Qassam knew that one day theyíd show up and take him, too.
Most of the others his age had already been arrested. The army comes at night, picks them up one by one.
It began after 16-year old Bilal was taken to the Russian Compound. Everyone knows the Shabak sits at the Russian Compound, and there the kids confess anything and everything and name names.
It means, letís say, give us fifteen names and weíll let you go. Or weíll let you sleep. Or weíll not beat you up. Or if you donít give us names weíll take in your mother. Your sister. Come work with us, and weíll give you a permit, and your brother will be allowed to enter Israel for his surgery.
And there are other floors, lower down, thatís the worst. Because thereís something there that has no exact wording, only itís the worst of all. Thatís what people know at the refugee camp.
Since then, Qassam does not sleep at night.
A father of one of the arrested boys who also works for the Palestinian Police and knows things explained to Abu Omar that if his son didnít do anything heíll get six months to a year. Thatís if he hasnít done anything. Meaning he didnít throw stones, thatís what Abu Omar explained to me.
Tami had the idea of writing a Hebrew note that Qassam would carry on his person, telling of the shrapnel stuck in his brain, and that heís vulnerable and sensitive, so that if heís picked up, at least he shouldnít be hit on the head.
On the other hand, however, who would even think soldiers would take this into consideration. Those who would come to pick him up just because they were ordered to do so have already crossed so many lines, morally speaking, that I donít think it very likely theyíd consider his condition to this fine an extent.
But Qassam doesnít like anyone saying this about him, anyway. And finally we didnít do it.
On January 10th, 2012, at 4:23 a.m., Abu Omar called and I thought heíd say Qassam was arrested. They took Suhayeb, he said, his voice broken. The soldiers have just walked out.
And I thought how terrible it was to say that itís better this way. And I knew that Abu Omar thinks so, too. Because Qassam is younger. And ever since the Occupation soldiers shot him in the head with live ammunition when he was eight-years old, and hundreds of tiny particles are still stuck inside his brain, inaccessible to surgery, he is much more sensitive than the others.
I saw Suhayeb two days earlier. I was visiting the family and he walked me back to the checkpoint. His engagement had been cancelled not long ago and he told me he was still unable to fathom the fact that she cancelled it, and that his heart was broken. He told me he had had this dream that after their wedding, he and his new wife would receive a permit to visit Jerusalem for one whole day. And I thought that Suhayeb doesnít dream of there no longer being a checkpoint or a wall or Occupation or about going to America, because all that is already way out of his dream-range. Rather, he dreams that by some heavenly grace, for his wedding he would be allowed to spend one whole day in Jerusalem. Thatís all. And it was strange, and a bit sad. Although it also wasnít, even though I couldnít explain my own contradictory feelings to myself. He also asked me whether I was on Facebook and I said yes, and felt this silly adult pride with the fact that a young, good looking man like him, his age nearly one-third mine, wants to be my friend on Facebook. When I got home, his invitation was already waiting and naturally I confirmed it immediately. In those two days that passed until his arrest I managed to get some clips from him of good looking singers on Youtube and another film about Qalandiya, and he didnít even know it was a film Tami had made.
Suhayeb? I asked again. And Abu Omar said, yes. They took him. And I asked how it happened or said some other stupid words, and he told me:
My wife said, I think I hear noises outside. I got up, looked through the window, and saw many soldiers. Downstairs by our house, you know the place. But I didnít know whether they were coming to our neighbor or to us.
I told Qassam and Suhayeb to get up, I didnít wake up Nur and Usayid (the smaller children), and looked through the window again. Then I heard, ďopen the door!Ē and went downstairs quickly and opened the door before theyíd break it in.
Three soldiers gripped me right away and began to search me. Then a short fellow came along and said, hello, Abu Omar. Iím Captain Aiman (ďCaptainĒ is the usual appellation of a Shabak Ė Secret Service Ė agent). He held out his hand and asked me, how are you? Heís a Jew but speaks good Arabic.
I answered him Iím alright.
In the meantime the soldiers wanted to come in. I shouted that there are little children in the house, and my wife. Captain Aiman said, donít worry, and told the soldiers to wait.
We went up, he and I, and they followed.
One soldier entered the room where Nur and Usayid were sleeping, and pointed his gun at Nurís head. Umm Omar held him in her hands so he wouldnít be afraid. They told us to hand in our IDs and one of the soldiers took Suhayebís ID and told the Captain in Hebrew, here he is. So I realized they are after Suhayeb.
He told me: you go in with everyone into a room. I said no, if you search my home I need to see. He said, donít worry, you stay and all the rest go into the room.
