Middle East

‘I am dreaming of the moment I hug him,’ says Ahmed Al-Manasra´s mother 

Can you imagine what it must be like to know that your child is being kept in solitary confinement, in a room without light and electricity, and without enough food and water? And that he has been there for more than five months? Could you bear to see your child in handcuffs in prison, knowing that he is innocent of the crime of which he is accused?

Palestinian parents know what it feels like because this is what the Israeli occupation authorities do to Palestinian children; the colonial-occupation state has imprisoned 12,000 Palestinian children since 2000, and currently holds around 200, including Ahmed Manasra. Ahmed was just 13 years old when an Israeli judge tried him on “terrorism” charges. He is now almost 21, and is still behind bars, unlawfully detained for seven years. The young man was the focus of local and international media recently following calls for his release from the physical and psychological violence he faces daily at the hands of Israeli prison guards.

He is not alone in suffering psychologically. “For seven years I have lived in a state of terror and anxiety,” Ahmed’s mother, Maysoon, told me. “I can neither eat nor sleep nor continue my life. My mind is always preoccupied with my child and how he is able to endure such conditions.”

Ahmed Manasra was born in 2002 in Beit Hanina in occupied Jerusalem. He has only known Israel’s occupation, checkpoints, soldiers and settlers threatening his family home.

“Ahmed was like a breath of fresh air,” his mother said. “A kind, gentle child. He has never hurt a living thing. They took my son when he was only 13 years old, on the threshold of adult life, when his personality was really starting to develop and blossom. Now his character will be shaped by the prison walls and his jailers.”

The young man was arrested by Israeli forces in 2015, allegedly because he was involved in a knife attack carried out by his 15-year-old cousin, Hasan Manasra, in an occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood. Hasan was shot dead by police, while Ahmad was seriously injured by an Israeli driver; his skull was fractured and he had internal bleeding. Israel is not allowed by law to imprison children aged 14 or under, so the occupation authorities waited for Ahmad to turn 14 before passing sentence: 12 years in prison, reduced later to nine and a half years.

Maysoon Manasra had a chance to see her son for the first time in a year when he made a court appearance on 13 April. “Hello my son, I’m here,” she cried out. “I want to hug you.” She wasn’t allowed to go near him, though.

The boy was beaten, tortured and interrogated by the Israeli security forces. Following much physical and psychological violence, his mental health has deteriorated significantly. He has been isolated since last November; the authorities claim that it is to protect the other inmates from him.

“Every time I see my son,” his mother told me, “I notice marks of torture and suffering on him.” Sometimes, she explained, the phone through which they communicate in the visitors’ room in the prison doesn’t work. With thick glass separating them, they have to resort to hand signals.

Prior to that last court appearance, at which Ahmad’s appeal to be released was to be considered, thousands of people took part in a social media campaign to have him freed. The campaign hashtag #FreeAhmadManasra was launched by legal experts, children’s rights activists and prisoners’ rights groups to raise awareness of his tragic case and to put an end to his suffering.

A court has now dropped the “terrorism” designation of Ahmad Manasra’s case and he is being referred to a parole board. Now his lawyers will file a request for his immediate release because he has served two-thirds of his sentence. A trial date has been set by the court for 26 June, but his mother is calling for his immediate release. “My son needs me, and I know that not being able to meet face to face is hurting him badly.”

During that last court session, Ahmad apparently asked his lawyer if suicide is forbidden. The social media campaign has put such thoughts aside, explained Maysoon. “I am dreaming of the moment when I am able to hug him.”

She is extremely grateful to Ahmad’s supporters on social media, and hopes that they will not get bored and drift away. “Ahmed now has hope, optimism and a renewed love of life because of the campaign. Please, do not forget about him.”

READ: Palestinian minor Manasra suffering psychological disorder in Israel jail

According to Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, “The majority of the [Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel since 2000] were accused of throwing stones, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison under military law.”

That’s right, Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem are subject to military, not civil law. Jewish children, even those living in illegal settlements, are treated differently. That’s one example of the crime of apartheid of which Israel has been accused.

Ahmed Manasra is a Palestinian minor who has grown up in prison. His mother is hopeful that he will not be there for much longer. “Until he is released, though, I appeal to his supporters to keep campaigning,” concluded Maysoon. Given the appalling facts of his situation, I am sure that they will.

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