When he was 15 years old, Hamza Abu Hashem was attacked by Israeli military dogs, and left with serious injuries on his legs, arms, and shoulder.
In a video of his attack, which took place on December 23, 2014 in the southern occupied West Bank village of Beit Ummar, Israeli soldiers can be heard saying “give it to him, son of a bitch” and “who’s afraid?” as the teenager cried and screamed in pain.
After the video went public, Michael Ben-Ari, a former Israeli lawmaker of the right-wing National Union Party, posted the video to his Facebook page saying “The soldiers are teaching the little terrorist a lesson. Share it! So that every little terrorist who plans to harm our soldiers will learn there is a price.”
Hamza was arrested immediately after the attack, for the fourth time since he was 11 years old, and sentenced to three and a half months in prison on charges of stone-throwing–an offense that has seen Hamza and his five brothers imprisoned for dozens of times over two decades.
Before being transferred to prison he was hospitalized inside Israel for one week, his hands cuffed to the bed the entire time, his family unable to visit him.
Now, four years after the attack that left his mind and body scarred for life, Hamza, along with his family, is suing the Israeli government over the attack, as well as the Dutch company that has been supplying Israel with attack dogs for more than 20 years.
‘We want the rights of all Palestinian children protected’
In the report, NRC quotes Four Winds K9’s owner Tonny Boeijen, as saying that he delivers dozens of the trained attack dogs to Israel every year, and that 90 percent of Israel’s military dogs were trained by his company.
After pressure from Dutch politicians and groups like Palestinian human rights NGO Al-Haq, the company announced in June 2016 that it would stop the export of “biting dogs” to Israel, and provide the state with only “tracking hounds,” with company co-owner Linda Boeijen telling NRC “we had no intention to violate human rights.”
But for Hamza’s parents Ahmad and Hamda, that’s just not good enough. “We must end the sale of all dogs to the Israeli occupation army,” they told Mondoweiss in their family living room, as a video of Hamza’s attack playing on the television screen in the background.
“We must emphasize that this is not about money,” Ahmad said adamantly, telling Mondoweiss that the family has not asked for a single shekel in either one of their suits.
Hamda jumped in, “Over the years, my husband and all my six boys have been imprisoned a number of times by Israel, and we have paid tens of thousands of dollars in bail to the occupation. But still, money is not what we want.”
Shaking her head, Hamda told Mondoweiss that the last time her family of 10 was together was last Ramadan, just before her oldest son Thaer, who is still in prison, was re-arrested. Before that, she says she can’t even remember the last time they were all together.
Prisoners rights group Addameer has estimated that some 40 percent of Palestinian men will be arrested by Israel at some point in their lives.
“The Dutch company tried to cut a deal with us, saying they will give Hamza something like 10,000 Euros if we drop the suit and do not publish anything about his story,” she continued, “how insulting is that? They think we want money? No, we want the rights of all Palestinian children protected, that is what we want.”
For Ahmad and Hamda, there are two main goals that they are hoping to achieve through their suits:
First, in their suit against the Israeli government–which they admit has a slim chance of achieving justice–is aimed at holding accountable the soldiers who attacked Hamza, and the politicians like Ben-Ari who they say subsequently promoted violence against children.
“Israel almost never grants justice to Palestinian victims of the occupation, but even if just symbolically, we must take them to court for their crimes,” Ahmad said, adding that it was after seeing Ben-Ari’s comments about Hamza that he was determined to file the suit.
Secondly, the premise of their suit against Four Winds K9, according to Ahmad and Hamda, is that the company knowingly sold dogs for years to an occupying power that regularly violates human rights and international law.
“The company, and all companies around the world should know that when they sell to Israel, they are making money off the oppression, killing, and imprisonment of children,” Ahmad said, Hamda nodded in agreement.
“The point of all of this is to get justice, yes, but also to prevent what happened to my child from happening to any other child, and other person, in Palestine and across the world.”
Scarred for life
Now 19 years old, Hamza — who lost most of his childhood to various stints in Israeli prison for accusations of stone throwing–is mature beyond his years in his demeanor and speech, but he says that he is still struck with an indescribable, child-like fear when he sees Israeli soldiers and their dogs, who maintain a constant presence in Beit Ummar.
“Now whenever I see protests or clashes in the village, I am terrified, and try to get out of the area as fast as I can,” Hamza told Mondoweiss, as we walked through the empty plot of land where he was attacked years ago.
“I had been arrested many times by the Israeli occupation before the attack, but that was by far the scariest thing that happened to me and my family,” he said.
As his youngest sister Seja followed behind him, Hamza gestured to the dozens of kids playing soccer on a nearby street, “What is even scarier than my attack, though, is that there are people who are willing to supply the occupation with dogs and weapons, which at any moment, they can use against these children.”
“That is why we will not give in to bribes or threats,” he said, “this is so much bigger than me. This is about the right of every Palestinian child to have a normal childhood, something that I was not given.”