I stayed, and Captain Aiman said in Arabic, how are you? I said, alright. He said: youíre still working selling cakes? I said, I and Suhayeb and Qassam. He said, still in A-Ram? I said yes, and in Qalandiya, too. Suhayeb works with me, I said, in the municipality and then helps me sell cakes. He asked, why is Suhayeb dressed like this? Because Suhayeb had been sleeping in his clothes. I said, he came home from work and fell asleep. I said, what has he done?
People have talked about him.
I said, not everything people say is true.
Your camp used to be quiet, he said, but now there are lots of people talking about your camp.
I said, not everything you hear is true, some people donít tell the truth. Whoever said this may have lied.
He said: theyíre not lying.
I said, I know my children. I donít go to sleep until every single one of them is home. I know who Suhayeb is.
Tell him to get dressed, give him socks, said Captain Aiman. So I told Suhayeb to get dressed, not to be afraid.
And they began the search. They entered the toilet and then the other room and threw everything down. Everything. All the closets. They looked everywhere, went up to the roof, to the place where we wash our clothes. They threw everything on the floor.
When they wanted to leave, and Suhayeb said I want to go to the bathroom, they said no.
I went to Captain Aiman and told him. He said, no problem, but leave the door open. And thatís what he did.
Then they went out with Suhayeb. And I watched through he window. There were no jeeps. They came on foot.
And the worse thing is that the whole house fell apart. They threw everything on the floor. Even from the fridge. Everything was down. And in the bathroom where the water comes in, they broke everything. They found nothing. I donít know what they were looking for.
And they took our boyÖ
And I thought about them there in the middle of the night, with all the contents of their home on the floor, barefoot perhaps, and about little Nur who is just in the second grade, and about Umm Omar whose son has just been taken from her, and about Qassam who thought they were after him and finally didnít take him, and all the way out here in Jerusalem I could hear the heartbeat of this delicate, fragile boy, even though it doesnít make sense.
In the morning we spoke again, and he told me he had heard another four had been taken with Suhayeb: a son of a man who worked with me, Azuz, you know him. They took another two Ė someone from the Mtir family and another one, I donít know who, and thereís a fifth one to whose home they went. Heís just come out of prison not long ago. They didnít take him, but they gave him a letter.
The next day he told me that Suhayeb called from Ofer prison. By a friendís cell phone, he explained.
And I didnít tell Abu Omar that weíve already noticed, over the years, that when the young ones are arrested, there are always cell phones around, ďhiddenĒ as it were, by which they call home ďon the slyĒ. And obviously these are phones that the authorities plant there in order to listen in and incriminate them. In Suhayebís case I thought it would only do good for the Occupation authorities to listen to this teenagerís blabber who has done absolutely nothing, not even in terms of the Occupation that perceives any just resistance as a crime.
How does he sound? I asked.
Okay, I guess. So far they havenít spoken to him. ButÖ He told me, that when they took him out of the house, they didnít have a vehicle there, they walked. So he tells me, Dad, they hit me. He wanted to share that beating with the whole family. How he was shackled in back and they walked to pick up all the other kids, and they were beating him and swearing at him and his family. And once they kicked him in the legs and he fell on his nose and lost quite a bit of blood, and was bruised, too. And so they kept hitting him all the way until they arrived. Not all the time, sometimes.
Thatís how soldiers are, you know. They hit. Suhayeb tells me they hit him a lot. But thanks God, Dad, Iím strong, he said. Iíll tell you the truth, I knew they would do this. What did Suhayeb think, what would they do to him, give him coffee? Tea? Theyíd beat him up. Thatís what soldiers do. Thatís how it isÖ
Then they went to a settlement and there was a doctor there, and then he went to Ofer.
Iím strong, he told me. Iím strong, Dad.
But Iíll tell you the truth, Aya, what if because of those blows heíll tell them he was with the guy who incriminated him. And the other one also, because of beatings, gave Suhayebís name. Because they scared him. Itís hard there, Aya. Theyíre all just kids. Theyíre made to be afraid. Another thing I worry about is that if they donít find anything theyíll put him under administrative detention once again, like the first time. When they have nothing on someone, they put him under administrative detention.
And again we spoke. Abu Omar said they went to the Red Cross offices and registered Suhayeb so they could go visit him in the future, and they went to Nadi alAseer (The Palestinian Prisonersí Association) to get a lawyer, and were told theyíd be notified about the date of the trial.
He also told me that he spoke with Suhayeb again and he seemed alright.
