that, “no Jewish member of congress will sign the bill,” and when I asked why, he said that it was “anti-Israel.” His response was indicative of the problem. Knowing how Israel treats children makes it imperative to sign any bill that is, as he put it, “anti-Israel.” Why he feels that Jewish members of congress should express loyalty to Israel at all, and on this issue in particular, is another question, and one that needs to be explored. Many Jewish people in America resent the fact that they are somehow expected to be loyal and even held accountable for the actions of a country that wrongly declares itself to be the “Jewish State.”
Anyone who has been to Palestine and has taken the time to speak to Palestinian parents knows what they must endure when Israeli authorities take away their children. There is no law, no court, no human rights organization in the world that can protect Palestinian children from Israel. What these parents know and are unable to understand is the fact that the United States can protect their children, but elects not to do so.
Mourners pray over the bodies of six Palestinians, including children, killed by Israeli airstrikes in Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza, Aug. 6, 2022. Abdel Kareem Hana | AP
Just a few days prior to writing these words, I had met with two Palestinian mothers on two separate occasions. One in the village of Nabi Saleh, and the other in Beit Hanina, Jerusalem. No parent with a beating heart can listen to their stories and refrain from crying. No person with a conscience can sit idly by as Israel tortures both children and parents on an ongoing basis and not want to raise their voice.
More has been written and said about the village of Nabi Saleh than one would expect for such a small place. Tucked in one of the most beautiful sports in Palestine, Nabi Saleh has about five hundred residents, all part of the Tamimi clan, one of the largest clans in Palestine. However, as they say, it’s not the size of the person, or in this case the village, in the fight, but the size of the fight in the person. Well, never has this been more true than in the case of Nabi Saleh. It is a small village with the heart and a fighting spirit larger than one hundred villages put together.
Probably the most famous fighter in Nabi Saleh is Ahed Tamimi, the daughter of my friends Bassem and Nariman whose home is like a second home to me. Bassem and Nariman have known their share of sorrow and pain with their own experiences and those of their children being taken by the occupying enemy. However, this particular story is about their cousins Osama and Hamada, as it was told to me by their mother Manal Tamimi.
All Palestinians know that interrogation by the Israeli authorities means torture. In this particular case, both the older sons of Manal and Bilal were taken at the same time. Osama was 19 years old and Hamada was about 17. Their interrogation lasted over three weeks, during which Osama had to be taken to the hospital twice. “We were not able to visit him in the hospital, nor did they tell us why he was taken to the hospital,” Manal told me. When the enemy occupier takes your children, you assume the worst.
Ahed Tamimi is brought to a courtroom inside the Ofer military prison near occupied Jerusalem, Jan. 15, 2018. Mahmoud Illean | AP
“I used to sleep in their beds at night just to feel close to them. One night in Osama’s bed and one in Hamada’s,” Manal said. Knowing your child is being tortured, exposed to the elements, being treated so severely that he has to be taken to the hospital and having no ability to be there with him is more than any parent should have to endure. “The sensitivity to extreme light and loud noises remained with Hamada even after he was released,” she added.
Hamada, who is the younger of the two, spent twenty-two months in an Israeli prison. Osama was held for about a year. Manal and Bilal had to pay thousands of dollars, as all parents of Palestinian children have to do, before the authorities released them.
I ran into Ahmad Manasra’s lawyer, Khaled Zbarka, in El-Lyd. We were there at a vigil commemorating the murder of Musa Hassuna at the hands of settlers in May 2021. I was introduced to Khaled by El-Lyd city councilwoman Fida Shehade. She suggested that I meet with Khaled and Amhad Manasra’s parents in Jerusalem, where they reside. As things turned out, Khaled was not available, and I went to meet Ahmad’s parents without him.
The story of Ahmad Manasra is well documented, and the latest development is that on August 16 the Israeli court in Bi’r Saba held a hearing regarding his extended isolation in solitary confinement. “He sits there in that cell with nothing but the four walls surrounding him,” his father, Abu-Ahmed, said to me over and over again. The Israeli court rejected the request to end isolation and the recommendation by several mental health experts and international human rights organizations to release him to a mental health care facility where he could receive the urgent care he requires.
Ahmad was badly injured when he was arrested. He had been beaten, run over, and suffered from bleeding and internal injuries. This was seven years ago: he was thirteen years old at the time. His mother thought he was dead at first. Only after a day was she told that he was still alive. Ahmad was handcuffed to a bed at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. His parents were still not permitted to see him. One can hardly imagine the pain of a parent whose child is in hospital but is not allowed to comfort them.
When he was released from the hospital, he was sent to an institution for young offenders. Only after two months of horrifying experiences there were his parents permitted to see their child.
“We were told our boy was involved in a terror attack!” His mother, Umm Ahmad, told me, still in shock by the absurd notion that her sweet, sensitive son could be accused of something like that. His cousin, fifteen, who was also there, was shot on the scene by bystanders. “At thirteen they accused him of terrorism,” Abu Ahmad said over and over. “Thirteen years old a terrorist? Who can accuse a child or terrorism?”
Visits are limited to forty-five minutes once a month. “When he is in the hospital, which often happens for Ahmad, they are not permitted to see him. “He was moved between prisons about ten times,” Abu Ahmad said. I mentioned that this is a violation of international law. His reply was, “Ahmad’s entire case is a violation of international laws. Imagine that: at the age of thirteen, he was interrogated without the presence of a parent or a lawyer.” When the parents plan a visit, very often they receive a message two days before they leave. “They will notify us that he was moved and so the visit is postponed and we cannot see him for another month,” Abu Ahmad told me.
The text of the bill to defend Palestinian children can be found here, and the list of co-sponsors, here. Anyone who is eligible to vote in the upcoming midterm election needs to demand that their candidate commit to adding their name to this bill. No consideration should come before the wellbeing of a child.
Feature photo | Palestinian children stand on the rubble of their destroyed home after the Israeli attacks in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza. Mahmoud Issa | Sipa via AP