On May 1, people from al-Ma’sara and the neighboring villages in Bethlehem area commemorated Workers' Day with a march protesting the Apartheid Wall. Soldiers fired on the demonstration and arrested ‘Azmi Sheukhi from Hebron, Mustafa Fawagreh from Um Salamuna and Muhammed Brajiya, Mahmoud Zawahreh, Hasan Brajiya, all members of the popular committee in al-Ma’sara.



Following the payment of a high fine, Mustafa, Mahmoud and ‘Azmi were released on Thursday after spending two weeks in prison. The Brajiya brothers are still incarcerated. Mahmoud Zawahreh detailed the group’s experience, beginning with their time in court.



“We went to the court three times. The first was on Monday (4 May) three days after our arrest. When we arrived to the court the lawyer started defending us, showing to the judge the video of our activity on Workers' Day. The judge was following the video to see what was dangerous about our activity. The lawyer then asked the judge to release us. Then the prosecutor started saying that we are a source of danger and shouldn’t be released because we ‘beat the solders and they make problems with the soldiers.’ They went on to say that this [anti-Wall protest] is a dangerous phenomenon that is a source of danger in many places.



“The lawyer responded that seven persons were arrested; one of them was Israeli and the other was British. They released these two after 4 hours, and he asked why they didn’t release the others and why they distinguish between civilians. The judge said, ‘I didn’t see that they form a source of danger against the army [...] release them now, but I want them to pay 5,000 NIS as caution.” After that the prosecutor requested that we not be released until an indictment was prepared, and the judge agreed to a period of two days.



“We went back to the court on Thursday, 7 May, and the same story was repeated again with a different judge. However, he required 10,000 NIS for our release. The prosecutor again asked for more time, and the judge agreed to give three more days.



“Finally we went on Tuesday to the court and the prosecutor didn’t have anything against us, but the judge said that we need to pay 20,000 NIS for me, 20,000 NIS for ‘Azmi and 10,000 NIS for Mustafa.



“However, it is more complicated for Mohammed Brijya and his brother Hasan because they were arrested in 2007 and 2008 during demonstrations against the Wall. This was a good excuse for the prosecutor to appeal against them. They want to delay the court as much as they can. They want to punish us by putting us in the prison for as much time as they can without carrying charges; also they want us to pay money as a collective punishment.”



In total, the three that were released spent 14 days in prison, where physical abuse and humiliation is documented and routine. Among the forms of mistreatment and torture are beatings, sexual abuse, being handcuffed for long periods of time in contorted positions, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and denial of food, water, and medical care for injuries. Mahmoud described how the prisoners were treated, beginning with their transit back and forth to the court, passing through Jerusalem.



“The worst moments were when you heard the voice of the loudspeaker and the police cars when they came to the prison to take us to court.



“They would call us and then punish us by forcing us to bend our hands and legs, and then bending our heads down. Then they would make us put our hands on the shoulders of the other and push us into the special cars. It was like a cave; you can’t see each other, 5 persons in the space of two persons.



“But we were able to pass through Jerusalem. I was able to smile about that, but I was unable to see it.”



Finally, he talked about the days in prison.



“The days of the worst humiliation were when they would count us. They wanted us to sit on our knees, putting our hands on our backs and bending down our heads. We were wearing special clothes, and there was no way to talk and no way to move. Also, the food they give you is gone bad or expired and no medical treatment is available, besides aspirin. Because of this, we went on a [hunger] strike.



“When they came to negotiate, we demanded that we be treated as humans. We told them that there was no need for us to sit like that during counting, and to bend down our heads. What type of humiliation are you using with us? We demanded that they stop. We are not in Guantanamo. We are in 2009, we are not living in the middle ages of Europe.”



The 11,000 Palestinians held in Occupation jails face similar or worse treatment. Further, more than 800 are being held in “administrative detention”, meaning that they are imprisoned (indefinitely) without charge. Especially in the West Bank and Gaza, incarceration has left an indelible mark on Palestinian society. Since 1967, over 650,000 Palestinians have been detained, equalling 20% of the total Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, or 40% of the total male population.



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