The abuse of Muhammed, Ahmed, Rami and Hussam by policemen is happening for many months.
When will you come, tomorrow?


Tuesday? Wednesday?

Next week, said Tami to little Hussam. We’ll come next week.

Next week? He looked, his face taut with expectation, edged with fatigue – aged and flat – of a child robbed of his childhood. Yes, we said. And he conceded.
There is this feeling that it is nearly impossible to help Hussam and his three brothers. even if theoretically we could take them out of their lives (life with an abusive father and collaborating mother who send these four children seven days a week at all hours, winter and summer, no matter what, to sell chewing gum or puzzles or other sundry articles – each child mush bring home 50 shekels, an exorbitant sum for people under occupation. Or else. Something terrible happens to them at home.

Threats, beatings, we don’t know the exact limits, only that there is real threat) – what could we offer them? Make sure they are separated from each other and sent to other families? Tear them away from their family, as bad as it is? Do we have a better, safer solution for them? Even in nations that are not under occupation no solution is a GOOD solution for children in abusive families. There is always a terrible price to pay. Always to choose between two bad choices. But even that which is nearly impossible and certainly imperfect in a free country, in a sovereign state, not oppressed, is more excruciating in a nation under occupation where everyone is stripped of their basic rights. Both caregivers and care-receivers.

Can we save them from abuse at the hands of the police, the municipal authorities, and the other Occupation authorities? Probably not. For in a state where civil rights, the right to land, the right to life, literally, are determined by race, it is highly unlikely that we might win a fight so that the authorities will not to rob the goods and abuse children of the “wrong” race.

Because as serving in the occupation army, is by the law…. And demolishing houses that didn’t receive a building permit purposely because the applier is a Palestinian, is by the law….. as shooting at children who touched army property, is by the law….. the abuse perpetrated by the police and the city and the army upon these children is “within the law”. The law “supposedly” by which children who are sent to sell goods by an abusive father, are hunted down and caught by the police, the army and the city authorities. (video)
At times ‘only’ their goods are confiscated, robbed. At others, they are beaten, with or without a billy-club. Sometimes the police takes them away in a police van and leaves them somewhere in a faraway field, to come back on their own, so they’ll learn. Sometimes it’s all of the above. Nearly every day. At home – abuse, and in the street, in full daylight – by law and norm, abuse.
The youngest of the four is now 8.5 years old, the eldest, 14.5. All this has been taking place for at least 4 years now. Once when the police harassed the children as it is wont to do, besides its usual routine of confiscating the goods they are forced to sell without reimbursing them at all, the police van took 8-year old Hussam from the junction where he sold chewing gum, and vanished. His worried brother asked our help. Their experience has taught them that the police sometimes leaves the children in a faraway field, and Hussam is only 8 and how will he make his way back alone, worried the eldest, Mohammad.
We phoned the police. A child has disappeared, we said. Really? A very caring and publicly responsible voice answered us with concern. What is his name? Hussam. Hussam? A moment of silence. Oh, we don’t take care of such matters, we were told at the two police stations we phoned looking for help in finding Hussam.
Hussam is not Hussam, a specific child, 8.5 years of age, whose eyes are soft and his young sweetness already laced with sadness like a shroud. Hussam is not a person, his own particular being. Hussam is not a child. Hussam is a Palestinian. This is his being. His nonentity.
Tami and I promised ourselves, and each other, that one thing we shall not do, even if we can offer them nearly nothing, really, in view of the dark abyss in which they live: we promised ourselves that we would not let them down, we make them any promises we can’t keep, we wouldn’t join all the other adults whom they meet and who betray them one by one: their parents, and all the institutions that are supposed to protect them;

All the adults around them, those who hunt them down and those who keep silent, have been rendering the ideas of truth and responsibility totally meaningless, who do not do what they are supposed to do, what they are supposed to promise because of what they are, whether as parents or as workers in the service of public protection. We, at least, will stand by our words, we swore to each other. Minute as these shall be, in the complex tapestry of these children’s lives. We shall not lie, nor empty our words of their meaning. If we promised to come next week, we’ll come. And so it was. We went to keep our promise to Hussam.
On Tuesday, November 15, 2005, around 3 p.m. we arrived at the French Hill junction. The policeman we saw, whose name we later found out – David Revivo, parked in the middle of the junction and was standing outside his car, leaning on a railing, his chest thrust forward masterfully, observing the scene. The children who saw us came out of their hiding place, and excitedly told us that this policeman took their chewing gum packs and put them in the trunk of hi car.

Just a minute ago, they said, and added as they crowded around us, and hid behind us, that this policeman unlike others who just take the chewing gum and tell them to scram, this one hits them regularly, had done so to all of them, with a stick too. And that he comes nearly every day, except Saturdays. We asked him whether he took their chewing gum, and he denied confiscating the goods. Meanwhile another policeman arrives, his name is Arik Shem Tov, introducing himself as a volunteer, and scolds us for taking their side.

