Rattling the Bars: Ahmad Manasra, a Palestinian boy imprisoned by Israel at age 13

Ahmad Manasra, a Palestinian boy from Jerusalem, was arrested by Israeli police at the age of 13. He has now been in prison for 7 years, and is currently in his seventh consecutive month of solitary confinement. Advocates say Manasra has been severely abused throughout his imprisonment, and has become suicidal and developed schizophrenia. International organizations and human rights experts are calling for Manasra’s release, and describe his case as just one of example of a systemic practice of prosecuting Palestinian children in Israeli courts. In this episode of Rattling the Bars, show co-host Mansa Musa discusses Manasra’s case with Budour Hassan.

Budour Hassan is a Palestinian feminist and writer based in occupied Jerusalem. She works as a researcher for Amnesty International.

Studio/Post-Production: Cameron Granadino


Transcript

Mansa Musa:  Welcome to this edition of Rattling the Bars. I’m Mansa Musa, co-host with Eddie Conway. Before we get started, we want to acknowledge that this month we will be acknowledging political prisoners and prisoners of war throughout the country and throughout the world. And with that in mind, we ask that you go to the Jericho website to see a list of some of the political prisoners and prisoners of war that are now and formerly incarcerated.

Today, we have an international news story that should shock the consciousness of the world. When we think about Palestine, and the Palestinian people, and the people that are living in occupied territory that’s being occupied by the Israelis, we oftentimes, in the United States, have a split opinion on what we think because of the United States’ support of Israel and the occupation of Palestine.

Imagine, if you will, if you found yourself attacked by a mob of people, one of you is immediately killed, and another one of you is run over with a car, brutally assaulted and beaten, then interrogated for hours on end without any legal representation. Imagine, if you will, finding yourself seven years later still confined in the most horrendous conditions, all because you are Palestinian, all because you are different than the people that occupy your territory.

Here, we’ll talk about Ahmad Manasra, a Palestinian citizen that was 13 years old when the things I just described took place. Here to talk about this today is Budour Hassan. Welcome, Budour Hassan, to Rattling the Bars.

Budour Hassan:  Thank you, Mansa, for having me. Just before talking about Ahmad Manasra, I’ll just start by acknowledging a very painful loss that befell us all, which was the loss of Albert Woodfox. For me as a Palestinian, following the Angola Three and their struggle against solitary confinement, again, decades of solitary confinement, these three freedom fighters have been an inspiration with their courage, especially Albert Woodfox, who was the longest serving prisoner in solitary confinement. And with his loss, we lost a comrade, we lost a person whose fight for freedom, for dignity, has been an icon, not just for African Americans, but for people all over the world.

So just sending my condolences to everyone who’s fighting for freedom, because this is a universal loss, a loss for us all. But at least we know that he died standing on his legs, fighting for all. And his book will continue to shine a light for all those struggling for freedom and dignity. That’s about Albert Woodfox and the Angola Three.

And about Ahmad, again, as I said, thank you for having me and for shedding light on Ahmad’s case. So as you mentioned, Mansa, Ahmad was just 13 years old in October 2015 when he was arrested. And the thing is, he was with his cousin. It was the height of a Palestinian uprising in which Palestinians, young Palestinians mainly, took to the streets. Some of them used violence, some of them protested popularly. But it was after years of Israeli oppression. So it has to be contextualized within a movement that Palestinians led, in which Palestinians said that we can no longer accept being toppled over and being denied our rights.

And as many young people do, these young people went to the streets. Hassan Manasra, Ahmad’s cousin, attacked a couple of settlers, and he was killed. And his body was withheld by Israeli occupation authorities for at least four months. When his father, Hassan’s father wanted to return the body of his son, it was a frozen block of ice. It was indistinguishable, because Israel kept it in a morgue as a posthumous punishment. The policy of withholding bodies of Palestinians and denying them dignified burial is an Israeli policy that continues to be implemented by Israel based on a British emergency regulation.

So his cousin was killed. And Ahmad, initially he was attacked by a mob settlers, and then was arrested, psychologically tortured. A word that Ahmad said, and that is emboldened and actually emblazoned in our memories, is “[foreign language]”; I can’t remember. When the interrogator was violently and horrifically asking him and questioning him, without the presence of a lawyer, without the presence of his family, and Ahmad was saying, I can’t remember anything, and he was traumatized.

