Sometimes Words Are Not Needed ~ A Day in the Military Courts

Ofer Prison and Military Courts :Photo Credit: Dawn

Ofer Prison and Military Courts
Photo Credit: Dawn

We didn’t understand a word, yet we understood everything ~ “Do you speak Hebrew? Do you speak Arabic? Do you understand what is going on here?” ~ The prisoners have been brought in, feet shackled together. The court case has commenced. It takes a few seconds for me to realize the judge’s questions are addressed to us! ~ “No, your honour.” ~ We may not know the language, but some things do not require words in order to be understood! ~ A father’s anguish, a mother’s tears, a young man’s apprehension, a child’s fear, a soldier’s arrogance, a guard’s disdain, a lawyer’s indifference, a judge’s pronouncement ~ a message conveyed without words.

Holding Cage for Palestinian Families Awaiting Clearance Photo Credit: Public Domain :h

Holding Cage for Palestinian Families Awaiting Entry
Photo Credit: Oren Ziv, Active Stills

My colleague and I have applied for permission to spend a day in the military courts at Ofer Prison. One has to experience it in order to believe it! ~ Arriving by taxi before 9:00, we search in vain for the entrance. There is no signage. We discover a wire “cage” packed with Palestinian families ~ over 200 people ~ presumably the “holding area” for those awaiting clearance to attend the hearings. We greet them ~ Assalamu ‘Alaykum! The father of one of the two boys we have come to support sees us and comes over to the fence, a broad smile on his face. Language is a barrier, but it is unnecessary. It is clear that he is glad we have come.

Our “holding area” is separate, and we spend the next 2.5 hours trying to convince the Israeli military personnel that we have received prior permission to attend the court hearings that day. After many failed attempts, we finally succeed and emerge from the succession of gates, metal detectors, turnstiles, cages, an x-ray machine, and a body search ~ we are left with only our clothes, our locker key and a few shekels for the prison “cafeteria.” We join waiting Palestinians in yet another outdoor enclosure with only a small “canteen,” a water fountain, toilets, and a few chairs. Outside this cage are 8 dilapidated “caravans” ~ trailers ~ where court proceedings are being held.

Caravan ~ Ofer Military Court Photo Credit: Haaretz Archive

Caravan ~ Ofer Military Court Hearing
Photo Credit: Haaretz Archive

The morning’s roster reveals that our family’s hearing is not until 3:00. We take the opportunity to sit in on other cases, going from caravan to caravan. It is in one of these sessions that the questions from the judge interrupt my thoughts…  I had been thinking about the previous hearing where a proud mother had turned to me and said in broken English, “See this boy [pointing]; He my son! I see him only here. I not have visit.” I watched their faces as they exchanged stolen words, glances, and gestures. I saw her cry as they shackled his wrists and led him away. I squeezed her hand. I didn’t understand the details of why he was there. It didn’t matter.

At 2:30 we decide to sit with our family and wait to be called. Time passes. The sun sinks lower in the western sky. The wind is cold. And we wait. There are now about 20 people left in the holding cage. The guard has left his post. The gate swings on its hinges. The canteen is closed for the day. The place feels deserted. And still we wait. The father paces anxiously. The mother cradles her head in her hands. We feel helpless and without words. And still we wait. Finally at 4:50 ~ 10 minutes before closing ~ the family is called. They motion to us and we quickly follow behind them, filing into the one row of chairs. The judge tries to bar us from the hearing ~ “This is juvenile court.” We tell him we are friends of the family, and we have their permission. When asked directly, they all nod in assent. We are proud to accompany them.

But we are not prepared. The two boys look so small and vulnerable sitting in the prisoner’s box, feet shackled together. They are clearly afraid and uncertain of what to do. The boys glance at their mothers who are trying with gestures to find out if they are ok. They have been in prison, without parental visits, for two months, having been arrested for allegedly throwing stones at settlers while out with their sheep. The hearings have been postponed for as long as possible. Today they receive the verdict. The judge addresses them. The small boys stand together, trying desperately to be brave. The verdict is read. The mothers begin to cry. The boys are led away, wiping their tears and hoping no one notices. We file out of the caravan in silence. The father shakes our hands, tears in his eyes. Tears fill our own as we embrace the mothers. We have only been able to offer the gift of our presence ~ it is all we have to give. With our limited Arabic we think we understand that the boys must serve three more months and the families have to pay 4,000 shekels ($1,150 USD). But in the moment the details don’t matter.

