The hearing got off to a slow start. Maybe I was too influenced by the numerous courtroom dramas I had followed over the years... but the proceedings weren't as dramatic as I had imagined it to be.
There were no smooth-talking, immaculately-dressed lawyers a la Will Gardner or Harvey Specter, charming the audience with brilliant and witty arguments. In fact, most of the time, the prosecutor just went through the statutory declarations made by the witnesses.
The language barrier compounded the struggle I had in trying to stay focused. The use of interpreter disrupted the flow of exchanges and caused some things to be lost in translation.
There were 4 witnesses that day and they told the commission horrific tales of:
- unlawful imprisonment & the ensuing (physical & psychological) torture
- injury from prohibited weapons
- illegal land appropriation
- impossible living conditions (water cuts, checkpoints that severely restrict movements, etc)
These are the things we've all read before but hearing them first-hand had a deeper impact on me. The witnesses also underlined an important point; that as outrageous as the recent escalation is, this conflict and their sufferings have been going on for decades, not days.
The Israeli government has very systematically made their lives so unbearable that many commentators have described Gaza as an open-air prison.
And because the Palestinian land has been encroached upon, year by year, a witness candidly remarked that Palestine is no longer a viable country as it now closely resembles isolated ghettos instead.
There are 2 quotes that I particular remember from the hearing. The first came from Mr. Nabeel Al-Issawi who was wounded by a Dum-dum bullet (a bullet that expands upon impact, causing more severe wounds). Nabeel had to undergo multiple surgeries and his recovery took months. The prosecutor asked Nabeel whether he knew that the use of Dum-dum bullets is prohibited in international warfare.
He replied matter-of-factly, "Probably everything they [the Israeli forces] use is illegal. But they are above the law".
The other quote came from Mr. Jawwad Issa Musleh. He's my favourite witness for several reasons. Firstly, he didn't use an interpreter, so his replies were instantaneous and he articulated himself very well. Secondly, the story he related was nothing short of incredible and inspiring.
Mr. Jawwad had been imprisoned by the Israeli forces on 8 different occasions. The first occasion was when he was only 15 years old and that detention lasted for 20 months. He was just a regular teenager then, uninvolved in any political or resistance movement. But he was taken away from his family all the same.
A few other boys from the area were taken too. He suspected that young boys were targeted precisely because of their non-involvement. It was a tactic to scare them off the resistance movement for good.
But incredibly, the OPPOSITE happened. In prison, he met older Palestinians who taught him a lot about the history of the country, about its struggles, about the occupation, the resistance, etc. He likened his prison cells to a university because he learnt a lot there.
In his statutory declaration, he said, "The Israelis think that they can kill our souls and patriotism when they send us to jails. But they didn't succeed".
X X X
The commission will submit its report in 3 months' time and a charge may be filed.
But will it achieve anything? The atrocities committed against the Palestinians are already well-documented but the Israeli government has gotten away with their crimes time and time again.
But despite the improbable odds, every witness and attendee of the hearing fervently hopes that something will come out of it; that justice will finally be served.
X X X
I didn't go for Day 2 of the hearing. You can read snippets of it here.
I originally intended to write more about the Heroes Conference in this entry, hence the title (Part 2). But the witnesses made such an impact on me that I felt the need to put it down in writing.
You cannot help but admire the witnesses because even though they have gone through so much, they don't come across as hapless victims. On the contrary, they embody the words strong-willed, brave and resilient.
Mahmoud Al-Sammouni, for instance, spoke with such confidence that belied his young age. Testifying about the massacre of his family in front of hundreds of strangers in a foreign land must have been an unnerving experience but the 15-year-old carried himself most admirably.
Thus, I couldn't agree more with the sentiment expressed below: