Tales from Baten el-Hawa - Part 1
There were new arrests in Baten el-Hawa, a neighborhood located in the heart of Silwan village. On our way to the house of three recently-imprisoned boys' family we met flocks of youngsters in the streets, recounting stories of Israeli encounters that by now are simply all too familiar. Reminders of the Israeli authorities' role to play in the settlement enterprise are never far here in Silwan - and that such commitments are fulfilled always at the expense of the Palestinians. In the narrow alleys of Baten el-Hawa a 10 year-old girl is playing with her younger siblings, surrounded by waste strewn across the street. These backstreets lack even a sidewalk for pedestrians to walk - or children to play on - away from the danger of traffic. It's a familiar sight throughout Silwan, the streets comprising the only available space for children to spend their time after school. The young girl we meet tells us that she and her brothers and sisters attend a school outside the neighborhood, travelling there every day by foot. We continue our walk to the house of the al-Rajabi family, to meet with the brothers Louay (14) and Suhaib (15), who were themselves arrested by the Israelis last week on August 31 along with a third local boy, aged 15. Close to the house lie two settler-occupied buildings, the illegal construction of "Beit Yonatan" and the annexed "House of Honey". In a dense neighborhood as Baten el-Hawa, where the streets constitute a home for the large youthful population, such settlement outposts constitute perpetual sources of dangerous provocation and harassment. While the Israeli state budget sees fit to allocate vast sums in "security" for these settlements, the basic needs of Baten el-Hawa's Palestinians are forgotten, including (but not limited to) social centers, children's playgrounds and waste collection services. We arrive at the al-Rajabi house, where 14 year old Louay informs us that the Israeli military stormed the family home at dawn on Tuesday. The raid was carried out to deliver an order summoning the two boys to the police station that same morning. They were held on suspicion of involvement in the latest clashes to hit Silwan, on August 26. Said Louay, "that night we were beating drums, to mark the call for suhoor (the traditional meal taken during Ramadan before the sun rises). The same officer who would later detain us saw us that night, knowing we were far from the scene of the clashes. He even joined in the drumming with us." Louay told us that he had been arrested more than ten times previously, and had suffered mistreatment whilst in Israeli detention. He recounted memories of insults, being screamed at and beaten. On the occasion of last week, he had been detained with the two other boys for two days, before the Israeli Magistrate Court ordered the period to be extended to a third day to complete investigations. On the final day investigators concluded that the children had not participated in the events of August 26, and were released thereafter. When asked about his experiences of detention, Louay stated that "no, I was not scared - but I felt very far from my family." With a smile, he added "I also thought that my friends were outside playing while I was stuck in here, arrested." Halfway through our conversation with Louay a small child punctures the dialogue, crying "the soldiers came!" Outside the window we see two soldiers, dressed in helmets and combat fatigues patrolling the streets around the settlement outposts. The mother tells us that it is a daily occurence, saying that "I'm too afraid to let my children out in to the street after school. Never can I let them out there, our neighborhood is simply too dangerous. Yesterday I went to take out the garbage, and a soldier raised his baton to my face and cursed me. I had my child with me - he cursed me with terrible words, right in front of my baby." Zuhair al-Rajabi (38) joins the conversation, remembering an incident from 2003 in Baten el-Hawa. "I was arrested in 2003 by the Israelis. Seven soldiers forced their way in to the house at 5am, arrested me without reason. Panic swept through the area, with neighbors rushing to our home to see what was wrong, but the soldiers let loose round after round of bullets and tear gas grenades to prevent them from approaching. During the clashes they shot my brother - all this in front of my wife and children. I was taken to the police station by force. When I arrived at the station, the officer there told me that the entire arrest was a mistake. He actually apologized for it - after all this!" Zuhair did not know at the time that his father had died that morning as a result of the invasion, after inhaling a lethal amount of tear gas. His brother sustained serious injury as a result of the gunshot wound he received during the attack. The shock impacted critically on all family members. While the family lodged an official complaint to the Israeli courts against the Jerusalem police, the case has been repteatedly stalled since it was opened in 2003, and looks unlikely to be resolved. We knew that the memories recounted to us that day were just a single family's example of life in Baten el-Hawa. With the hour of iftar (the meal taken at sunset to break the fast of Ramadan) approaching and the day drawing to a close, we left the Rajabi home, determined to return again to hear the untold stories of the Baten el-Hawa community.