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Egon Schiele

A Bottle of Juice

We travel "The Apartheid" road 443. Turn right towards Ofer military court. Park in a small parking lot. Open a creaking metal gate. To the left is a barbed wire fence behind which Palestinians are crowded together, family members of detainees. Lawyers in white shirts and black ties pass us by, occasionally, entering through an electrically controlled gate. Some of the family members sneak a look at us. I try to show them that I am no part of this place. My heart is here, my eyes try to say, with you, not with them, I am different, in spite of my obvious privileges.
The area where the families wait is a small filthy lot. Some benches. A few potholes. And the back wall, under a pergola, contains storage lockers. Family members are required to pay 5 shekels to place their belongings inside – they must not take anything with them into the court beside money and cigarettes. Not even food for the long hours they will be waiting for their son’s turn. Or something to read, nor something to wipe away the tears when they flow – Five shekels which will not be refunded.
Is it some sinister diligence, I wonder at times, that has sought and found lockers whose mechanism does not refund the deposit?
“Get back!” the voice of an invisible soldier bellows from the loudspeaker. “Back!” A few men standing closer to the jail gate leapt backward, startled. And looked around them. “Back, back!” the invisible soldier bellowed again. And so again they move backward, nowhere. Where to? Ask their eyes. They look around them, worried.
”Back, back!” the voice repeats, scathing the quiet. A heavy-looking woman wrings her hands.
I notice many women among the waiting crowd. Mothers, I assume. More and more mothers. Unmistakable stress lines their faces. Some of them are very young. How old can their sons be?… “Back!”… the soldier’s voice colors the universe and our thoughts.
We entered. Our path is different. We are human rights, Israelis, Jewish, foreign, anything that is not Palestinian. This is our uniqueness, our separateness, our visibility, our rights.
We go through inspection. Metal detectors. More metal detectors. Then a manual search. We spread our arms. Our pockets contain money, cigarettes, a writing pad, a pen, tissues, candy.
Suddenly one of the occupation soldiers says to one of us, to Nitza, it feels uncomfortable letting you take in candy while I don’t let them. He says this to her with a strange, automatic, racial intimacy.
“Why can’t they?” I ask, in a show of innocence.
“Because chewing gum was once stuck under a seat” said the soldier.
I don't bother to ask, if one person stuck a piece of chewing gum under a seat, how does that reflect on everyone? Does that mean everyone has to be punished? And why do you think this deed is ethnic-origin related? How do you know that I, unlike them, won't do it? Is there some inherent trait in me that would prevent me from doing what they did? And who are they?
I know the answer, after all, which is no answer at all. It’s because they, the Palestinians, are the other. Different. Less. They who have no face or proper name. They who are not a who but a what.
But I said nothing. Kept my upright protest for other moments. I consoled myself with the fact that he had said nothing about my tissues. Which I would be able to offer the Palestinian mothers, who are not allowed to take inside.
Is it because they are not allowed to cry? For if they wept, one would, necessarily, have to consider that they had a reason?
The case against the 20-year old defendant was routine. He was suspected of preparing a Molotov cocktail – namely a plastic soda bottle containing a rag dipped in gasoline. He was arrested in the middle of the night, taken from his home in Hussan village, and had been in custody already for a month, because they claimed his fingerprint was found on the said bottle.
The discussion took place in courtroom no. 7. A small room. An unbelievable amount of people coming in and out. The soldier-interpreter sits with his legs sprawled, busy with his smartphone. The prosecutor seems to be a reservist. His hair is straight and longish. Four young Palestinian men sit on the defendants’ bench, wearing brown prison garb, metal chains hang between their feet.
A dosing female soldier sits next to them on a chair.
