More than 350 Palestinian children are behind Israeli bars, where human rights groups say they endure mistreatment.
Fearing for the children’s lives, their families had been searching frantically for them. “An Israeli officer called me [on January 30] and said I had to hand over Mohamed or he would shoot and kill him wherever and whenever he found him,” Tayseer says.
When Mohamed came home the next day, his family had no choice but to deliver him to Israeli authorities.
A year later, an Israeli court sentenced Mohamed to 11 years in prison and imposed a roughly $14,245 fine on his family.
His mother was shocked and stricken with grief.
“I never expected that ruling against Mohamed, every session I was expecting Mohamed to come home with me,” Hanan says.
“The initial demand was that he be jailed five years, and we were shocked in that last session when the judge sentenced him to 11 years instead.”
Tayseer and Hanan are allowed to visit their son twice a month. But, like the Rimawi family, they can only communicate with him through a thick glass barrier.
“The visits are hard,” Hanan explains. “We’re searched very thoroughly; then we have to wait for hours before we’re able to get in and see him. When I finally do see him, everything I planned to say to him flies out of my mind, and I am happy just gazing at him.”
‘He always tries to be strong’
Mohamed tries to put on a happy appearance for his family. He avoids talking about his tribulations behind bars, and arrives for every scheduled meeting in tidy clothes, with well-groomed hair and a broad smile on his face.
But Hanan suspects Mohamed is trying to shield them from the pain he endures. “I feel that Mohamed is hiding a lot from me, but he always tries to be strong in front of us [and] to only tell us the good news.”
Behind bars, Mohamed told his family, he had become a barber for the other children where he is imprisoned in Megiddo prison.
On several occasions, his fellow prisoners have visited the Taha family after being released from jail. They tell Tayseer and Hanan about how widely respected and loved Mohamed is, and one brought Hanan flowers at Mohamed’s request.
Despite Mohamed’s efforts, he cannot always hide his sadness from his mother. Sometimes he confides that he struggles with complex feelings of both happiness and despair when his cellmates are released, and fears that he will never be free.
|Mohamed tries to put on a happy face for his family [Shatha Hammad/Al Jazeera]|
Throughout his two years in prison, Mohamed has asked his parents to bring photos of his four siblings and his nieces and nephews as well as the family pets, including their dog, Rambo, and Mohamed’s flock of pigeons.
For Tayseer, just being at home is a constant – and piercing – reminder of his son’s imprisonment.
“I can’t stay in the house with Mohamed not here,” he says. “I spend as much time as I can outside the house and come back at night to sit here and look at his photos and cry.”
They recently filed an appeal in Mohamed’s case, but it was rejected, and his 11-year-sentence was upheld.
Nourhan was 16 years old when she was arrested in Jerusalem for allegedly attempting to stab an Israeli settler with scissors.
She had been a successful student, and continued her studies in prison, receiving a 94 percent score on the standardised high school exams. But rather than being able to plan for university, where she hoped to study law, Nourhan has to continue serving a 13-year prison sentence.
On November 23, 2016, Israeli forces shot Nourhan and her 14-year-old cousin Hadeel after the alleged attempted stabbing. Hadeel died on the spot, and Israeli forces arrested Nourhan, who had been left gravely injured and bleeding on the ground.
|Nourhan has remained an avid reader while in detention[Shatha Hammad/Al Jazeera]|
Four days later, while Nourhan was still in hospital and under the influence of powerful anaesthesia after surgery, Israeli interrogators questioned the girl, her mother tells Al Jazeera.
Her mother, Manal, says the family was stunned when an Israeli court later sentenced her to 13 years. They were also given an $8,000 fine.
“The lawyer told us that she would be sentenced to five years, but at the last session, we were shocked to hear the sentence – 13 years,” Manal recollects. “It was a terrible blow to all of us and to Nourhan. She fainted, and the rest of us ran out of the court crying and screaming.”
Remembering the arduous details of her daughter’s arrest and sentencing, Manal is gradually overcome with tears.
“In the blink of an eye, Nourhan’s childhood was stolen, she was wrenched from my arms and [she was] put in prison,” Manal laments.
“I miss her every minute of the day. Her siblings have grown accustomed to her absence; they don’t ask when she will be back – they ask when the next visit will be.”
|Nourhan’s mother: ‘I miss her every minute of the day’ [Shatha Hammad/Al Jazeera]|
In prison, Nourhan has remained an avid reader, always asking her month to bring new books when she visits.
“Every visit, Nourhan tells me about the latest book she read and gives me a synopsis of it,” Manal explains.
“She told me that she has learned Hebrew and speaks it very well now and is also teaching math to the other imprisoned girls.”
Ever hopeful that Nourhan will eventually come home, Manal nonetheless has endured an array of punitive hardships imposed by Israeli authorities, including the cancellation of her husband’s work permit and the family’s reunification application.
Back in their Ramallah home, the Rimawi family knows Manal’s pain well – and share her steadfast resolve to never abandon hope for the future.
“I know Omar will be sentenced to life in prison,” Samir, Omar al-Rimawi’s father, says.
“But I dream that he will be liberated and get some of his childhood back, continue the normal life I always hoped he would have.”
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS