As those of you who follow my blog regularly might recall, last November I attended a conference at London’s Kingston University called ‘Rethinking Trauma and Resilience in the Context of Political Violence’ about the psychosocial impact of Israeli aggression against the Palestinians. (That conference informed one of the themes of Crushed, my essay on the language of occupation which was published in December on Guernica.)

The weekend-long event had been organised by a handful of groups including the Palestine Trauma Centre and the UK Palestine Mental Health Network (UKPMHN). Defense for Children International Palestine were represented by Riad Arar, Director of Child Protection and Social Mobilisation. I recall him vividly: a dapper man of middle age, Arar sat with his legs uncrossed throughout, his heels off the ground and the balls of his feet set behind him under the chair, leaning forward slightly. My impression was of a man ready to spring into action at a second’s notice.

In fact, the conference had been delayed early that day by the inevitable technical complication of trying to reach colleagues in Gaza who’d been denied visas to attend by the UK embassy in Jordan, and were presenting remotely by phone or Skype instead. Consequently, Arar had been forced to rattle off his mid-afternoon paper at speed, and I could see him struggling mightily to balance a natural expansiveness and compulsion to expound that made me think of my father, Lafi, with the need for brevity in a jam-packed and overrunning conference schedule.

A few days ago I received an email from the UKPMHN informing members that Riad’s 15 year-old son Amro was arrested in January in a night raid on their home in Hebron. Amro is currently being held at Israel’s Ofer Prison where he confessed to throwing stones. He told his father that he only made the confession after being physically abused and told that the rest of his family would also be arrested if he did not confess. The UKPMHN have appealed to members like me to send postcards to Amro. Nothing political, mind you. Just notes to let both Amro and his captors know that he will not be forgotten.

Here’s an excerpt from that email:

Riad described the scene when Amro was remanded in custody, in the military court at Ofer: “I saw him in the cage with other 4 children … (he seems too young and small a child) when he saw me in the beginning he smiled but when I tried to leave after 5 minutes, his tears so hard and hot”.

I probably needn’t draw your attention to the ironic connection between Riad’s work and Amro’s hellish predicament, but it’s a point worth underscoring. After all, it was Riad’s organisation, DCI – Palestine, that had gathered information about the appalling conditions at Givon Prison, a part of which was sectioned off last year to house the overflow of Palestinian children in detention. I’ve read that it was closed down at the end of last year, but I don’t know for certain. Last April, DCI – Palestine also produced ‘Operation Protective Edge: A war waged on Gaza’s children’, a 100-page report documenting the impact on Palestinian children of Israel’s 2014 blitz of Gaza.

My card to Amro is sitting next to me, right here on the desk, but it remains blank, for words of reassurance won’t come easily to me just now. You see, notwithstanding its frequency news of this kind invariably kicks the air from my lungs, all the more so in this instance when I sat just a few feet away from the boy’s energetic and committed father three months ago. But on the weight of the evidence, what confidence do I have in telling Amro that his nightmare will warrant more than a comforting grimace or a reference to ‘Hamas rockets’ outside the circle of Palestinian supporters I know who tirelessly enquire about the meaning of ‘never again’. “‘Never again’ for whom?” we ask, again and again. Still nothing.

This question troubles me now especially, as we find ourselves mired in the ugly swamp of electioneering. Here in London, the Labour mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan confirmed that his diminutive stature houses a correspondingly puny character by making closer bonds with Israel part of his platform should he occupy City Hall. To my knowledge, no other nation has been singled out for a playdate with Khan. In the US, Hillary Clinton has conspicuously plugged her ears to the clamour of unease about Israel’s behaviour among the grassroots of her party, instead reaffirming her pledge to combat by any means necessary non-violent protest against Israel’s repeated contraventions of international law.

In case you missed it, this week the Israeli Prime Minister called Palestinians ‘wild beasts’ and his Labor counterpart Isaac Herzog announced his party’s new plan to ‘separate from as many Palestinians as possible, as quickly as possible’ by erecting a wall between the two people.

In the meantime, the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has been doing the media rounds with the single talking point that Ban Ki-moon is wrong: Palestinians don’t actually mind living under military occupation and blockade. It’s ISIS that is driving their anger, says Hotovely, not hopelessness or a desire for freedom and human rights.

But these outrages are incidental by now, for I don’t believe Sadiq Khan and Hillary Clinton and their ilk give two hoots about Israel, whether it’s Hotovely’s risible claims or Herzog finally coming clean. Unwavering support for Israel’s military fundamentalist leadership is merely the currency of exchange in these politicians’ domestic political villages. For Khan, eagerly selling Palestinians up the river is a childishly malignant way of telling voters he isn’t a Corbynista. Clinton’s ardour means her patron Haim Saban will keep writing the cheques that pay for attack ads against Bernie Sanders. In these cynical exercises in political horse trading, the lives of Amro Arar and more than 400 other children in Israeli prisons are mere pocket change, barely enough to tip the doorman and still look him in the eye.

So what to say to Amro in a card that probably won’t reach him? After all, given Bibi’s boast at Davos that despair is a strategic weapon in Israel’s campaign against the Palestinian people, I doubt messages of hope will get past the jailhouse censors. Still, I will take a deep breath or two and write, if only to count myself among those who insist, ‘never again.’

If you would like details of how to reach Amro, let me know.

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