‘Sunday I will be released! Next Sunday, Mama,” Dima cried. Those were the words I replayed each agonising night after her arrest. At the age of 12, my child had been locked up in a small cell in Israel’s Hasharon prison. Her innocent voice informed me of her impending release.
On the morning of February 9, Israel’s occupying forces arrested my daughter Dima. The news hit me like a thunderbolt. The director of education called me to identify Dima from arrest photos.
Although I selfishly prayed that it was someone else’s daughter, that another mother would claim the little girl in the photo, it was unmistakable. Dima lay blindfold with her face violently shoved against the pavement. A settler’s foot was rammed against her back and a gun was pointed at her head. The photos and videos were taken near the illegal settlement of Karmi Tsur, a settlement built on the land of Halhul, north of Hebron.
I held my tears, for I would not give the occupier the pleasure of victory over a child who was barely 12 years old.
Then, suddenly, I realised Dima could have wandered from our land, which is unfortunately adjacent to the illegal settlement. Perhaps she had been on our land to harvest the season’s broccoli, as we planned a few days earlier, for a family feast using only ingredients of what our land has to offer. The same family land on which we frequently face assaults by the Israeli occupying forces and the settlers they protect.
Dima was treated in the most brutal way and underwent a terrifying and traumatic interrogation. We were fooled into believing that we would be permitted to attend her interrogation, instead we were interrogated ourselves. She was interrogated by at least seven officials who screamed, cursed and insulted her, and then threatened to burn her alive. She was stripped of her clothes and violently beaten.
Dima was forced to attend four military court sessions that were extended for long hours in the bitter February cold where she sat exhausted, cold and afraid in an iron cage. Her eyes drowsy, body exhausted and face persistently pale, she was unaware of what was happening around her. She did not care about the presence of the judges, lawyers and security officers. Instead, she played with the heavy chains on her legs, swaying herself back and forth. Each time I looked at her, my body trembled with anxiety.
The military judge attempted a compromise in which we would agree to place Dima in what he called a “safe house”, so as to postpone sentencing until she is 14, allowing for a heavier sentence.
The courts also demanded a 25,000 shekel (Dh24,400) fine, knowing that her father had his work permit in Israel revoked after Dima’s arrest. The judge then requested that our family put our land up as collateral.
We vehemently refused all these conditions: we will not legitimise a two-tiered, racist military justice system, where justice is seldom served.
“My shoes are muddy, Mama. I feel embarrassed and ashamed, I bled from the torture, I feel humiliated, I’m terrified and my body trembles from the cold,” Dima said as she broke down during one visit. “I was forced to invent stories and lie that I was there to stab a settler. Mama, don’t be angry, don’t believe anything they tell you, but this was the only way to stay alive.”
As a result, she was sentenced tor four-and-a-half months with a five-year suspended sentence and an 8,000 shekel fine.
We reached out to local, foreign and Israeli media, to politicians, the Arab members of Knesset, and to human rights organisations. We appealed to the conscience of those from around the world, and thanks to their sincere efforts, a decision was finally secured to release her this week.
My little girl, don’t feel ashamed for the shame that falls on the occupation and its protectors and sponsors. The shame is on the so-called democratic state of Israel that uses the most cruel means to violate a vulnerable child. The shame is on a world that allows the occupation and systematic human rights violations to continue unabated.
There are still 440 Palestinian children in Israeli prisons, including 104 between the ages of 12 and 15. Israel is the only state worldwide that prosecutes 700 children a year.
As for myself, I have welcomed my daughter back home and into my arms while I pray for all the mothers of child detainees.
Dima, myself and all Palestinians will continue to hope for a life without the yoke of occupation and its systematic policies of oppression. Until then, we will continue to celebrate life and the joys of having our children nestled safely in our arms.
Sabha Al Wawi lives in Hebron