On Christmas day, just outside the Ofer military court near Ramallah in the West Bank, Palestinian families gather to prepare for the hearings of their family members. Bassem Tamimi, father and husband of Ahed and Nariman, joined with Boshra and Naji Tamimi, parents of Nour, to gather with the rest of the crowd to prepare for the trials of their loved ones.
As the Tamimi’s hand over their green identification cards to an Israeli guard, others wait their turn for a chance to also see the fate of their respective family members. They wait surrounded with metal gates, concrete walls, and barbed wire underneath a metal roof.
Wafa Daud, 48, sits on the rusty metal chairs in her red coat with a fur hat covering her red-tinted black hair. “My son, Ward, is only 19 years old” she says. “The last time I came to his hearing I had bags underneath my eyes and my son said not to do that” smiling, she proudly proclaims, “so today I am dressed nice for him, this red is for him.” Her husband teasingly winks “it’s also Christmas you know.”
While Bethlehem opens the ceremonies for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, there is another reality taking place less than 20 miles away.
From Dheishe refugee camp south of Bethlehem, Wafa and her husband spent most of the holiday in Ofer’s cold yard waiting their turn to pass through the metal gate. Wafa jumps eager to hear her turn to enter with each loud screeching thud when the gate is opened.
The Daud’s are not the only family waiting. Throughout the day family members came to the court with optimistic faces only to leave with the same pained look afterwards and the words, “the trial has been postponed.” In accordance to Israeli military law, Palestinian political prisoners can be held up to 90 days without charges under the pretext of interrogation.
One woman was fortunate enough to receive some good news. As soon as the metal door opens allowing her to leave the vicinity of the courts she grabs her phone and calls her daughter. “They will release him in a week!” she says almost out of breath. She spent the next several minutes pacing through the yard in disbelief making more calls to report the good news to other family members and friends.
As of November 2017, there are 6,154 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails, 311 of which are minors. “Behind the numbers, there are the family members and friends that are also being punished in this system” says Wafa Daud.
At this point the Daud family has been waiting for three hours in the yard. In the seats in front of them sit the family of Mohammad Hroub. Only 21, he’s the eldest of nine children and the most recent arrestee in the family. His father, Wael, wears a flamboyant red kuffieyh on his head and his mother hides herself under a large shawl in hopes to protect herself from the cold. “When the [soldiers] came at night, I initially thought they were coming for me” explains Wael. Looking at the guard behind the reflective glass he says, “but then they took my son.”
Living in the H2 area of Tel Rumeida in Hebron, the Hroub family is not unfamiliar with Israeli systematic arrests. “My father was arrested, and then I was arrested and spent time in prison” Wael tells Mondoweiss. “Now my eldest son is in prison,” puffing on his hand rolled cigarette he asks “can you tell me when this will end? When will the occupation go away? When is it enough?”
Meanwhile Ahed Tamimi sits in a courtroom in Ofer surrounded by journalists, lawyers and family, her father Bassem seated in the back. He too has been incarcerated by Israeli forces and was once on the other end of the bench as Nariman stood outside. Today he watches as his daughter and wife must face a fate similar to his years ago.
Palestinian families have long endured Israel’s systematic arrests with more than 40% of the Palestinian male population having been detained at some point since 1967. The Daud family wasn’t spared this reality. Wafa recalls how her own husband was also arrested during the first intifada. “His first arrest was at 16,” she tells Mondoweiss “and then after that he was taken twice under administrative detention.”
Administrative detention entails that prisoners are held under the pretext of “secret evidence” and are not charged or given a chance at trial. Last April, more than 1500 Palestinian prisoners launched a mass hunger strike in protest of Israeli policies including administrative detention. Still, the practice continues with more than 450 administrative detainees in Israeli prisons.
In an attempt to keep her mind off the cold, Wafa says “you know I ask my son if he is okay, and he tells me ‘don’t worry mom, I’m here with the entire neighborhood. All our friends are with me.’”
Confrontations between Israeli forces and Palestinians have increased since Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and Dheishe refugee camp, like most areas in the West Bank, has faced an intensified military campaign against its youth. “[Israeli forces] keep chipping at us and our children until there is nothing left” says Wafa as she tried to hold back her tears and replace them with a smile. “There is no normal life here, our children can’t be normal with the occupation all around them.”
After finally reaching their turn, the Hroub and Daud families go to their sons’ hearings. They each come out and echo the same words, “the hearing is postponed.” They gather their belongings and make their way back to Hebron and Bethlehem, respectively.
Bassem, Boshra and Naji also come out with a similar outcome. The Tamimi women’s detention was extended and the trial was postponed for Thursday.
The different families all come from various backgrounds and locations but they share one thing in common, their fate and that of their children’s is tied to the Israeli military court. The holiday season is marked with the screech of metal gates and the words “postponed.”
Trying to smile, Wafa holds on to her husband as they make their way out. “I couldn’t even speak to him” she says. “Maybe next time.”