My name is Farihan Daraghmeh Farah. I am a proud Palestinian woman and a humanitarian. I am also the mother of the youngest Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail. As I write this piece, on International Women’s Day, these are the things that define me. But as any parent—or any person—can imagine, no detail defines me more so than that final one.
My son, Shadi, is a smart little boy who was always full of life. He is loved by everyone who knows him—family, neighbors, friends and classmates. He is a great Dabke dancer, and a good swimmer and horseback rider. He likes to sing and is excellent at math. My husband and I have always done our best to provide for Shadi and the rest of our children, encouraging them in their education and hobbies, and teaching them to be kind, honest and open in their dealings with others. We raised them to accept people for who they are, regardless of their nationality, religion or race.
Shadi was arrested on December 30, 2015. He was just 12 years old. The news took my breath away; the whole family was in a state of shock. For a long time, none of us could eat or sleep properly. When I closed my eyes, all I could see was my little boy, scared and alone, in a freezing cold prison cell. I later learned that they had forced him to stand in there naked, at one point.
He had been waiting at the bus station in our home city of Jerusalem when Israeli police arrested him and took him to the main police station (al-Muskubiya, or the Russian Compound in Jerusalem). We were only informed of his arrest at 10 p.m. after we had become worried and reported his absence. Shadi had been accused of planning to commit a crime with a knife, despite no knife being found in his possession. During the interrogation they then asked him whether he would have stabbed an Israeli, if he had had a knife. He told them simply that he would never have been able to stab any human being.
My 12-year old son was held for four days before being moved to a “reformatory”—a detention center supposedly for those over the age of 15. After 20 court sessions during a period of one year, the final verdict was issued last December: my now 13-year old boy will spend an additional two years in prison, convicted by the draconian military legal system of a foreign power. For Israeli children, the laws are different. Now all we can do is visit Shadi as often as we can. Technically, we are allowed to see him once a week, but even with saving every penny we have, we can only afford to travel to the prison once every two weeks or sometimes once a month.
It is no exaggeration to say that our lives have been turned upside down. It feels like a living hell. My youngest, Rayan, is 3 years old and so attached to his older brother. When I look at Rayan’s face, seeing Shadi across a courtroom with his hands and feet in shackles, or when we have to leave at the end of a visit, it breaks my heart in two. As a child, you believe your parents will always be able to keep you safe. My 3-year old son, along with Shadi, has already lost that sense of safety. In this way, he has also become a prisoner of Israel and Israeli policy.
Most days I feel powerless. But, as a woman and a mother, it is my duty to stay strong for my little boy. When I was younger, I had big dreams and wanted to study law. Higher education wasn’t possible for me, but I passed that ambition on to my youngest daughter, who graduated from law school with excellent grades and now works for the Mandela Institution, focusing on issues relating to Palestinian prisoners. Her father and I could not be more proud. In the meantime, I have focused on volunteering in the community and attending special workshops on international humanitarian law, as well as studying English, French and Hebrew.
The only thing we can do now is to make Shadi’s story heard. He represents a whole generation of Palestinian children who are growing up under military occupation, and who, before even reaching their teenage years, have been subjected a level of racism and oppression that most people will hopefully never have to experience. Every one of their stories deserves to be heard. And so I have talked to media outlets locally and internationally and I have been touched by the many friends from around the world who have stood by my side in solidarity. In the United States I had many meetings, including a particularly memorable one at Kent University in Ohio, where the warm welcome of the students overwhelmed me.
My dear sisters around the world, together we must find a way to stand up in the face of oppression and discrimination, wherever these things may occur. For the sake of Shadi, for all the Palestinian children, and for humanity as a whole, please join me in speaking out, so that we can put an end to such cruel unlawful policies. It is on this day that we remember how much we’ve achieved. And together, we can achieve much more. I wish you all a happy International Women’s Day.