Wednesday, 21 February 2018

I’m Ahed Tamimi’s cousin. Israel needs to stop imprisoning kids like her

Ahed and I are the second generation of Tamimis to spend our whole lives under Israel’s oppressive 50-year military rule. We grew up under the constant watch and control of Israeli soldiers. At a young age, we had to learn resilience, determination and persistence. In order to survive, we had to be acutely aware of our surroundings at all times. Even the most basic things, such as being able to move freely or take a day trip wasn’t a possibility because of military checkpoints and other impediments. We had no room to breathe — sometimes literally, as clouds of tear gas fired by soldiers engulfed us and filled our homes.
Sadly, we are used to soldiers forcing their way into our homes, their cameras clicking as they take photos of the males in the family, documenting how many windows and doors we have, and stealing and destroying our personal belongings. There is no privacy. In addition to my father, my mother and brother have also been imprisoned. Ahed’s uncle was shot and killed by soldiers during a demonstration in 2012, while her mother was shot in the leg during another march and developed asthma because of the tear gas.

I was released on bail after 16 days, but Ahed has now been languishing in prison for nearly two months, as has her mother. On Jan. 31, she spent her 17th birthday in a cell.  The start of her trial in a military court has been delayed several times. The latest postponement came on Tuesday, when it was rescheduled for March 11. In a blatant attempt to avoid the scrutiny of the international media, the judge also ruled that journalists will be barred from attending. The charges that Ahed faces carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. I still face charges as well.
In prison, we were treated very badly. After being arrested, Ahed was taken into a basement cell and interrogated without a parent or lawyer present. She and I were repeatedly moved from one prison to another, held with regular Israeli criminals, and subjected to sexist and degrading verbal harassment. The army knows how to place psychological pressure to break you. They deprived us of sleep and food, and I was forced to remain seated in a chair unable to move for long hours at a time.

When we were brought to military court for a hearing, it was very hard seeing our parents sitting in the back feeling worried and helpless. My uncle Bassem Tamimi, Ahed’s father, and my own father know firsthand what Israeli prison feels and smells like. Both have been imprisoned multiple times because of their nonviolent resistance to Israel’s occupation. Bassem was named a prisoner of conscience twice by Amnesty International, which has also called for Ahed’s release. They know that we were held in a freezing-cold cell as we waited for our hearing. They know the pain of the handcuffs as they are tightened on our wrists and ankles, and how dirty the cells are, and the smell of rotten food. They understand what it feels like to be isolated in a cell — completely alone, cold and frightened, unsure of what will happen to you. Like her parents and siblings, I fear for the well-being of Ahed and the more than 300 other Palestinian children currently imprisoned by the Israeli army.

We have had our childhood stolen from us, never knowing the feeling of safety, security, and quiet. The unfortunate truth is that this isn’t only the reality of Ahed and I, or of Nabi Saleh. It is the reality of most Palestinians, especially the young ones.

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