In 2005, Huda Dahbour watched helplessly as Israeli soldiers arrived in the middle of the night to arrest her son Hadi, age 15, for writing graffiti and throwing stones. What’s more, Huda’s husband Ismail—Hadi’s father—refused to pay for a lawyer, blaming Huda and Hadi for the arrest. In this excerpt of A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: A Palestine Story, Nathan Thrall follows Huda as she advocates for her son during the 19 months he spent in prison.
Hadi’s arrest brought the marriage to breaking point. If Ismail refused to pay for a lawyer, Huda felt, he was no longer willing to act as a father, and she no longer wanted him in her life. Quoting a passage from the Qur’an in which Khader, a servant of God, parts with Moses, she asked for a divorce. If you refuse to grant it, she said, I will tell everyone that you’re not a nationalist and you won’t support your son. Huda saw that she had frightened him and Ismail agreed to give her the divorce.
After two weeks, the lawyer called to say that Hadi was being held at a detention centre in Gush Etzion, south of Bethlehem, and would soon have a hearing at the military court at the Ofer prison, between Jerusalem and Ramallah. He was lucky to get a hearing so early, she was told. Other parents waited for three, four and five months before their children were brought to trial and they could see them.
Huda was instructed to come early for a thorough security check. After waiting for several hours, she entered a cramped courtroom. Only the military judge, the prosecutor, Hadi, his lawyer, a translator and a few soldiers and security officers were present. The chances of Hadi being released were nonexistent; the military court’s conviction rate was 99.7%. For children charged with throwing stones, the rate was even higher: of the 835 children accused in the six years following Hadi’s arrest, 834 were convicted, nearly all of whom served time in jail. Hundreds of them were between 12 and 15 years old.