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Palestinian Girls Look For Ways To Protest, Without Stones

May 30, 2013
Originally published on June 2, 2013 5:41 am

In the middle of the night a few weeks ago, 15-year-old Yusra Hammed watched Israeli soldiers arrest her brother Tareq. Two years older than Yusra, Tareq Hammed was among several Palestinian teenagers taken into custody that night, accused of throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers in their village, Silwad, in the occupied West Bank.

While he was being detained, his mother described him as a patriot.

"He wanted so badly to do as same what his father did, to defend his country," Suhaila Hammed said, sitting on a tawny gold couch in their home in Silwad.

Her husband was in Israeli prisons for many years and died 10 years ago, shortly after being released.

"I told [my son] you can help your country by learning, by being good in society," she said. "But he has something in his mind. All his friends think the same."

Yusra, like her brother, is every inch a patriotic Palestinian.

"We deserve freedom," she says emphatically. "We deserve this country."

But she doesn't throw rocks at soldiers.

"I know there is no use of it," she says. "I know I can't free my country with throwing stones."

For many Palestinian boys, throwing stones at Israeli soldiers — and getting arrested — is considered a rite of passage. Palestinian girls rarely take part, though many say they are just as deeply committed to the Palestinian goal of an independent state.

Yusra says a college education will help her help the Palestinian cause. She also has a private way to protest: art. While Tareq was in prison, Yusra covered the wall of her family's staircase with a felt-pen depiction of the Palestinian flag and a fist in chains. Next to it she wrote a phrase that's familiar among Palestinian protesters: The chains must be broken and the night must disappear.

Rand Rimawi, another Palestinian girl in another West Bank village, says she and her friends sometimes join demonstrations to show their opposition to the Israeli military presence.

"We dress alike and march. And in this way, we protest," she says.

Rimawi also doesn't want to get injured.

"When you throw stones, you get hurt," she says.

Some Palestinian girls do throw rocks at Israeli soldiers. Capt. Barak Raz, a spokesman with the Israeli military division in the West Bank, says he has seen them. But it's rare.

He also points out that Palestinians throwing rocks at Israelis have injured soldiers and led to at least one fatal car crash. Last month, there were more than 100 Palestinian minors in prison for throwing rocks, according to the Israeli prison authority. All are teenage boys.

Over time, a few Palestinian women have carried out violent attacks against Israelis, including suicide bombings, but they have been the exception.

Yusra's mother, Suhaila, says culture shapes how Palestinian women protest.

"Our tradition is that girls should not be outside. Families do not allow their daughters out on the street," she says. Plus, she says, girls are afraid of the soldiers.

Yusra snaps at that.

"Why should I be afraid?" she asks vehemently. "I will not be afraid because they have guns. I have my dignity. We should not be afraid."

She goes back to her drawing.

"Doing this means I am strong," she says. "I can do anything."

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And now let's turn to Israel. A three-year-old girl, Adel Biton, is just getting out of the hospital after spending two months in intensive care. She was severely injured when rocks thrown at her family car caused her mother to crash. The family was driving to their home in an Israeli settlement in the Occupied West Bank. Earlier this month, Israeli prosecutors charged five Palestinian teenagers. They said they threw the stones and they charged them with attempted murder, according to a defense lawyer in the case.

NPR's Emily Harris has that story.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Suhaila Hammed describes the night Israeli soldiers came to her home.

SUHAILA HAMMED: They came around 2:00. We were sleeping. They started to knock the door - very hard, you know.

HARRIS: About 15 soldiers came in, she says. More waited outside. The soldiers asked for her 17-year-old son, Tareq.

HAMMED: They went to his room and they took all his clothes on the floor. Everything the floor, and they start, you know, shouting. And he wanted to use the bathroom and change his clothes, they started shouting no, just go out and that's it.

HARRIS: Tareq was accused of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers in his village, Silwad, in the occupied West Bank. Suhaila says it was very hard to watch soldiers handcuff him, blindfold him and take him away.

HAMMED: You know, I have seen that scene before. Because my husband, they took him many times from the house, tied his hands, same view, you know. But I don't know, maybe my son, is harder. Yeah, I feel bad, really.

HARRIS: Over the next couple of weeks, she saw him only briefly at court hearings. Tareq told her that soldiers hit him with their fists and rifle butts, and poured hot coffee on his leg.

Randa Wahbe, with the Palestinian prisoners rights organization Adameer, says it's common for Palestinian minors in Israeli military courts to be questioned without parents or lawyers, and held for weeks without charges.

RANDA WAHBE: This is a huge problem in the West Bank for these children. We're seeing a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder and a lot of further implications in the society. For example, a lot of children who are arrested don't go back to school. They're traumatized.

HARRIS: People targeted by stones can also be traumatized.


HARRIS: Doctors in a children's hospital near Tel Aviv are gathered at the bedside of two-year-old Adele Haya Beaton. She was critically injured when a rock hit her family's car two months ago, causing her mother Adva Beaton to swerve into a truck.

ADVA BEATON: I just remember the boom, the boom behind me. After that I don't remember anything. I just found myself under the truck. I see Adele Haya next to me with a lot of blood and hearing the screaming and the yelling behind me.

HARRIS: Adva repeats a phrase Israeli officials often say: Stones kill.

BEATON: We need all the time to remember that the Palestinian terrorists who came and threw us the stones wants to kill us. Wants to murder us. This is the fact.

HARRIS: An Israeli journalist caused an outcry among Israeli settlers when she recently wrote that throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule. Right now, Israeli soldiers are permitted to use live ammunition against stone-throwers only as a last resort, when their lives are in danger. Adva Beaton says that should change.

BEATON: Not all the Palestinians are bad and want to throw stones. But we need to remember that if we will all the time look them throwing stones or blocks, and we don't do anything, just standing there, it will be not influence all this situation.

HARRIS: Suhaila Hammed says her son Tareq and his friends also want to do something to influence a situation they find unbearable - Israeli soldiers on their land.

HAMMED: I told him, I want you just to study and look after your future. Go to college like everyone. He said yes, but this is our country. We have to do something. We can't just keep watching them.

HARRIS: Tareq was released from prison after 17 days. He's out on a plea bargain and a four year parole deal. He's home with his family now, but he says he's not afraid to be arrested again.

TAREQ HAMMED: I don't care. I have my friends in the jail and I don't care.

HARRIS: Still, when there was a big clash with soldiers in his village the week he got out of prison, Tareq told his mother he did not join other Palestinian boys throwing rocks.

Emily Harris, NPR News


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