Free the Hares Boys

Six months on, the five Hares boys remain in jail and the international campaign demanding their release is underway.

In my previous posts I anonymised the names of most people, but as the names of the boys and their families are now in the public domain, I have changed this. For those of you who have been reading up till now, Karim’s real name is Ali Shamlawi, and his parents (who I called Um and Abu Fares) are Um and Abu Fadi. Um Fadi is also known as Nema Shamlawi, and she was recently interviewed by Al-Jazeera. The other boys are Mohammed Kleib, Mohammed Suleiman, Ammar Souf, and Tamer Souf (Ammar and Tamer are cousins). They are all in the same class at school. There are pictures of all five boys and their families on the website set up to demand their release.

This is Um and Abu Fadi describing the night that Ali was taken:

The first international demonstration demanding the release of the boys happened in London and was attended by the footballer and hunger striker Mahmoud Sarsak. Mahmoud first became famous playing for the Palestinian national team, until 2009 when he was arrested and held without charge for three years. He began a hunger strike in March 2012 and his case attracted international attention; Eric Cantona, Noam Chomsky, Ken Loach and UEFA president Michel Piantini all called for his release, which happened eventually on July 10th last year. In person he is gentle, and shy when speaking English, but very powerful when on a platform speaking Arabic.
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One of the difficulties in publicising the boys’ case in the UK is how much is lost in translation. We tend to adopt the language the Israelis use; we say that the boys have been ‘arrested’ and that they are due for ‘court hearings.’ We are used to the idea (at least in theory anyway) that if someone is arrested or put on trial, it’s because there is reasonable grounds to suspect them of something. There is also a perception that Palestinians are exceptionally prone to violence, so this tends to leave a cloud of suspicion over five boys who have been arrested and put in prison.

In fact, it is far from accurate to say that the boys have been ‘arrested’ in the sense that most people understand it. The army did not give the boys a reason for taking them away. Usually, if a gang of armed men descend on your home at night and take you away in a jeep, blindfold and still in your pyjamas, we call it abduction.

I try to picture the headlines in the UK if five boys from the same class at school were abducted from their beds and held, for months on end, being abused. I imagine the sense of outrage against the perpetrators, the expressions of sympathy for devastated, sobbing parents who just want their children to be returned to them.

It’s also slightly misleading to say the boys are due for ‘court hearings.’ These are not really courts and the boys have little chance of being ‘heard.’ Operated by an enemy army and held in a language the boys don’t understand, this system makes no pretence of being equal or fair. Israeli civilians are not tried in these courts and people are frequently convicted on the basis of ‘secret evidence’ that their lawyers don’t have access to.

The Al-Jazeera investigation found that there are no eyewitness accounts to say that the car accident was caused by throwing stones – the prosecution’s case rests solely on insurance claims and the boys’ ‘confessions,’ which the boys have said were made under duress. It is well documented that Palestinian minors are forced to sign confessions and in any case, five young boys all confessing to attempted murder by stone-throwing should raise suspicions.

This practice of arbitrary arrests, administrative detention and kangaroo courts has little to do with preventing crime and punishing criminality. By all appearances it is just a strategy for keeping men and boys of fighting age out of the way, or at least, subdued.