He announces proudly that he does not receive payment for what he does. Yes, he admits they take the children’s goods, and yes, they did this today, and yes, there are packs of chewing gum in the car trunk (unlike what policeman David Revivo just said a moment ago), because they are not supposed to be selling here, it jeopardizes them, and the drivers… The two cops went away, because we were there. The children carried on their business, especially the two little ones, who seem to touch people’s hearts being so young, so people still keep buying gum from them as a kind of charity. Suddenly little Hussam looks very startled, and a second later, 9-year old Rami is in the clutches of a municipality inspector dressed in black, a pistol in his belt and cuffs.

He drags Rami who is shaking, his mouth frightened and sobbing, one hand clasping Rami’s wrist and dragging him along, the other holding the box of chewing gum he took from Rami. He places the gum on the wall nearby, his other hand proceeds to bend Rami’s twig-like arm, he uses his walkie-talkie to call whoever it is he calls, and says “I caught a child”, all the while continuing to clutch and pinch the frightened child’s arm. All the other children ran off, but kept eye contact with their brother who kept alternating his gaze at the horizon, as if he knew where they were. Or hoping.

Tami, while photographing the scene, asked the man who was hurting Rami what he was doing, and he said he is a Jerusalem Municipality inspector, his name is Elian and he is sent by the city. I asked him if he was going to make out a report, and he said yes. And wrote a “catch” report. The children asked wonderingly what that paper was that Rami got and was required to sign. They said this was the first time they ever got any kind of paper. To our question, Elian answered that the goods go to a Municipal storeroom and if the child comes accompanied by an adult, he will get his stuff back.

In the meantime another policeman arrives, who was sitting in the inspector’s car until them. This policeman, Kobi Gabai, has his own private, threatening energy, added to what is already inherent in his “role” as a hunter of vendor children. His eyes rove around constantly in a kind of persistent, unsettling excitement. Then, as he saw the other children emerge from their hideouts to get closer to their brother, but at a safe distance, he started chasing them. They ran between the houses and bushes, and he after them.

Climbing over walls and fences, looking for them for a long while. It is important to note here that the other children whom he went chasing were not selling anything at the time. They weren’t even chased as such. This chase had nothing to do with the usual problematics of preventing child vendors from selling their wares at the junction. This was a chase for the sake of the chase. Hunting for its own sake. He chased, they ran. Up the steep hill eastwards, among the yards between the houses, he taking the trouble to pursue them far away from the junction, “acting far above and beyond the call of duty”.
To no avail, this time.

The inspector and the policeman remained at the junction quite a while longer, and the experienced children did not return. Finally we went over to them, saw them hiding. We spoke to them for a while, about 500 meters from the junction, until the two ‘watchmen’ came back, at which point the children dispersed and ran off.

The authorities claim that preventing the children from selling, chasing them, taking their wares, is for their own good, and for the drivers’ good. So why then keep chasing children who are not even selling, and certainly not at that moment. The children were terrified to a degree that it was simply hard to look on.
At some point, Mohammad, the eldest, came out of hiding, sure that they were no longer around, stood in the open and looked around, wanting to approach us. Suddenly he saw them. For lack of any shelter, he fell flat on the ground, trying to look dead.
Time went by, we were all waiting, the children with us, close. The inspectors finally went away, or so it seemed. The children faced a dilemma, for the chewing gum boxes were left near the junction before the last chase, and goods cannot be abandoned like that. But they were afraid to approach them alone, for fear that the inspectors would be back, and they were even afraid to go there with us, as – said Mohammad rightfully – what if they take it from us too.

Could we approach it so that it won’t be forced out of us somehow? He asked. We said, no. Night fell, it was dark in between the passing cars. It seemed that the inspectors were gone for the moment, perhaps they won’t come back, so we hoped, all of us. And the children went back to the junction for lack of any choice. The two little ones on the street, this time the two older ones trying to sell, the moment of encountering their father gets closer. And their fear grows.
Mohammad asked us to come home with them so we could tell their father that the police took away their chewing gum, that it was not their fault…
Because we were there, containing, concerned, adult, and they so wanted to be wrapped in attention, searching for our looks while dragging themselves from car to car (perhaps this hunger for containment is imprinted in our genes? Perhaps one they once had a different lot?) Here and there, once or twice, one of the little boys would come to us, stand there smiling and waiting, as though to be touched for a moment with sympathetic attention. But only less than a minute. For immediately restlessness would tear at him, for the time he’d taken, and he’d get back to his duty. Mohammad, the elder brother, hardly needs to tell the little ones to get back to work any more. They obey on their own, maintaining the harsh and cruel rules and fears they must uphold in their lives.
There was a moment, after the first chase, when Hussam and Rami already got back to their “working post”. The light just turned green which means that the cars drive by and don’t stop. Hussam was waiting for the red light that is about to arrive, and for a moment there his gaze became glazed and dreamy. For a moment, the infant that he really is, all of 8.5, emerged and washed over the face so long frozen into the sweet and seductive ‘death mask’ smile he learned to wear.

Not noticing he is watched, was dreaming, Chewing gum in hand. And then his left hand began descending, his palm entered his pants pocket, stayed there for a second, and came out holding something yellow. A tiny car. Without looking at it, his dreamy face always taut towards the traffic that will be stopping in a second and summoning him, he began to move the little car over the box of chewing gum.
It only took a moment. The cars stopped, and he immediately went towards them, to sell, putting the yellow car back in his pocket. (video)



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