When the nurse in the Itihad hospital told RaslanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mother that his wife had delivered her first healthy female baby, she expected a big smile on her face. Instead, she found a woman with eyes full of tears. Raslan had been absent from his family for months. His mother knew that he might not return for months more, that the child might go through the first year or more of her life without a father, and that Raslan would go on sitting in a prison cell without laying eyes on his growing daughter.
Raslan Thoqan, 31, is being held in prison along with his three brothers. He was arrested in his home in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus on November 13, 2002, received a six months administrative detention order, and has since had his detention extended without evidence of any crimes. He has spent nearly a year in the Negev military detention facility (Ansar 3). His brothers Anan 25, Imad, 19, and Fuad 18, were arrested in March 2003 and are still sitting in Mageddo prison.
Although RaslanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s story is his own, and although his familyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s story of suffering is their own, the truth is that the life of the Thoqan family tells the story of thousands of Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. According to the Palestinian Prisoners Society, nearly 35,000 Palestinians have been arrested since the beginning of the Intifada almost three years ago. Eight thousand of these men and women are still dispersed between 22 compounds in Israel, skyrocketing from the mere 1500 that served time before the Intifada began. ThoqanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s experience is only an echo in the chambers of the growing prison complex in Israel.
Raslan was arrested for the first time during the first Intifada of the late 80s, when he was accused of being an active Hamas member and was imprisoned for four years. His brother Anan was jailed in the same period for 20 months and was accused of activism through the secular Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
When I went to interview the Thoqan family, RaslanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mother stood inside her house looking at pictures of her four arrested sons whom she is prohibited to visit in prison. Turning to her newborn granddaughter she asked, Ã¢â‚¬Å“What crime has this baby committed that she canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see her father?Ã¢â‚¬Â
RaslanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s father said that Israeli soldiers raided their house during the last invasion of the camp. Soldiers asked him about his sons one by one and he replied telling them that they were all in prison. The soldiers converted the Thoqan residence into a temporary roost after hearing Mr. ThoqanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s answers. They occupied the house for the remainder of the day, seemingly without reason.
In the course of the interview we were interrupted a few times by a phone ringing, a common sound anywhere, but one that produced commotion and an awkward hope among the ThoqanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s. One of them would get up, rush to answer, hoping that one of their sons would be on the line to talk to them from a cell phone smuggled into the prison to connect inmates momentarily with family members on the outside. It wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t their day for a call.
RaslanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s father continued. He told me that the most painful moments are when he holds his grandchild. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Everyone thinks of Raslan struggling to create a mental picture of his baby to entertain him in his fierce confinement.Ã¢â‚¬Â
RaslanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wife said that the Israeli soldiers left the family torn apart when they arrested the eldest son, followed by all his brothers. She said the injury is compounded by the fact that the Israeli government keeps renewing their administrative detention, despite a lack of incriminating evidence.
The Thoqan family story multiplies itself everyday. Cellblocks are packed as carelessly as meat hangers, with as many as 30 inmates living in a 20 square meter room, and the numbers keep growing. The Ministry of Prisoners Affairs in the Palestinian Authority reported that among the 73 female prisoners currently serving time, many suffer from inhumane, unhealthy, and humiliating living conditions. Some of them are imprisoned without trial and without specific charges. Reportedly, many of the female prisoners are arrested in order to exert pressure on their husbands or relatives in forced confessions.
Furthermore, Israeli military courts are known for imposing long sentences without valid legal recourse. Military courts recently have sentenced hundreds of prisoners to lifetime terms. During Al-Ã¢â‚¬ËœIntifada, the charges against prisoners were raised, and it has become common practice for Israeli judges to discriminate against Palestinian prisoners and follow the suggestions of Israeli intelligence services, judging according to Israeli military laws without heading international and human rights laws.
The wards become places to die inside, and on the outside, families are hollowed out, cut off; one of the focal points of Palestinian culture is uprooted and dispersed. According to legal sources, 31.3% of the prisoners from all the Palestinian governorates are married, and almost ninety-five percent of the prisoners are civilians and not servicemen as Israel claims.
Even as Israel reopened more detention camps in the second year of Al-Ã¢â‚¬ËœIntifada to handle the large number of inmates, living conditions inside the walls continues to deteriorate. Prisoners suffer from lack of food, water, necessary medicines, bathrooms, and a lack of appropriate cleaning facilities. In addition, they are often abused during arrest and are prevented from sleeping because their hands and legs are tied for as long as 15 hours. Lawyers have said that soldiers compete among themselves about who will beat the prisoners. Such stories have been corroborated by soldiers themselves in confessions dating as far back as the first Ansar camp built during the invasion of Beirut in 1982.
We can turn the page from the Raslan family to so many other Palestinian families. We could look, for a minute, at the shear numbers of inmates that keeps rising. In the past week alone 37 Palestinians have been arrested in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a suspiciously high number considering that IsraelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wanted list following the bus bombing two weeks ago numbered only 35. But the numbers all point to one thing: they only indicate a more general human problem in the region, a growing degree of anger, frustration, and outrage at injustice