May 17, 2011

Cruel and sadistic intoxication of power

My family updated you using my email on what happened on Nakba day (the three messages are now posted at my blog   Hundreds of us were kidnapped by the apartheid soldiers from demonstration and hundreds were injuried and scores were martyred.  Before I give my report I wanted to thank every one who took action. I have far too many emails to thank each of you who wrote me and I do not know who are the hundreds of others who called or wrote to officials, media etc (I do know from inside information that hundreds did write just to the US embassy as an example).  The level of communication and action around Nakba was inspiring and critical around the world.  Ben Gurion said about the ethjnic cleansing of Palestine that "the old will die and the young will forget".   Coming on the heels of an Israeli Knesset law to bar and suppress any comemorations of the Nakba, the day would actually turn out to be amazing. This day was the most important May 15 event since the weeks after May 15, 1948 when thousands of refugees "infiltrated" (as the Zionists labeled it) the borders to return to their homes and lands (a return that also meant many of them were shot on sight or re-expelled).

Our day started in the beautiful village of Al-Walaja at 11 AM as the villagers symbolically burned a refugee tent and decided to walk to their lands, much of it lies beyond the 1948  “Green line” ( itself dissolved by the Israeli occupation 1967 ).  I was video documenting this historic event on the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba (the ethnic cleansing of 500 Palestinian villages and towns). Some 800 people from Al-Walaja, other Palestinians, and internationals walked down the hills to the valley that delineates the 1948 green line. Army jeeps gathered on the road between us and the old land of Al-Walaja. Shireen and Basil approached the officers in an attempt to talk and explain that it is a peaceful march and that we just wanted to visit our lands. The answer was an empathic “get back” and an immediate attack by soldiers on the peaceful demonstrators. I noticed Ahmed down on the ground, pepper sprayed in his eyes and mouth and obviously in severe pain. I tried to help him while trying to film at the same time, within 3-5 minutes I was led away with 4 others including Ahmed. As they roughly and sadistically hit and pushed us into their military vehicle, Ahmed's conditions was worsening and he was refused medical care. The 4 youth were handcuffed in the back and I was handcuffed in front (perhaps due to my age). As we drove off, we started to hear the sounds of tear gas canisters and stun grenades.

I and the other pleaded with the soldiers and officers to provide medical care to Ahmed, but they would not even give us a paper-towel or a cloth to wipe his face (fluids running down his nose, mouth and ears). I finally used my T-shirt (which says “Got human rights? Palestinians don´t “!) to wipe the pepper spray off his face. Time passes slowly when you are in pain physically and psychologically.  But while all of us had bruises (the pharmacist Basil Al-Araj even suspected he has fracture in his rib), we all focused on encouraging and helping Ahmed.  2 hours later we did get paper towels but I was the only one capable of helping Ahmed because my hands were in front of me. We were first transferred to border police vehicle (with a particularly nasty woman soldier). We arrived at the military camp near Rachel’s tomb area. Half an hour after we arrived there (2+ hours after our detention), the doors to the container opened and 8 internationals stream in including one girl. They are not handcuffed and they relay that the soldiers after taking us near the green line chased villagers into the village and began arresting everyone they encountered including internationals. Everyone was just trying to run away they said. We remained at this camp for another 2 hours. I managed to get free from the plastic handcuff which really angered the soldiers when they discovered it, and I was tightly shackled with “Hatts-Made in England” metal handcuffs.

