Sunday, June 19, 2005

Yesterday my telephone rang. "Hello. It's is Um Fadi. The soldiers have entered the village. They are stopping everyone."

"Yalla!" I called. "Let's go." Another activist and I pulled on our shoes, grabbed our passports and ran to the entrance of Harres, the village where we live. Um Fadi lives along the main road into Harres and she often calls us when soldiers show up in the village without warning.

Usually when we get a phone call from Um Fadi the soldiers are simply checking IDs or stopped at the road to Harres for no reason they that will tell us. But yesterday, I knew immediately that something was different. "Go away!" a soldier told me. "Why do you come here? Go back to America!" The soldiers were especially angry and a crowd of Palestinians were gathered. After a few minutes frantic Arabic, the story emerged: the soldiers had taken an 18 year old boy from his home, thrown him in the back of a jeep and would not say where they were taking him. The boy had been studying for his end-of-the-year examinations which would take place the next day.

I found myself standing in front of the boy's Aunt and Grandmother. "They beat him. His face was covered in blood," his Aunt gestured to make the point clear. "Haram! Haram!" his grandmother wailed. In Arabic haram means forbidden. Sinful. Morally wrong. My eyes filled with tears. She was right. Taking a boy from his home before he can put on his shoes, beating him, holding him before his exams, threatening to keep him from graduating from high school, this is sin. There are other terms for it as well: "contrary to international law," "a human rights violation," "undemocratic." But these terms don't seem strong enough.

I placed phone calls to human rights organizations and watched the soldiers, but it soon became clear nothing could be done. So we did what we do often when there is nothing left to do: we walked to Um Fadi's house to have tea. Um Fadi doesn't often talk about painful subjects while we drink tea with her, but yesterday she did. She told us about the time that soldiers entered her house and beat her oldest and another time when they beat her younger son. She told us that her youngest son, 7 year old Ali, wakes up crying whenever he hears loud noises at night. "He comes to me and I hold him. He is afraid that soldiers will come into our house again."

The boy who was taken was brought back to our village an hour later. He was taken home and I do not know if he was able to sit his exams today. I also do not know what I can say about this incident or Um Fadi's stories. No words seem quite strong enough.

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