“Olmert, I Want My Daddy!”

By Mohammed Omer

Young Maria Ismail Abu Jaser holds a picture of her imprisoned father at a Dec. 3 demonstration in front of the International Red Cross office in Gaza City. (Photo M. Omer).

STRETCHING HER short arms above her head while balancing on a chair, 7-year-old Jumana Abu Jazar struggles to loop the picture wire around a rusty nail protruding from the wall. Shifting her weight, she spoke, her delicate voice amplified as it bounced off the wall.

“My mother died and I have no brothers and sisters,” she stated matter-of-factly, biting her lower lip and cocking her head to match the picture’s tilt. “My father is in jail, in an Israeli jail where he is forced to live in a dark cell.”

She paused for a moment to inspect her handiwork, caressing an embroidered pendant hanging around her neck, a gift her father made her.

“I saw my daddy once,” she chimed, satisfied she had hung the picture of her father straight. Kissing it lightly, she continued, “But now I can’t see my daddy for security reasons.”

Her eyes clouded over and her voice sank into a puzzled whisper.

“When I go to see him,” she repeated in semi-disbelief, “I’m always denied for security reasons.”

Guilty of Being Palestinian

Together with her grandmother, Umm Ala’a, who is in her late 60s, Jumana lives in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. According to Umm Ala’a, Jumana’s father “was arrested by Israeli occupation forces in 2001 on his way back through the Rafah border. He was accompanying his father, who had received medical treatment abroad. An Israeli judge sentenced him to 18 years.

“He is accused of being Palestinian,” she said raggedly, the tears falling freely as she attempted to regain her composure. “This [arrest and imprisonment] is a ‘life tax’ that almost everyone must pay in Palestine.”

If her father serves his full sentence, Jumana will be 19 years old when Israel releases him. Six years after his arrest, the charges against him remain ambiguous.

The Palestinian life tax refuses to play favorites—snaring diplomats, leaders, professors, doctors and others in its net. Even journalists are not immune. In May 2005, while traveling to work in the West Bank, Ahmad Abu Haniyah, youth coordinator for the Alternative Information Center, a 20-year project of Israeli and Palestinian journalists, was arrested by Israeli occupation forces and imprisoned for two years under administrative detention—meaning he was neither charged nor tried, and had only minimal visits with an attorney. Abu Haniyah was fortunate, however, since he was not subjected to torture and interrogation during his incarceration. In May 2007 he was finally released, but to this day, Israeli authorities have given no reason for his arrest.

Orphans of Israel’s Life Tax

Whether for a few weeks, several years, or a decade or more, the removal of parents from their children’s lives for no reason by occupation authorities deprives Palestinian spouses, children and grandparents of essential familial support. Many children are rendered quasi-orphans and plunged further into poverty. Most often it is fathers and eldest sons—the family heads and primary wage earners—who are detained and whisked off to prisons. Nearly every Palestinian family has experienced the detaining by Israeli occupation forces of a family member or close friend. Few ever learn why their loved ones are taken, and many of the released prisoners return as mere shadows of their former selves, damaged psychologically or physically. Some, of course, never return.

Although Israel occasionally releases a few hundred prisoners as a “gesture of goodwill,” it typically selects prisoners due to be released shortly anyway. This plays well internationally, but benefits few Palestinians. Indeed, the number of prisoners arrested and detained continues to increase on a weekly basis, and by December 2007 had reached 10,400.

Vigil for the Interned

Arrested when he was 21, Atia Abu Mussa has lost the past 14 years of his life, interned at Nafha desert prison. His mother hopes for his release. Each Monday, prisoners’ friends and family members gather outside the International Red Cross office in Gaza City to hold a nonviolent vigil for their loved ones. Abu Mussa’s mother comes as often as possible. Today she clutches her son’s photo to her chest. “I would love to see him, if only for a moment,” she pleaded. “We haven’t been allowed to visit him for many years now,” she explained, still unsure why he’s been sentenced to 99 years.

A few meters away, Ramdan Al Baba, 60, stood with a photo of his 29-year-old son Shadi. “My son was arrested,” Al Baba stated. “He worked at President [Yasser] Arafat’s compound in Ramallah in 2003. There are no accusations. His crime is his job. He was a guard for President Arafat.”

His frustration at Israel’s Kafkaesque system was evident on his face as Al Baba continued, “Since last week my son has been on a hunger strike in prison—since last week. They are living in dire conditions.”

Standing next to him, Zaki Al Masri interjected, “Throughout the holy month of Ramadan, our sons were given only bread and tea to eat.”

Like Al Baba, Al Masri joins the protestors each week, hoping to free his son Rami Al Masri, interned without charges or trial in Israel’s notorious Ashkelon Prison since the spring of 2006. At home his son’s wife and three children struggle to survive. “I have not seen him at all,” the father lamented. “I can’t even send him a letter.”

Administrative Detention vs. Habeas Corpus

The principle of habeas corpus (literally “bring forth the body”) is a right guaranteed by the Geneva Convention regarding prisoners of war—which is why Israel describes the thousands of Palestinians it has detained as security threats. That is also the reason it cites for its border closures, incursions and targeted assassinations. According to habeas corpus, a person detained or arrested must be told what they are accused of and why they are being held, and to be given the opportunity to retain and meet with counsel. Essentially, habeas corpus ensures due process. If the charges are valid—i.e., if there is sufficient evidence—the accused person goes to trial. If not, he or she must be freed.

Israel circumvents granting the right of habeas corpus to Palestinian prisoners via a draconian measure euphemistically described as administrative detention, whereby it can arrest, torture and imprison a person without cause, without trial and without conviction. A person can be held for six months under administrative detention—but the sentence can be renewed indefinitely. Currently 863 Palestinians have been held for 15 years or more under administrative detention.


Torture and confessions obtained through torture are still common practice in Israel. According to Israeli human rights groups, Shin Bet security forces regularly use torture on Palestinian prisoners. A report published recently by B’Tselem and HaMoked, The Center for Defense of Individuals, documented the experiences of 73 prisoners arrested between July 2005 and March 2006. It found that the Shin Bet routinely used “beatings, painful binding, back bending, body stretching and prolonged sleep deprivation” on Palestinian prisoners. Each of these tactics, according to the report, constitutes torture under international law.

In a telephone interview Yezekhel Lein, author of the report and head of B’Tselem’s research department, addressed the issue of disparate treatment of those incarcerated in Israeli jails and prisons.

“Factually, the conditions are different,” he stated. “There is discrimination in how Palestinian prisoners and Israeli prisoners are treated.”

Meanwhile, 7-year-old Jumana anticipates the day of her father’s release, writing “I love you daddy” over and over in her notebooks. Looking up for a moment at the adults conversing with each other, the little girl casually inquired, “Why is my daddy in jail?”

Drawing in her breath, her grandmother whispered, “He’s in jail because of the Israeli occupation.”

The young girl sat up, her eyes expressing her confusion.

Her grandmother clarified, “It is Israel, Olmert’s occupation.”

“Olmert?” the 7-year-old child repeated. “Olmert, I want my daddy!”


  1. med said,

    February 26, 2008 at 07:21

    No comment! o may be just a quick one:
    what if she were your daughter?

  2. j.c. said,

    February 26, 2008 at 12:01

    The zIONIST view…

    She’s not a human child, but a calf of the goyim cattle.

  3. Joe Pavone said,

    February 26, 2008 at 18:46

    comments above like saying the little girl is a calf of the goyim cattle is a disgusting racist statement that will come back to the perpetrator like a fresh dose of xyklon-b.

%d bloggers like this: