Editor’s note: Last month Palestinians marked 30 years since the First Intifada, which erupted on December 9, 1987. In this excerpt from “The First Intifada: Hope and the Loss of Hope,” which appeared in the Autumn, 2017 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies, Khalid Farraj recounts his own arrest by Israeli soldiers in March 1988 during a security sweep of Jalazun refugee camp, north of Ramallah. The sweep was led by Gen. Amram Mitzna, Israeli officer in charge of the Central Command (West Bank) at the time. Farraj grew up and worked in the camp as an activist leafleting and disseminating information among the community. You can subscribe to the Journal to access the full essay here.
Fearing the possibility of detention, I had spent the night of 4–5 March 1988 at the home of a friend. I suspected that my name was on the Pongo, a long list of wanted people that the IDF maintained. Soldiers had raided my home once before, hoping to detain me, and from that point on I never slept at home for fear of arrest.
The morning of 5 March was not an ordinary morning. I woke to the sound of the front door being broken down where I had taken refuge, and instantly dozens of heavily armed soldiers swarmed into the house. When one of them asked what I was called, I tried evading the question and gave my father and grandfather’s names without mentioning my first name or family name. The soldiers weren’t taken in by my ploy; they were accompanied by a Shin Bet officer named “Maher” who had been alerted to my presence in that house and who had, about two-and-a-half months earlier, arrested me at my own home only ten days before the outbreak of the intifada. Seconds later, I was blindfolded, my hands were tied behind my back with plastic cord, and the soldiers began beating us with their clubs, screaming “mukkharrib” (terrorist) and “stone-thrower” as if those words justified their use of the clubs.
The soldiers threw me, still blindfolded and handcuffed, onto the floor of their military vehicle and took me to the Jalazun boys’ school. The plastic cord around my wrists was so tight I could hardly move because the pressure was so extreme but even though I was immobilized I was able to make out what was happening in the schoolyard from behind the blindfold; I was astounded and shocked by what I saw and heard. It appeared that I had been rounded up along with hundreds of other Jalazun camp residents from all political factions and of all ages. Even elders had been arrested, including the UNRWA-designated head of the camp. Everybody was restrained and blindfolded, on the ground, being kicked and beaten by soldiers who “checked” on us to make sure that we didn’t speak to one another. The soldiers were upset by repeated requests to go to the bathroom and to drink water, saying “no” to every request and following it up with more blows. Some soldiers told the detainees to just urinate in their clothing, and a few did so out of discomfort.
I felt no fear but rather my morale got a boost by seeing the huge number of people who had been rounded up: I could pretend to myself that this was for a lark with my friends, whom I recognized based on their voices or because of what I could glean through the blindfold.
But when I spotted my older brother among the detainees, it threw me into emotional turmoil; I felt all at once scared, deflated, angry, and worried, and it even made me reckless in the language I used with the soldiers. My brother was fourteen years my senior and our relationship wasn’t really a brotherly one since he had come to have a more paternal role after our own father’s passing when I was two years old. I held my brother in great esteem, but wondered what our relationship would be like in prison, concerned that our presence in prison together would hinder my few remaining freedoms like smoking! (I had to sneak around to smoke as he was very strict on the no-smoking prohibition.) But here in the schoolyard, I was pained by the sight of this strong, tenacious man now blindfolded and handcuffed, being kicked mercilessly. I was upset by my own paralysis and inability to help him; I felt his pain; and I was overcome by feelings of guilt as I thought, perhaps, that the soldiers had gone to our house meaning to arrest me, and had taken him in my absence. I also felt for my mother, whose pain was now doubled. Aside from our sister, we four brothers were now absent: one of us had emigrated, the other was in Ashqelon Prison serving a six-year sentence, and the other two (my older brother and I) had been detained by the Israelis that morning.