INTERVIEW: We fought to keep our homes, land and identity: Mother of youngest Palestinian prisoner in Israel's jails

Karem Yehia, Tunis, Sunday 30 Apr 2017

Mother of 14-year-old Shady Farrah talks to Ahram Online about the imprisonment and torture of her son, sheds light on Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike

Mother of shady

More than 1,000 Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails started a hunger strike on 17 April, but there is one detainee, Shady Farrah, who cannot take part in this strike because at 14 he is the youngest among the 6,500 Palestinians in occupation prisons.

Ferihan Derghama, the mother of Shady Farrah, who had not turned 12 when he was arrested by occupation forces in 2015 in Jerusalem, talked to Ahram Online about the plight of her own son and the struggle of Palestinians.

The interview was conducted in Tunisia on the sidelines of the opening of the Palestinian Cultural Center.

What is the reason behind your visit to Tunisia, and have you visited Egypt before?

I was supposed to be in Cairo to attend the Palestinian Prisoners Day at the Arab League on 17 April, and that would have been my first visit.

I sent a request to Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas], but it seems that administrative complications have stalled the visit.

But I will visit Egypt soon. I am sure the Egyptian people stand with us and with me in particular. Egypt has supported the Palestinian cause from the start. There is no denying that.

As for my visit to Tunisia – which is also the first – it is to participate in the opening of the [country's] first Palestinian Cultural Centre.

This is a chance for me to remind supporters of the prisoners’ cause and of my son Shady that we will not forget the Tunisian people standing with us and how they welcomed the Palestinian Liberation Organisation after it left Beirut [in 1982].

What are the social conditions of Shady’s family? And talk to us about his childhood.

We are from occupied Jerusalem and we live in the area of Samiramis.

My husband Nour Farrah works as an electrical technician and the occupation forces ban him from travelling because of the unfair and racist taxes that have accumulated on him.

I work as an employee with the Palestinian Authority administration. I go to work every day, passing dozens of checkpoints on my way to Ramallah.

Our life is complicated and exhausting.

When the separation wall was built, we lost a main source of income; a restaurant and a shop in the area of Al-Ram, at Jerusalem’s northern entrance.

The wall stretched through the area and totally sealed it off. But thank God we are a close-knit family, dedicating our life to raising the three boys and two girls that God gave us.

Shady is our "spoiled" little child. He is our second, and when he was only a few days old he contracted blood borne bacteria and was in a life threatening condition.

We suffered for five years until he was finally cured. I abstained from conceiving during this period because he needed special care.

He could only drink sterilised water and was to be kept away from any possible airborne infection. I took a long vacation despite the family’s difficult economic conditions. I fought for him to recover and live.

I did not have any more children until he nagged me to. He wanted more brothers and sisters.

How was Shady’s life before his arrest?

He was smart and excelled at school, especially in mathematics. We sought to provide him with anything he wanted. He even took up horseback riding lessons at a sporting club.

How was he arrested?

On 30 December 2015, Shady was returning from school (Dar Al-Marifah), which is in the area where we live, east of the old city and only a half kilometre away from Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The area is a hotbed of confrontation between Palestinians from Jerusalem on one side and extremist Orthodox Jews and the occupation guards on the other.

It was the beginning of the “Intifada of Knives,” and not a day passed without a martyr falling or without us hearing of the stabbing of an Israeli.

We were living a fight for survival. We fought to keep our homes, our land and our identity.

The occupation was pressuring us in all ways, direct and indirect, to leave the city. They were trying to eradicate any trace of the Jerusalemites.

If a Jewish child attacked an Arab child, he would go unpunished, but if it’s the other way around, then all hell broke loose.    

On that day, and as the situation was very tense because of a stabbing the day before, Shady was with his school friend Ahmed Zaatari standing near the bus station.

Shady was in first grade and his friend a year older. Beside them stood an extremist Jewish young man who called the police and claimed that he heard them plotting to stab an Israeli soldier.

Ahmed had a knife, which he used to cut fruits and vegetables.

All investigation papers and recordings showed that Shady did not have anything on him and that he raised his arms in surrender once the forces arrived.

The bus station did not even have any soldiers.  

The occupation forces took Shady and Ahmed to the detention centre of Maskoubeya, which is famous for torture.

They interrogated them at first without the presence of a lawyer and without notifying their parents, which is against Israeli law.

The second day we were promised we could take him home with us after paying bail. However, we found that the judge and the prosecution had been changed, and everything changed with them.

The general prosecution said that the two children threatened Israeli security and should be detained during trial.   

We spent a year and four months attending trial sessions for our son Shady, who never confessed to their charges.

There was a trial session or two every month and the pretrial detention was being extended again and again.

With us was leftist Israeli lawyer Lea Tsemil, who is known for her defence of Palestinians in front of Israeli courts since the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

She was the one who brought the video recording from the bus station that proved that the accusations were lies.

Was he tortured?

Yes… in Maskoubeya they tortured him for six days.

They ripped off his clothes in the winter and locked him in a very cold room with an air-conditioner. Even today I ask myself how he could tolerate it. How did he live? I taught my son not to lie and he refused to tell them lies.

When did you first see him after his arrest?

I saw him on the second day [of his detention] in Maskoubeya. He was shivering. I saw blood on his chin. They beat him harshly to force him to give a false confession. They continued torturing him for five more days.

How did the case conclude?

The Israeli judiciary sentenced him in December 2016 to five years in prison, which he is serving now in Tamra prison in Galilee, on the borders with Lebanon and very far from Jerusalem.

We spend three-and-a-half hours on the way to see him, and the visit does not last longer than 45 minutes.

He was also sentenced to another suspended five years under probation.  

Is there an appeal?

We were forced to sign a deal to lower his sentence from a full 10 years. This deal does not allow us to appeal.

Israeli law bans the imprisonment of children under 14. They can only be under house arrest, in their own homes. But this law is only applied to Jewish children and only if their crimes are severe.  

Is he continuing with his studies?

He took the 2016 exam and scored a 98 percent. Last Ramadan he memorised the Quran and was honoured by the Sheikhs of Galilee in a Quran competition.

Shady is now 13 years old and studies for second grade from inside prison. His friend Ahmed was handed the same sentence and is in the same prison, but in a different cell.

You said that he did not join the prisoners’ hunger strike. Why?

Of course, he is still a child.

He talked to me about wanting to join the strike. He said, “I have grown muscles and my body can take it.”

I had to convince him not to, and warned him that if he joins the strike he would steel the spotlight because the media focus will be on him.

We should not be selfish. There are old prisoners, with some over 80. There are women, injured and ill, some with cancer.

When did you last meet him and what did he ask for?

At the start of April I visited him together with his father and siblings. He wants to get out and lead a successful life.

He dreams of becoming a petroleum engineer. He knows that education is our weapon against the occupier. He is a child but he still knows that.

What does he ask for when you visit him?

He likes car games and small animals. He also asks for chocolate and chips.

He used to take care of street cats and bring them home, treats those that are injured and feeds others. But they do not allow raising cats in prison.

As Shady's mother, what do you wish for?

To hug Shady and live with him his daily life at home, as it used to be.

I wake up every day and imagine that I’m helping him tie his shoes. He doesn’t know how to tie his shoes. I think he still doesn’t know how to tie his shoes.

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