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דיווחים מהכלא
reports from prison

Hard Life

Waleed,” said the judge.

Waleed got up. He was wearing a brown prison uniform. A 50-cm long iron chain dangled between his feet, connecting his iron-shackled, bare ankles.

The judge gestured and he sat down, heavily. A man in his late thirties, thin, sun-burnt, his hands rough and calloused.

In the courtroom sat an elderly man wearing a white head-kerchief (Kaffiyeh); his father, whose gaze sought his son's in vain.

A short silence. The judge leafed through her papers.
Time passed.

Waleed slowly raised his face, looked around and saw his father. The father, immediately, got up and took a single step towards his son.

The muscular warden sitting on the prisoners’ bench next to Waleed leapt up.
“Sit down now!” the warden barked at the old man in Hebrew, his hand pointing down.

Clearly, the father did not understand. He tried to look at his son over the shoulder of the warden, who purposely, stood in the way. “I’m speaking to you nicely,” the warden continued to scold him in Hebrew, his hand sculpting the body of the father and pushing it away.

The father understood and stepped back.

Waleed lowered his eyes, hanging his head, and the father sat down again, heavily, and hung his head. The same heaviness emanated from father and son.

The door opened and all eyes were raised, except those of Waleed and his father.
A soldier entered, she smiled at the young soldier-interpreter sitting in the corner who smiled back. She went over to the warden’s position; he saluted and exited.
She sat down and stretched her legs in front of her; boredom visibly taking over her young body.
For a moment she cast a blank glance about her, and then at her wine-lacquered fingernails.
She did not look at Waleed, who sat next to her. The chain hanging between his ankles moved a bit, but he was looking at nothing; collapsed into himself.

“Have we got a plea?” the judge’s voice tore into the space. The soldier stirred, looked around for a moment, then yawned again broadly as she pondered her nails.
An affirmative grunt was heard both from the defense attorney and from the uniformed prosecutor.

“Fine,” said the judge. “What we have left here, I see, is a violation of a closed area order… Yes, Waleed,” she turned to Waleed who did not look at her, “you entered Israel twice illegally in order to work. Please translate,” she asked the interpreter who was busy with his smartphone.

“The defendant has already been jailed for 35 days” she continued, and the interpreter repeated her words with some unfocused mumbling.

“He feeds a whole family… people are ill… no money… Why didn’t you apply for a permit? I don’t understand,” she said to Waleed in an accusing tone. “I don’t understand”…

Didn’t she get it?
Is your honor blind? Willfully blind.
Thousands of employment-seekers have already faced her. Day after day she sees people just like Waleed. Destitute.
All they are looking for is work. Not even she suspects them of any other intention. And they are caught by the Occupation forces after venturing out of their homes into the night, risking their safety in the attempt to flee the trigger-happy soldiers, because they have no other way to make a living. To put bread on the table.

“A permit costs money,” said the interpreter, suddenly efficient and involved. In jest, so it seemed. The fate-weighing judge was not amused, but the soldier, who revived once again, was, and she gave him a friendly smile.

The soldier interpreter was right, more than he realized. A permit does cost money, and only money – or collaboration – will get one. A lot of money paid to all sorts of types, who can get into the computer and alter the prevention criteria.
For there is no straight and narrow way for Waleed to obtain a permit. The straight and narrow is the way of the Occupation. According to the straight and narrow everything is done so he will not be able to work; the reason being that it is a basic necessity. Precisely for that.

“Sitting in jail will also cost him money,” said the judge, monstrously ignorant. Or perhaps this too was said in jest.

Either way, clearly, for her, Waleed is not a real person. Just like all the others, who aren't. Otherwise she could not spend days and months and years taking part in fating human beings according to flawed and inappropriate criteria, whereby a person is guilty, unless proven innocent, if the person is a Palestinian.
In a system where a man seeking work in order to feed his children and care for his ill family, and hurts no one, is a criminal; Waleed is a criminal, by definition of the law.

“The sentence,” she concluded. “The defendant is convicted by his own admission of having entered Israel twice without a lawful permit. The defendant sustains a large family, his mother and brother are very ill. His father is old. And they have no means of obtaining permits to enter Israel, lawfully. And still he entered without a permit.
After deliberation, I have ruled that he be imprisoned for 35 days, the number of days he has already spent in prison. One month suspended sentence for a year, and a fine of 1500 NIS or 45 days in custody in kind.”

The father stood up, the soldier sprang up towards him. The judge gestured to her that it was alright.

“Speak,” said the judge to the father, who remained standing, while the interpreter translated.

“That is a lot of money,” said the broken father. And said no more.

“That is, precisely, the reason for this punishment,” the friendly-faced Jewish judge explained to him didactically. Indicating that that was why she had meted out such light punishment; this was her gift to him from the heights of her generosity.

The father sat down, heavily. This time he did not seek his son’s face.

Apparently, the situation at home is unbearable; everyone’s fate depends on Waleed.

The soldier and the interpreter continued to exchange their youthful, blooming, yet still blank looks.

I am sorry, said the father’s collapsed body. And he did not raise his face.

“Yes, who’s next?” asked the judge. And the soldier got up, lightly pushing Waleed with her hand. He rose slowly. She waited. He held out his hands in a motion familiar to both of them, as she placed iron shackles on his wrists. He took a last look at his bent and shamed father who did not return it.
Waleed was led out of the courtroom.

The father raised his head, suddenly, realizing that Waleed was no longer there. His eyes rested on the exit from which his son had gone out, looking lost and endlessly sad. Then he got up and left, too. No one cast a glance at his direction.

The door at the front of the court hall opened and three young men wearing brown prison uniforms entered, feet and hands shackled. For a moment injustice colored the room, and cast a shadow over the judge, the lights were dimmed and she was rendered grey and superfluous as she really is, she and everything she stands for.

And we, the privileged, who moved about this dark kingdom, free and entitled by the same warped, inherent logic, the same racism at whose one end is one ethnic origin - with a face and visibility, and at whose other end there is an often faceless ethnic origin - transparent human beings or enemies.

For they are all, at one and the same time, transparent and guilty: they who are in prison, they who come to visit them, their families, the ones back home, and they, who are not yet born.

For they are Palestinians. And that is the whole story.

Aya Kaniuk, October 2014

Translated by Tal Haran

Isa, father of an
illegal alien


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