I don’t complain about her napping, on the contrary: the fact that she is not quite doing her main job - which is to watch out with a changing degree of steadfastness depending on personal temperament for the parents’ attempts to exchange silent words with their sons in stolen moments of the many remand sessions - makes me more than pleased. When vigilant, this female soldier - as part of her job, when awake, of course - would say to them: Stop! No more talking. As, of course, it is most strictly forbidden for parents to approach their sons, to touch them or speak so that their words would be heard. Only hushed whispers, and only to a point.
Therefore, on this day, the soldier’s blessed dozing-off enabled a mother to murmur heavy, excited words to her son, who is sitting next to the fellow whose case was being discussed just then; various regards from people, and whether he was getting enough to eat, which earned his dismissive, adolescent smile. And something about a wedding, and whether he was warm enough, and so on.
Sleep on and on, I, voicelessly, lullaby the tired soldier, so that the mother could go on murmuring to her son; a few more words.
Prosecutor: “I request keeping the defendant in custody until the end of the legal proceedings in this case… The witnesses on behalf of the prosecution are the soldiers who found the Molotov cocktail…”
Defense Attorney: “Even if a fingerprint was found, my client explained, that perhaps, he drank some juice from that bottle, he doesn’t know for sure. Either way there is no grounds for arrest for there is no evidence.”
Prosecutor: "My colleague is right in claiming strictly circumstantial evidence. But, in a different criminal case all the judges were unanimous about the possibility of convicting a defendant by force of circumstantial evidence against him, and said, for example, that an immobile object is a different matter than a mobile object. And here we have a mobile object… Two other fingerprints of two other defendants were found. Both have a criminal record. And they also live in the same area as the defendant. And this strengthens the evidence…”
Words keep hopping around the room like soap bubbles.
The judge is pleasant looking. Not young. He speaks most courteously, not taking too seriously the bustle of soldiers constantly going in and out of the courtroom. He is so open-minded and modern that he doesn’t even intervene with the fact that the interpreter is mostly busy with playing around with his smartphone, facebook, whatsup, chat about outer space, who knows…In the meantime the interpreter is not translating anything into Arabic so that the detainee and his family, none of whom understand Hebrew, would understand what is being said pertinent to their case.
Who is he, our judge, to bother these youngsters who protect us against all evil. So what if the female-soldier is bored. Let her doze off a bit. So what if when she wakes up she’ll have a go at the parents. Surely she should take it out on those parents. What are parents for after all? Granted, they’re not her own parents, true they’re Palestinians, but parents are parents, after all.
Judge’s ruling: “I have here the request to prolong the defendant’s custody until all legal proceedings in his case are done. He has been accused of weapons production. Namely, on July 19…, he said to have held a Molotov cocktail. It is agreed upon by both the prosecution and the defense that the only piece of evidence linking him to the violation attributed to him is a single fingerprint found on the bottle. The defense attorney fairly stated that the Molotov cocktail was prepared and found more or less in the vicinity of the defendant’s home. The defendant denies any involvement that has been attributed to him. He says he could have possibly drunk from a juice bottle and thrown it away, and someone else had taken the empty bottle and done whatever was done with it. All of this because the defendant has not produced or hurled a Molotov cocktail. I (the judge) believe there is reasonable doubt as to his guilt as early as this stage. Indeed, no evidence soundly links the defendant to the production of the Molotov cocktail and therefore, at this stage I do not find any evidence against him as it were. Although I am aware of the defendant’s criminal record, having thrown stones three years ago, and even having served a prison sentence for this violation, and freed as a result of the Shalit prisoner exchange, still this is not sufficient to justify keeping him in custody. Therefore I rule to free the defendant.”

