Family fights to free disabled Palestinian man in Israeli prison

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If only I had known someone working in 3-D animation, a disabled man may have been free right now.

Last October, I had spoken with Farid Abudheir, a Palestinian professor at An-Najah University, in Nablus, West Bank to discuss his previous detention at the Petah Tikvah Detention Center for 22 days on false charges of affiliations with Hamas. While treating me to delicious kanafah that Nablus is famous for, he asked me if I knew anyone in America working in 3-D animation, which I didn’t. As he explained, his 26 year-old son, Bara, dreamed of becoming a 3D character artist for movies and video games, but he had already gone months without finding a job.

Struggling with disability since he was two, this was not Bara’s first obstacle in life, but it was not to be his last, for Bara’s ongoing job search recently led to his latest barrier in reaching his goals: imprisonment.

When Bara was two years old, he accidentally fell twenty feet from a bridge in Nablus, fracturing his skull. His parents rushed him for treatment in the U.K., where he was treated for severe head injuries that resulted in partial paralysis and speech and memory loss.

After three years of treatment, Bara was able to recover physically, but he permanently faced difficulties in concentration and memorization and has faced social disabilities ever since. “He depends on us totally,” said his father. “He has no friends. He is solitary.”

Finding it difficult to forge connections, Bara’s job search had continued without success since graduating from An-Najah University in 2014. Recently, Farid sent his son to live with relatives in Turkey for a month, hoping he could find a job there.

Though finding no luck in Turkey, Bara’s prospects brightened in May when Bournemouth University in the U.K. accepted him for their master’s program in computer animation beginning this fall. Bara left Turkey to return to the West Bank in order to pass his English entrance exam and attain his visa. From there, he was to leave for the U.K. to attend Bournemouth— one step closer to making his dreams a 3-D reality.

On May 30th, Bara crossed over into the West Bank from Jordan. His parents weren’t too surprised when he called them to say he was being detained at the border—a common experience for young Palestinian men at the Allenby Bridge crossing. Four hours later, however, they were shocked to hear from Bara that he was being arrested.

In the following days, the family’s lawyer called all the detention centers in Israel attempting to locate Bara. Five days later, they learned that Bara was taken to Petah Tikvah Detention Center, where his father, Farid, had been detained once before. “Petah Tikvah [Detention Center] is some kind of hell,” said Farid. “It’s a very difficult life there. The cells are horrible, the treatment is so bad, and they are trained to psychologically pressure [detainees] there.”

The first two weeks of his detention, Bara was barred from seeing the Red Cross, and his family was unable to contact him. During interrogation sessions, Bara would be shackled to a chair until midnight, enduring shouting, cursing, and threats from interrogators of imprisoning him for years. “I was so worried that Bara wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure there,” said Farid, “and that’s what happened.”

After three weeks of harsh interrogations, Bara broke down. He was found in his cell having slit his wrists.

Bara’s initial statements denied any criminal activities, but a new statement came out in which Bara gave a completely different story that implicated him in militant activities. When Bara’s family saw him in court, he was hysterically crying, telling the military judge that he fabricated such stories under immense pressure.

While the judge requested for a new statement to be made without any such pressures, Shin Bet deemed further statements “unnecessary.”

Since then, Bara has denied the several accusations against him. He is accused of being a member of Hamas, participating in activities with the Islamic Bloc (Hamas’s student wing) while in college, contacting members of Hamas while in Turkey, and planning attacks on Israeli soldiers while in Turkey.

Bara’s lawyer believes that while in Turkey, Bara contacted someone during his job search that is under Israeli surveillance for being associated with Hamas. Israeli authorities used this as a pretense to detain Bara, intensely pressuring him to confess to activities beyond a mere job search. “They do not accept no,” recalled Farid from his own detention. “Bara can’t take that pressure.”

There has been no evidence presented other than Bara’s forced confession in July. The accusation of associating with the Islamic Bloc in college apparently stems from taking a regular course on the Quran three years ago.

Farid declared his son socially incapable of participating in the activities he is accused of. “Bara does not have friends at all. He doesn’t go out of the house. He doesn’t even like visiting relatives. He likes sitting on his computer and work,” said Farid. “To a large extent, he depends on us. Even buying ice cream or having a meal, he is dependent on me.”

Further, such alleged activity doesn’t match the profile of Bara, someone so removed from politics he doesn’t even know who the Israeli Prime Minister is. “Even when there were student elections at the university, he didn’t go, saying that he didn’t want to be involved in any of those activities,” said Farid. “I totally exclude any possibility of him being part of anything that they charge him with.”

Throughout this ordeal, authorities have continued to extend his remand several times, mostly in increments between 48 hours and nine days. In the middle of July, Bara was transferred to Megiddo Prison, where he has remained since. His last court session was August 2nd, in which his detention was again extended through the next court date on September 7th.

The uncertainty of imprisonment under military law has left no end in sight for this now three-month ordeal. Considering the 99.7% conviction rates in Israeli military courts, Bara’s lawyer believes it is unlikely for him to be released despite the paucity of evidence and forced nature of this disabled prisoner’s confessions. Rather, they are hoping to negotiate with authorities so he can serve a sentence of one year or less. Bara potentially faces over three years in prison.

Doing everything he can to save his son’s future, Farid has sought for a better deal for his son, but he finds it difficult to do so without lawyers fluent in Hebrew or possessing legal clout in Israel. “I’m really confused by it all,” said the college professor. “I don’t know what to do. I contacted many lawyers, but no one gave me a clear and solid opinion on what can happen.”

Unable to speak with him personally, all Bara’s family can do now is wait for the next court date on September 7th, at which point his detention will likely be extended once again. The uncertainty looms every day for this family in crisis. “This is one of the most horrible experiences in our lives,” said Farid. “[Especially] because it is Bara—he is totally different from other people. He can’t take hardship and pressure. In the house, he has special treatment, special food. He is like a child that needs to be taken care of.”

Farid noted the irony of hoping his son would become more independent in Turkey, only for him to be forced to do so in prison. “He has to depend on himself now,” said Farid. “I worry for him. I hope he can survive this, but I don’t know.”

And yet, his family was not giving up this battle to save their son and his dreams. “I have for a long time believed that Bara will achieve his goals and make his dreams real. I have not lost that hope,” said Farid. “Whatever happens with Bara, I will stand with him and do all I can to achieve his dreams.”

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The way Mr. Abudheir has been treated, you’d never know that the boot his neck is under belongs to a “moral beacon” and “light unto the nations” state.

Where Palestinians are concerned, Israeli law has nothing to do with justice.