On December 10, 2017, my friend and son of a prominent Palestinian activist in the West Bank village of Bil’in was brutally arrested by Israeli forces. Then 17-year-old Abdul-Khaliq Burnat was on his way to buy pizza from a neighboring village when Israeli armed soldiers ambushed the car that he and his two friends were travelling in. A group of Israeli soldiers stopped the car at gunpoint, pulled the boys out of the vehicle, zip-tying their hand and blindfolding them, whilst beating them relentlessly. Instead of returning to their homes, to the comfort of their families for dinner that night, they were transferred to Israel’s Ofer Military Prison.
When I heard the news of my friend’s arrest, my heart sunk, I instantly called Abdul-Khaliq’s father Iyad, who was in tears at his son’s brutal arrest. Exactly the day before this all happened I had called Abdul-Khaliq and had a half hour conversation, I asked him about his studies and how his life was. He was determined to achieve high marks in his final year of school, so that he could fulfill his dream of studying abroad. For Abdul-Khaliq, this year was his chance to succeed, that chance however, has now been violently stripped away from him.
Late last August, I decided to travel and stay in the West Bank for 3 months. For more than a month of that stay, I was housed free of charge by Iyad Burnat. Living in Iyad’s household for over a month, I grew especially close with Abdul-Khaliq, we ate together, prayed together, went to the gym together and spent a lot of time in the village.
For 133 days Abdul-Khaliq was in Israel administrative detention (held without a charge), turning 18 in prison on February 21. The Israeli court system, which maintains a roughly 99.74% conviction rate, repetitively delayed Abdul-Khaliq’s court date, making the process of his trial all the more grueling. Abdul-Khaliq was under threat of being convicted of 17 different charges, all pertaining to stone throwing, settlement security and damaging the illegal separation wall. On the 4th of February, Israeli forces arrested his 15-year-old brother Mohammed Burnat, during a night raid, using Mohammed as a means of mounting pressure upon his older brother to “admit his crimes”.
On April 22, I received news that my friend had been sentenced. Abdul-Khaliq Burnat was sentenced to serve 19 months in Ofer Military Prison, six of which he has already served. The court decided that Abdul-Khaliq’s family must pay a fine of 18,000 NIS (around $5,100), it was also decided that if he does anything Israel disapproves of for the next 3 years, he will find himself instantly back in prison for six more months. He was charged with stone throwing, cutting the fence at the illegally built separation wall, as well as other charges related to these two actions.
Unfortunately for Abdul-Khaliq, this was not the first time he had been arrested and brutalised by Israeli forces. He was shot in the back of the head by Israeli troops, in January of 2017. The Israelis then raided his home and arrested him, at early hours of the morning in March, this was whilst he was still recovering from his wound. Prior to this, Israeli forces had shot both him and his younger brother Mohammed with rubber coated steel bullets, multiple times. Abdul-Khaliq’s older brother, Majd Burnat, was also shot through the upper leg by an Israeli sniper using live ammunition in 2014, almost bleeding to death from his wound.
Abdul-Khaliq Burnat has been suffering under occupation his entire life, witnessing constant night raids, the brutalization of both parents and so much more.
My friend’s dreams have been ripped away from him, why? For what crime? Not because he threw stones, not because he cut a fence, his dreams were torn from him simply because he is a Palestinian. Abdul-Khaliq is a strong person, someone with ambition, and a kind heart. He is someone that I and many others have come to love, his suffering and the suffering of his family should not go unrecognized. I will not allow for him to become just another statistic, this has to be seen for what it is.
Abdul-Khaliq’s father has been prohibited from visiting his son in prison, he is also now under immense pressure as he is forced to try and search for the money to pay his son’s fine.
Seeing such injustice carried out against a family that I ate, slept, prayed with and made me feel like one of the them is extremely distressing. There is not a single day that goes by, that I do not think about Abdul-Khaliq, his wellbeing and the pain that his family must be feeling.
I contacted Iyad Burnat on the day of Abdul-Khaliq’s conviction, offering my condolences. The response that I received from Iyad was, “don’t worry, brother, this is our life”, words that have not left my mind since.
The racist Israeli military court system’s effects on the Palestinian people are devastating and must come to an end. It is not permissible for Jewish Israelis to be subject to a regular legal system in the West Bank, whilst Palestinians are incarcerated as a state mission in order to mentally wear them down and destroy their will. The victims of this system are not just a statistic, people like my friend Abdul-Khaliq and his family deserve to live with dignity, and basic human rights.
If you wish to contribute to raising the funds to free Abdul-Khaliq and his two friends, Malik and Hamze, please contact Abdul-Khaliq’s father Iyad at his email or Facebook. Your efforts are much appreciated by the families who do not have enough to pay their huge fines by themselves.