We are then all loaded to drive to the military compound called Atarot. I have been there in my last arrest, the soldiers and the interrogation rooms are elevated and a holding container is about 2 meters “depression” with metal roof. There we are to wait without using our phones (but we do in a clandestine way). Soon 5 more people form Al-Walaja were brought in including 2 children (twins ages 12). The children and 2 of the adults were taken from their houses (one in his slippers).  For the rest of my life I will not forget the terrorized look and tears of the children (we tried to encourage and joke with them).   Soon 15-20 more  people are brought in (arrested at Shufat refugee camp). I noted at least 4 masked undercover plain-cloth thugs accompanying them (these are the notorious "Musta'ribeen", Israeli undercover agents who infiltrate demonstrations, sometimes throwing rocks to incite others and give excuse for the uniformed officers to shoot.) We are told that hundreds of Palestinians were injured and and hundreds arrested from around the Jerusalem area (Shufat, Qalandia, Eisawiyya). 

Two youths from the Shufat group are badly injured; one had his head bandaged by a Palestinian paramedic earlier. The other whom I examined had contusions on his face including what appeared to me a broken bone (zygomatic arch) and a huge swelling around his left eye. He is shaking, dizzy, and in pain. I asked the officers to get him urgent medical care. One officer finally says: wait here. Then he goes and gets another officer who has the form that we all had refused to sign (the one that says “we did not get hurt during our arrest"). The message was clear: sign and we will get you medical care. The guy can´t even see to sign and he refuses. After much fuss and later (to quiet us down) they came back and took the two injured away; we hope they are cared for properly.

After much nagging on our part, one interrogator comes and asks if the two young children have celebrated their 12th birthday yet. The answer was no and he had no choice but decide to "question" them (more though scaring and screaming at them) then tell a fellow officer in Hebrew to call their parents to get them. (This takes another 1.5 hours). Israeli law allows charging and jailing Palestinians above age 12.  As I would find out when they took me to prison, the prisons are full of 12-18 year-old kids.

As night fell and we kept nagging, we are brought sandwiches at around 10 PM, fully 10-11 hours after our arrest. Then painfully slow, 40+ remaining prisoners began to get questioned. My turn comes around 12:30 AM (13 hours after our arrest). The lawyer says, you should not say anything; I instead take this opportunity and many others before and after to engage with these apartheid officers to get them to see the absurdity of it all. The bureaucracy meant that actually between the time of our first handcuff and our final release, we interact with over 150 apartheid officials and it is in my opinion good to try to talk to those who would talk (most tell us to shut up).  The interrogater tells me I am charged with participating in an illegal demonstration and throwing stones. I tell him I wrote a book on popular nonviolent resistance. He refuses to discuss politics; I refuse to sign paper that had his notes in Hebrew about what we discussed I go back to the pin. More waiting in bitter night coldness that we are not dressed for. The internationals are released once they sign a paper that say that they will not get near the wall and friction points for 15 days (if they do they would have to pay 5000 Nis or $1200 USD). We wail more and our spirits are high as rumors spread of successful Nakba events around the world. Many activists are released; five of us are left from the demo in Al Walaja and four from the Shufat demo. The later will go to Maskubiyya (the Russian compound) and we will go to Ofer. We finally leave this cold miserable place to Ofer at 4 AM. At Ofer, we are transferred to a military jeep with particularly nasty border police that insist I keep my head down. They use foul language and threats and occasional smack. They keep us like sardines in this jeep till 6 AM. We are then taken for “processing” which takes more than two hours from strip-search to photographs in prison uniform (mug-shots), to finger printing, to getting all our belongings logged in and stored, to being asked to change to the dark green prison uniforms. Each step involves changing handcuffs (I lost count how manytimes but must be at least 10 times in those few hours). The five of us get prison numbers 1932710 to 1932714.  We are put in a 3 m x 3 m holding cell for one hour they put us in and we are moved around 11 am to another area of the prison.

