Beit Ummar is a town eleven kilometres northwest of Hebron in the Hebron Governorate, Palestine. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2007estimated it had a population of 13,348 residents with more than 4,800 under the age of 18. Since the Second Intifada, unemployment has been between 60 to 80% because residents can no longer work in Israel and an economic depression in Palestine. Part of the town straddles Road 60 which is heavily used as a North-South route, due to which some house demolitions by occupation authorities have taken place. Beit Ummar is mostly agricultural and is known for its grape vines. Popular local culinary tradition includes stuffed grape leaves known as ‘Waraq al-inib’ and grape syrup called ‘Dibs’. Fields are very fertile and the town also has cherry, plum, apple and olive orchards.
This quiet town is also where Riad Zaaqiq Arrar lives with his family, wife Fayza Arrar, children Meelad , Noor, Amro, Tariq and Rayan. He’s Director of Protection & Social Mobilisation Programmes, Defence for Children International Palestine which is a human rights agency working with children and young people across the country. On 3 August at 330am Riad, his wife and children were woken by the sound of occupation soldiers breaking down the front and back doors to their home, shouting, acting aggressively and in a threatening manner to scare the family. When family members came out their bedrooms there were about 17 soldiers in the house, with masks which hid their identity, with more soldiers outside with dogs. The soldiers arrested Noor, Riad’s oldest son who is 19 years old. After they’d secured his arms behind his back with plastic ties his younger brother aged Amro aged 11 became very distressed and was threatened with a rifle being pointed at his chest. The soldiers shouted, acting aggressively and in a threatening manner to scare the family. Riad insisted on having the name and number of the commanding officer, informing the soldiers that he works for international human rights organization. Ignoring Riad’s request, the soldiers took Noor away against his will, dragged him away and took him Askalan Interrogation Centre. Before the soldiers left Riad was given a document to attend an interview with Captain Leron at Gush Etzion settlement last week. When he arrived at the settlement he was told to wait outside with no shelter from the heat. Four hours later Riad was told to go home because there was no need to question him. Noor remains in administrative detention where he is not allowed to see anyone at present including his lawyer.
I had a Skype call with Riad on 15 August which was almost 2 weeks after Noor had been detained, the family had still not received any information about Noor who remains in administrative detention, prevented from having any communication with family, friends and unable to speak with his lawyer. Riad has been unable to obtain any information how he is and to speak with the officer who’d invited him to an interview at Gush Etzion settlement last week. Riad told me the whole family are upset and worried about Noor. It’s Riad’s view that Noor wasn’t involved in any action which justified his detention by the Israeli Defence Force.
Riad has tried since Noor’s arrest to continue his usual routine in his role with Defence for Children International Palestine where the management have actively supported Noor through providing legal advice to Riad. What his wife and he are doing is to keep optimistic with Noor’s 2 younger brothers aged 14 and 12 years old. However they are aware of their upset and have noticed in the evening they become tearful around bedtime when they see Noor’s bed and are reminded he’s not there and the way that he was taken away by occupation soldiers.
I spoke with Riad about his detention by the occupation army when he was younger which gives him insight into what Noor is likely to be experiencing through solitary confinement, interrogation, use of Palestinian informers and no knowledge when he’s likely to be released. Riad told me that his last experience of having been arrested before being held in administrative detention in 1996 was different to Noor’s. This was because the occupation soldiers were accompanied by the Beit Ummar Mayor who asked Riad’s permission before they entered the house. He thinks the situation on the West bank is now more dangerous than before the Oslo agreement because of the absence of any peace talks, continued settlement expansion, settler incursions and violence in Beit Ummar. The recent fire bomb attack by settlers on a family home near Nablus where an 18 month old child and his father has frightened him. I’ve read a later report of the incident which suggested there is evidence that after they set the house on fire the bombers watched the home burning while the family were inside.
Through his role as Chair of Hebron branch of Palestine Union of Social Workers and Psychologists. Raed Amira and Issa Rabbadi who chair Bethlehem and Jerusalem branches and Union members Riad has received support for himself and the family. The Union has been active in establishing international links with social work networks in the Middle East, Norway, UK, and the International Federation of Social Workers. This has allowed the Palestine Union of Social Workers and Psychologists members to share the issues which come from the social backdrop to their practice where social workers are also involved in social activism and opposing occupation.
I spoke with Riad about the social activism role he has through Defence for Children International Palestine which he told me is trying to persuade children and young people with whom it works to use social activism as a means to oppose the occupation rather than a violent response which risks aggressive responses by the occupation army. When I asked Riad what response he thought would support Noor and the family he said he’d like social workers and Palestine supporters to campaign on the issue of child prisoners. He’d like anyone who reads the account I’ve written to tell anyone they know about it or send what I’ve written to anyone they think will be interested. Beyond people I know my plan is to post the account on my blog after Riad has agreed the content and to seek advice from him whether he wants me to send it to 2 reporters he knows on an Israeli newspaper.