An Old Man and a Young Woman
..there is no apparent connection between the two, except for the fact that their stories are symbols of the essence of Israeli evil in the territories
20 September 1998
Manal al-Atrash is a 17-year-old girl; Ahmed Hamdan is an 81-year-old man. Both are hospitalized. Other than that, there is no apparent connection between the two, except for the fact that their stories are symbols of the essence of Israeli evil in the territories. Manal is a pretty young woman whose youth could have been spent peacefully. Her father works at a shoe factory and she has nine brothers and sisters, for whom she is like a second mother.
On three occasions, Manal has watched as soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces and representatives of the civil administration demolished her house. Three times she saw her parents trying to resist the demolition with their own bodies, and three times she saw soldiers dragging them on the floor, beating them until they bled, humiliating them in front of their children and finally taking them away to detention, leaving behind 10 children and a demolished home.
Manal cannot forget the sights. She also never could simply stand by. Last April, I saw soldiers beating her up when they came with representatives of the civil administration to confiscate a small cement mixer. Manal was hospitalized them, vomiting blood. For a long time after that I could still see the emotional scars that the trauma etched in this girl.
Last Thursday a jeep of paratroopers drove by the ruins of Manal's house, on the side of a rocky hill in south Hebron. The IDF spokesman said they were on a routine patrol. It was dusk, the parents were not at home and Manal was watching her younger brothers.
Did I say home? It was a canvas shelter in which they have been living since the destruction of their third house.
Manal saw the soldiers approaching, and maybe she got scared. Maybe she thought they were coming to destroy again, maybe they brought back memories. The IDF spokesman says she started throwing stones at them - perhaps one of the rocks broke the jeep's mirror.
Palestinian neighbors say nothing of the sort happened. In an interview with her this past weekend in the newspaper Al-Ayyam, Manal said a soldier got out of the jeep and started beating her with no provocation.
Whatever happened, the paratroopers used force on the 17-year-old and Manal again was cruelly beaten. By evening she was rushed to the hospital in Hebron and has been hospitalized since.
No less cruel is the story of the old man. Eighty-one-year-old Ahmah Madian worked his entire adult life as a guard for UNRWA. In the winter of his days, he wanted to bequeath an apartment to another one of his eight children. He added a single story to his house in Silwan.
His son, Madian Hamdan, says the Jerusalem municipality refused to grant his father a building permit. In 1993, Hamdan finished building the additional floor to his house, still the lowest house in the crowded alley where they live.
In 1997, the municipal inspectors arrived, and legal proceedings began, leading to a fine of NIS 100,000, expected to be followed, of course, by the demolition of the second floor. The son says the family does not have that much money - not even if they pay in installments.
The Jerusalem judge dealing with local matters, Shlomo Bar Eli, was impatient. When Hamdan's lawyer asked for a time-out to try to raise bail money from Hamdan's sons, Bar Eli said the police were busy and no more time could be wasted. He scolded Hamdan's sons and ordered the 81-year-old man - whom the police doctor had described as a "a sick man who needed nursing care and could not remain in detention and had to be transferred directly to the welfare department of the prison authority," to 1,000 days in prison in exchange for the fine that he could not pay.
The old man, who is not likely to live another 1,000 days, was hospitalized in the prison authority medical center at the Ayalon Prison. Over the weekend he phoned his sons, begging them to get him out of there.
Over the weekend, across the alley from the Hamdan residence in Silwan I saw an intimidating iron gate, through which jeeps were coming and going.
A raggedy Israeli flag indicated that the premises were purchased by the Elad movement, the converters of the village to Judaism.
When the gate opened, I stepped in. A muscular guard from a private security company funded by the government drove me away rudely. But before I was banished, I noticed a wooden shack built on the land. A wooden shack in Jerusalem, where construction is only allowed with Jerusalem limestone?
Municipality Spokesman Hagai Elias, said, "the issue is in legal proceedings."
Will these proceedings also lead to a NIS 100,000 fine and throwing an 81-year-old man into prison for 1,000 days? Will law-enforcing soldiers come here, too, to beat up a 17-year-old girl whose parents were beaten and humiliated in front of her eyes?
On New Year's Eve these stories should be making us lose sleep.