There an officer asks us individually which faction block we want to go to (Fatah, Hamas, PFLP etc.). He insists there are no sections/blocks for independents like me so I told him that I cannot choose other than to suggest that since we from the Walaja demo have the same lawyer, we should probably be assigned together.  He says he will see. Three of us end up in block 15 (Fatah).  After some checks, the gate to block 15 opens and they remove our handcuffs and we enter a hall that includes 12 rooms (on two floors).  Each small room accommodates 10 inmates. Today the block is near maximum capacity of 120 people in a space is this size of an average famil house in the US. We are greeted by a very friendly “dober” (Liaison between the block and the authorities). Who then takes us into one of the rooms to meet some key inmates and explains the rules to us. I am tired and can't focus but also I am honored and privileged to meet good people. I was surprised at how many youths are around. I am assigned room 5 with 7 other people already in it (two of whom are teenagers). In a way I was lucky because the room-head (Mohammed Saleh) is also head of the culture/education committee. After a shower (pajama provided kindly by the inmates), I was relaxing in my bed as he held his daily workshop to some 8 teenagers. The subject was the trilateral attack on Egypt and Egyptian-Palestinian relationship.

Prison life is regimented and orderly.  When roll call came, we stand up in our rooms next to our beds and the room metal doors are unlocked and several officers are standing tehre and they look at us as vultures while they call either our first or last name and we supply the rest of our name information. Time out is till 6 PM and during time out of rooms, the room doors are opened every half hour for 3 or so minutes in case you want to get something or return to your room.  I am told the Palestinian Authority pays Israel 17 dollars /day to keep each prisoner. Israel wants to maintain prisoner number (now in the thousands) as bargaining chips. I am impressed by how organized and clean the prisoners kept their crammed quarters. We agree that if I end up staying, I will learn Hebrew and teach English. In their weekly gathering I was also asked to give them a seminar on my book on history of Popular Resistance in Palestine. They bring me a book about Hebrew and I start to jot down notes about English and give the first two pages about alphabet and pronunciation to Mohammed. We discussed many things.

Around 10:30 PM and as I was beginning to doze off, I heard loud knowck on the locked metal door and my name is called.  I am told I am going and to get my things.  I quickly change back to the prison uniform, stick my hands out the opening of our room door to be reshackled.  The door is open and I find Ahmed (the other Ahmed, not the one injured) sitting and waiting.  Then they bring Basil.  By that time all the block is up at the doors and small windowns chewcking out what is happening wishing us good wishes.  Tears well up in my eyes as we are slowly led away leaving those good people behind.  After some processing, change of cloths, reshackling (our feet also shackled), we are loaded onto the a rison transport vehicle.  We are told our lawyer must retrieve our identity cards and valuable belongings (wallet, phone). We are dumped with no money and no phone in the middle of the night outside of the prison.  The mistreatment upon release is intended to send a message not come back (actually that was the last thing the officer told me). We manage to find a way home.

The first thing I did when I got home after reassuring my immediate family and quickly scanning emails was to watch the video of the amazing and inspiring breach of the borders at Majdal Shams area.

We are sad that 20 people were murdered in trying to peacefully cross the borders (created by an apartheid racist system).  We are sad that Munib Masri Jr, 22 year old Palestinian-American and grandson of the famous Palestinian Philanthropist Munib Al-Masri was critically injured (among many hundreds) after being shot by an Israeli sniper using bullets that are paid for by US taxpayers. We are sad and angry about all of this and much more.  But we are also inspired and energized by the remarkable collective effort.  We are all  more certain than ever that this apartheid system is destined to fail like the one in South Africa failed.  Perhaps 15 May 2011 will be looked at as the beginning of the end. The Arab Spring is chipping the Apartheid system. The light is at the end of the tunnel.  Let us follow it up.

A reporter asked about my arrest at the US State Department Press Briefing.  This and your efforts must have had a hand in our quick release

New York City march on Nakba day

Al-Walaja story (7 new home demolition orders)


  1. Thank you, Dr. Qumsiyeh, for writing about your experience. I'm sorry you and other Palestinians are treated in these ways. Solidarity from Georgia, USA

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, I wish I could have been part of it.

  3. Tully amazing Mazin; I am really proud of you.

    You humble all of us man. You give us lots of energy and hope.