I now take the liberty to stop for a moment and consider what has just been uttered. The judge here has spoken words that are proper. "Legal". "White" and "Jewish". A person of any color or gender is supposed to be held innocent until proven otherwise. There is no evidence but the one circumstantial fact which the judge finds not sufficient. And the defendant is not admitting guilt. He is not even incriminated – albeit incrimination should not be considered proper evidence. His record comprises merely their claim that he had thrown stones three years ago and served a prison sentence, and therefore his fingerprints are on record. And here, the judge – justly – minimizes his previous violation. A 17-year old boy who threw stones at an occupier. And this judge states it to be irrelevant.
And furthermore, the Molotov cocktail was not thrown and did not explode, otherwise how could it have been found and revealed fingerprints? Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that not only this young man’s fingerprint is on that bottle, a fingerprint that happens to appear in the database, but so do fingerprints of those who manufactured that bottle at the factory, as well as the delivery personnel who delivered it to the grocery, and the kid who helped unload the crates, and the grocer, and the cleaning woman, and occasional customers at the grocery, even mine perhaps – I too visited Hussan on occasion, and presumably bought or at least touched some bottled soft drink at some time, as I deliberated whether or not to buy it. And after all, the honored judge was not going to subpoena all of us, as well as myself, to be taken into custody at Ofer because our fingerprints were found on some soft drink bottle.
“Therefore, the defendant should be released but in order to secure his reporting for trial”, the judge continues.
“I instruct his release under the following conditions: a cash deposit of 3500 NIS, commitment to bail of 5000 NIS – these two conditions must be complied with in order to release him. Further review of this case: October 10…”
May you be sent to the Hague I wished him in my heart. You Judge with your pleasant tone of voice. So enlightened. What about a person being innocent until proven guilty? You yourself admitted there was no evidence of his guilt, and still you rule that he be tried? In court? Why?
Simple: because the judge, like all the others, is a mere cog in an ideology machine – serving the occupation – a machine that has an excellent strong arm disguised as a court of law. And, therefore, the judge, and all the others, do not consider the innocence of this or that person because that is not what they are supposed to examine. The court is an arm of occupation, their roles identical. To oppress and control, harass and rob. No wonder, that there are only guilty persons in this court. That most trials end with plea bargains. That in these hallowed halls of inherent injustice plea bargains are often the most practical thing to seek, even if the defendants have done nothing, even in the eyes of the occupation.
Therefore, he will be tried, and will, probably, even be found guilty. Of something. Because there are no innocent Palestinians. Neither they nor their families. They are guilty until proven otherwise. For their guilt is a function not of their deeds, but of their essence.
“The prosecution has the right to appeal until…” The young man rises; the female warden shakes out of her doze, gets up, signals him to hold out his hands, and shackles them. He takes leave from his father – with a look – and doddles out of the room, escorted by the soldier who nudges him forward.
I followed his father, who went out, down the stairs, despondently, then he turned to me, and we spoke a bit.
“Everything is so hard,” he said. “Do you supposed, they'll refund the money deposit? They won't. They’ll take the money either way. Whether my son sits in jail or not, they’ll take the money. The money is gone. And he has not done anything. But for them that doesn’t count. They make him out to be a criminal because that’s what they want. Like they did to me. I am prevented, forbidden to enter Israel. But what can I do? I have to work. So I was caught. Now I am on probation. What have I ever done to them? I went to work. I want to work, for them, that’s a crime. I want to live, that’s a crime. They make us into criminals. They do not want good people. It’s not good for them, a good person. This judge is all words. Why do they make my son guilty? Why? He didn’t do anything, my son. Nothing at all.”
“In their eyes he is guilty because he is Palestinian” I told him. “That’s all. It has nothing to do with what he did or did not do. It is all the same to them. Because they do not want peace. Nor justice. Just to put their boots on top of your heads. They make you into criminals so they can go on hurting you and stealing from you, and saying it’s in the law.”
The bitter and worried face of the father from Hussan opened up and brightened. He really looked at me, and smiled. “Yes, exactly. Yes” he said. And smiled again.
I wondered why my words had made him so happy. I think, perhaps because I told him in my own way – yes, you’re right. A terrible injustice is inflicted on you and your son and everyone. You are the victim and they; the guilty perpetrators. The criminals.
At least I had called it for what it is. I had accused the assailants. I contained – that is the most he could expect between the river and the sea.
“Come by some time, we’ll have something to drink,” he said. A nice man. We exchanged phone numbers. Hussan village is so near. Surely I’ll have a soft drink there. And I’ll throw away the bottle. And perhaps a boy will find it who will want to hurl it at the occupation forces that harass him and make his life impossible. And that will be his way of saying no. Of saying go away. Leave me alone. Get out of here, of my home, my land, my blood.
And then the occupation forces will find his fingerprints on the bottle, as well as others’, who have touched it along its way, as well as my own. Others, who are not necessarily those of him who hurled.
And indeed, those fingerprints, can not necessarily be evidence, another soft-spoken and polite judge will be saying, but they – or others who touched the bottle, or threw it – will nevertheless be arrested.
Not me; no chance for me to be arrested. Not me.
So what if my own fingerprints are there on that bottle. After all, I am innocent unless proven otherwise, after all a single fingerprint is no evidence.
After all, I am not a Palestinian, and that is the whole story.

Aya Kaniuk, December 2014.
Translated by Tal Haran.

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