Silwan, occupied East Jerusalem – Israel continues to carry out a wave of arrests of Palestinians, including children, in an effort to crush Palestinian resistance and political opposition to the occupation.
In May 2021, at least 3,100 Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and 1948 occupied territories were arrested during random and organised Israeli arrest campaigns, reported the Palestinian prisoners’ association Addameer in its report for the month.
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The largest proportion of those arrests, 2,000, took place within Israel’s internationally recognised Green Line boundary following mass protests against Israeli raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque, the eviction of Palestinian residents from their homes in East Jerusalem, and clashes with Israeli settlers and forces.
“Similarly, in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem a campaign of arbitrary arrests led to over 1,100 arrests, including 180 children, and 42 women and girls. The highest of these arrests took place in Jerusalem, with 677 arrests,” reported Addameer.
At the beginning of May, 60 freed Palestinian prisoners, activists and politicians were targeted with 25 of those arrested transferred to administrative detention, or detention without trial.
Kaed Rajabi, 43, from Silwan in East Jerusalem, was one of those arrested and then subsequently freed several weeks ago after one week in Jerusalem’s notorious Moskobiya jail in West Jerusalem.
Israeli jails have become a second home for Rajabi, a married father of eight children whose life has involved a revolving door of various Israeli jails since he was 14 years old.
His jail terms have ranged from years, to months, and sometimes only days and he has experienced prison life in several Israeli detention facilities, including the Nafha, Gilboa, Shatta and Hasharon prisons.
He estimated he has spent a total of at least eight years in Israeli prisons because of his anti-occupation activity.
“My first arrest in 1992 was when I was 14 when I was sent to jail for five years for throwing Molotov cocktails and stones at Israeli settlers and organising protests,” Rajabi told Al Jazeera.
“I was interrogated for 70 days straight in a chair with my handcuffed hands tied behind the back of the chair and my ankles tied to the legs of the chair. I was repeatedly punched, kicked and hit with clubs during hours of interrogation each day with some of the assaults causing me to bleed.
“Toilet breaks were limited and only when I was given food were my hands uncuffed, resulting in pain in my back and legs,” said Rajabi.
Lights left on
He said raids into prisoners’ cells by officers in search of mobile phones and other contraband were regular and involved beatings, tear gas and police dogs.
Twelve prisoners sharing bunk beds were crammed into each cell with the lights left on all night.
“The food was bad, too, with hardly any fruit or vegetables, old eggs, the odd piece of chicken or meat and lots of bread,” recalled Rajabi.
The subsequent arrests through the years usually involved more than a dozen Israeli police officers, detectives, and Shabak – or Israeli domestic intelligence agents – raiding his home in the early hours, shutting his wife, mother and children in one of the family home’s tiny, cramped rooms and then beating him severely.
His most recent arrest took place when he and other Silwan residents gathered in support of a protest run through the neighbourhood, protesting against the demolition of Palestinian homes and the evictions of residents to make way for Israeli settlers.
It is unlikely to be his last arrest because his and his brother’s families face forced expulsion from their homes to make way for Israeli settlers.
“Our neighbours have already been evicted and we have settlers living next door. But I was born here, this is my home and we will never leave despite an offer of payment from the settlers,” Rajabi said.
The brutal treatment that Rajabi experienced during his arrest and interrogation was par for the course and nothing extraordinary, critics say.
“The forms of torture and ill-treatment employed against Palestinian prisoners include beatings, tying prisoners in ‘stress positions’, interrogation sessions that last up to 12 consecutive hours, depriving prisoners of sleep and other sensory deprivation, isolation and solitary confinement, and threats against the lives of their relatives,” stated Addameer.
“In past instances, detainees have died while in custody as a result of torture.”
The rights organisation said Israel defended its interrogation techniques as a legitimate way of “combatting terrorism” faced by its citizens, but in reality, “these practices are in direct contravention of international law, including the United Nations Convention against Torture (CAT), ratified by Israel in 1991, which requires any state party to prevent the use of torture and associated practices”.
Atef Mirei, 37, from Beita, near Nablus, is still getting used to the taste of freedom after 16 years in several different Israeli prisons.
Newly married, he runs a supermarket and is looking forward to starting his own family. He was released from prison 10 months ago.
Mirei was arrested in 2004 during the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, after he shot and wounded Israeli settlers when he was a member of the Palestinian resistance.
During the night 10 military vehicles with about 40 soldiers and intelligence agents raided his home and used explosives to blow up the front door after they initially surrounded his house.
“When I was arrested they also arrested my brother and my father who was 82 at the time,” Mirei told Al Jazeera. His brother and father were subsequently released a few days later.
“On the way to the military base at Huwarra I was hit by the soldiers with their rifle butts.”
The former resistance fighter was interrogated for 90 days by the Shabak as he was tied in stress positions to a chair.
“The interrogations went on for over six hours each day and I was only allowed to use the toilet after the questioning for the day was over,” said Mirei.
Like Rajabi, Mirei said the food was bad and eight prisoners were squashed into a cell, sleeping on bunk beds, with regular raids on the cells by the prison guards.
“I used to dream of being able to be with my family again and to enjoy delicious home-cooked Palestinian meals,” Mirei said.
“Sometimes my situation got depressing and I felt sad about my life but I knew that as a Palestinian I had no choice but to fight for my people.”
Smiling, he recalled the emotional experiences in the days after he was first released.
“It was wonderful to see my family again and to see all the changes that had taken place in Beita over 16 years. There were so many new families and neighbourhood children to meet who hadn’t been born when I was arrested.”
‘Worried for the future’
However, his smile disappeared when he recalled the bitter memories of the youth he was robbed of and the dark experiences of prison.
“I hope that there will be peace now but with the current situation in the West Bank I’m worried for the future,” – before adding he had no regrets for fighting for his homeland.
Addameer estimates since Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory in 1967, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned under Israeli military orders in the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt).
“This number constitutes approximately 20 percent of the total Palestinian population in the oPT and as much as 40 percent of the total male Palestinian population,” said Addameer.
“It also includes approximately 10,000 women jailed since 1967, as well as 8,000 Palestinian children arrested since 2000.”