Abu Omar continued: He told me they sent him to the Shabak, talked to him, told him there that thereís a guy who accuses him. And that Suhayeb told them he doesnít even know him, doesnít care what he says. And the Sahabk told Suhayeb, the guy who talked about you works in the municipality. Suhayeb said, heís on night shifts, I work mornings. I donít know him. And the Shabak said, you wonít sign?
You know how they are over there, they show him a sheet of paper, he has no idea what it is, and they make him sign that he did this and that. And threaten himÖ
But he refused. No, Iím not signing this. If you bring that guy to court Iíll tell him to his face heís lying.
So they said, okay. You say this and weíll send you to the Russian Compound.
Go on and send me, he said. What Iím saying here Iíll say there, too.
He tells me, donít worry Dad.
Until now heís been strong. But itís hardÖ I am worried. Iím worried, Aya. Suhayeb thinks heís big, but heís not. What can I do, Aya? God help us. Only God can help us.
And another day went by. Perhaps it was Saturday. And it was harsh winter outside. And I wondered whether that gray outside was seeping into Abu Omarís bones and veins the way it is into mine, and I thought perhaps this is one of my many privileges. To suffer from the grayness of winter. A privilege he does not have.
And again we spoke. And he told me, last night I woke up twice. I heard such noise, I heard dogs barking, I thought maybe soldiers. My wife said, get up and take a look. And I did get up, twice, once at around 1:30-2 a.m., and again around 3-3:15 a.m. But there was nothing. My wife is afraid now, she doesnít want them to come around again. Last time they rang the doorbell, but I donít know if a second time theyíll break the door in. A door costs a lot of money. A fortune.
And we spoke more, not only about hardship, because thatís how he is, his heart is big. And he insists on asking about me and my life and containing it, no matter what goes on his own life. And I asked about the children.
The children are not too scared, he said. I mean, a bit, but itís alright.
But I did want to explain something to you, Aya. I wanted to explain to you about the people who also had soldiers coming to them on the day they took Suhayeb, some of them had soldiers come to them with dogs. Now, when our children see the dogs, like when Nur was asleep and soldiers came and pointed their guns at him, if he had woken up and seen dogs, he would have been more scared. Yes. If dogs had come, the children would be very frightened. My wife has friends whose children were also Ďvisitedí that night, and she was told: You had an officer come to you, with soldiers, no dogs. We had no officer, we had soldiers with dogs.
So we say thank goodness they didnít come to us with dogs. Thank God, I say, thatís what I say. That they didnít come to our home with dogs. And that they didnít break the door in. Thatís what my wife and I say.
And another few days went by. And the day of the trial arrived. Tuesday, January 17th, 2012, at the Ofer military court. The kingdom of darkness. The place where words run out. But thatís for another story. Because one cannot tell it all. And even what one tells runs over, out of all definition.
We were there at the Ofer military court that day, Tami and I, with Abu Omar and his wife Kifah and the rest of the parents whose boys were arrested along with Suhayeb. And it was difficult. Because thatís how it is there. And there was a moment when Suhayebís attorney stepped out into the area where we were waiting, and explained to us that the fellow who incriminated Suhayeb works with him on the same job, and he was the one detained at Jabaí Checkpoint a few weeks ago when they were on their way back from their night job for the municipality, taking out the garbage, as we already knew. And the other boy claims that in 2006, when Suhayeb was not quite 16-years old, and the incriminator was 9-years old they both belonged to Hamas Youth, and even had weapons. And that is what Suhayeb is charged with.
The lawyer told us that since this whole incrimination is based on the memory of someone who was 9 at the time, there is a chance that Suhayeb will get off without charges, and that is also what actually happened, against all odds.
And in the evening, as the lawyer said, Suhayeb came home. After eight days.
The children are sleeping better now, Abu Omar tells us.
But I know that he isnít. And until he hears everyone breathing, he doesnít shut an eye.
A few days ago we visited the camp again. Lovely Suhayeb was selling cakes, and we hugged him.
How are you, Suhayeb? I asked.
My heart is broken, he said.
And I thought for a moment, great God. And a thousand thoughts clashed in my mind.
And then he said, the girlÖ and took it on from where he spoke with me two days before his arrest. Why doesnít she love me?
What shall I do, Aya? My heart. Itís broken. Do you know what a broken heart is?
And I tried to keep a terribly straight face, and probably succeeded, too.
In hindsight, for me this has an eerie, almost impressive, charm about it. That after prison, and a night arrest, and beatings, and fear, his heart is still broken. Because he is a twenty-year old boy, who has been refused by the girl he loves.
Aya Kaniuk. Translated by Tal Haran