Moon Rises Over Ofer Prison Compound Photo Credit: Dawn

Moon Rises Over Ofer Prison Compound
Photo Credit: Dawn

The family must use the “caged lane” leading to the West Bank, while we are allowed to return to the Jerusalem side. We wave goodbye through the fence and assure them we will visit them in their village. Deep in thought, we walk in silence to the highway to hail a taxi. The sun has set and the nearly full moon is rising behind us over the prison compound. But all I can see is the image of these two small, frightened shepherd boys in their brown prison clothes, crying, their feet shackled together.

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14 Responses to Sometimes Words Are Not Needed ~ A Day in the Military Courts

  1. Pam Patten says:

    Heartbreaking. What you are doing there is monumental, impacting everyone you encounter.

  2. Steve Berube says:

    Thank you for being there with the family and with the boys. The image you create breaks my heart for I know the reality of the powerless and vulnerable who are Palestinian. I wonder along with voices of old, “How long, O Lord? How long must we wait for salvation?” All I can do is pray that God may grant us some way to find hope in the midst of such oppression that even children are persecuted.

  3. Lori says:

    What would we do without the courageous witnessing of observers like you, Dawn, to help us understand the realities of so many tragic and unjust circumstances in what is often called the Holy Land? My heart goes out to the young boys and their families.

  4. Shelagh says:

    So that is Israeli juvenile court!! I think of the passage of the millstone about one’s neck for anyone who leads a child to stray. How foolish. Who would blame them as those young boys grow and have likely learned to hate in such a travesty. Courts and officials are oblivious to any kind of feeling. Hope must seem elusive to you. Please remember it is always darkest before the sun rises… keep the kerygma! Which is to say, continue to love… humble blessings

  5. Kay Clowater says:

    Oh Dawn, how heart wrenching! As was the last post ……… you must become emotionally drained … these dear folk …. why, why all this suffering!

  6. Oh Dawn, this is so heart breaking. I just had to share this on my Facebook wall for more to read. Look after yourself. God bless.

  7. Marilyn says:

    As a mom, I can only imagine the pain of the parents as they watch their sons being led away. Their hearts must be aching … and this on top of all the other injustices they experience daily! What a gift you are to this family and so many more — a hand squeeze says so much! Thank you for this sharing.

  8. debussytime says:

    Powerful, courageous and poignant. I found this looking for references for someone who had commented on your blog in the past. Now I am awed at this blog. After a day of watching “The Square,” the documentary on the events in Egypt between 2011-2013 that has been nominated for Best Documentary by the Academy, and haunted by the footage I watched over and over again when living in Egypt, particularly the Maspero Massacre, the similarities in tactics with those so frequently seen in the heinous attacks of Israelis over the decades cannot be erased from my mind. So finding your blog has been a relief, a reminder that many, many others understand that the abuse of power, the obliteration of dignity, of basic freedoms, reflects mentalites and societies that have lost their social conscience. (“The Square” may be viewed on Netflix as it is a Netflix documentary.)

  9. María Landi says:

    Thank you for this moving testimony, Dawn. I’ve asked Nader permission to translate into Spanish and publish your post on my blog. I was an EA in Yanoun with Group 39 (almost 3 years ago), and then went back again twice to the West Bank. Keep up the good work!

  10. María Landi says:

    I am currently involved in the Free the Hares Boys campaign:, so your post is good material to enrich and share through the campaign blog and FB page.

  11. Roland Hortlund says:

    I ask with Steve, “O Lord, how long shall we wait for justice?” This is so profoundly unjust. And thank you for being there.

  12. Wendy Gichuru says:

    Thank you, Dawn. The terror these boys must be feeling, and the helplessness of the parents. This occupation must end…

  13. Pingback: Un día en un tribunal militar israelí | Palestina en el corazón

  14. Pingback: A day in the military courts | Talliq

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