Initially the picture of Ahmad, how he was attacked and then taken to hospital… And again, we’re talking about a 13-year-old boy. So no matter what he did, he’s a 13-year-old boy, a child, a child who lives in a city that is ruled by discrimination, that is ruled by the dehumanization of Palestinians, where a Palestinian can be accused by an Israeli settler of stealing a ball when he did nothing to steal that ball. And then seven years later, Ahmad continues to be jailed by Israel. He was arrested at the age of 13.

Mansa Musa:  Let me ask you this, Budour –

Budour Hassan:  Yeah.

Mansa Musa:  Okay. Isn’t Israel a part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Children? Aren’t they a signature to that? And under that, being a signature to the rights of children, according to the United Nations, like you say, regardless of what Mansour was accused of, he’s still a child –

Budour Hassan:  Manasra, yeah.

Mansa Musa:  Manasra, excuse me. Regardless of what Manasra was accused of, he’s still a child and should be treated as such. Is this the common practice of the occupying forces, to single children out and then indiscriminately torture them and indiscriminately brutalized them? Is this a policy of the Israelis in occupied territory?

Budour Hassan:  Oh yes. The arrest of children is one of the common tactics by Israeli occupation authorities. So yes, definitely. It’s not something rare. What is rare in Ahmad’s case is that he was even below the age of 14. So according to the Israeli laws, the age of criminal responsibility is 12. So children who are over 12 can be indicted, but they cannot be imprisoned. They should not be imprisoned in a prison, they should be kept in a corrective facility, but they should not be imprisoned.

What Israel did is it waited until Ahmad turned 14, and then convicted him in order so that he could be imprisoned. So basically, I mean, they maneuvered their own laws. Because again, as I said, children between 12 and… There are petty offenses, so-called offenses, for which Palestinian children are jailed, like throwing stones, or accused of, suspected of throwing stones. There are children between ages 14, 15 who can spend years just on the charge of throwing stones or being accused of throwing stones.

So yes, I mean, that’s one of the problems that Palestinian children and adolescents face, is the systematic arrest of Palestinian children. And there is also the house arrest. So in addition to arrests in prisons, there is the more common tactic of jailing Palestinian children in their house, and then it’s usually the mother – Or the father, but it’s usually the mother – Who has come to act as the second jailer of her child. Because if the child leaves the house, then they will have to pay a huge fine for failing to comply with the conditions of the house arrest. So sometimes they export this authority, this responsibility to the parents, they abdicate it to the parents, and just create an additional hierarchy, an additional layer of oppression.

But in Ahmad’s case, as I said, there was an element of revenge, because it was within an intensifying escalation, as though they wanted to teach everyone, through Ahmad, a lesson. So this is why it was so severe. So after he was arrested and indicted, initially he was convicted of attempted murder, even though the court itself found that Ahmad took no part in the attempted murder. But he was convicted on attempted murder. The Israeli High Court reduced, commuted his sentence from 13 years to nine years and a half.

Mansa Musa:  And how –

Budour Hassan:  And Ahmad-

Mansa Musa:  Okay. And in every regard, he was 13 when this incident took place and now he’s 20 years old. Ao in this past –

Budour Hassan:  He’s a young man.

Mansa Musa:  Right. In the past seven years, being confined in the most horrendous type of environment, what is going on with him there? What’s going on in terms of them recognizing that he was illegally charged and that he’s innocent of everything that he’s been accused of? What’s being done now by the Israeli government to rectify or remedy this wrong, if anything?

Budour Hassan:  Actually, they’re not rectifying, they’re heaping up more pain on him. They’re heaping up more suffering and trauma on him. So the first few years of Ahmad’s jail were very difficult, but they passed. It’s just that after so much time in prison, his condition, psychological condition, began to deteriorate. And when he was moved to [another] prison, his personality was severely damaged, and he is now suffering from depression, and he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and with severe mental disorders.

At the age of 20, Ahmad threatened to commit suicide. Actually, what was Israel’s solution? In any other place that is half remotely moral would actually say you’ve done your [inaudible], that’s it. Seven years, that’s it. You’ve more than paid the price. No. What Israel did, what Israeli prison authorities did, is they put him in solitary confinement, claiming that he’s a danger to himself and to other prisoners. Instead of releasing him, instead of giving him the treatment that he needs outside to be able to recover his lost life with his family, he was extra punished.

And in solitary confinement, Ahmad’s conditions, psychological conditions deteriorated further. His family that was able to visit him said that he was hallucinating, that he was not clear, that every time he was even worse than the time before, until he was transferred to the prison psychiatric ward. Again, we’re talking about a prison psychiatric ward, again, after threatening suicide again, where he spent two months in the prison psychiatric ward, and then he was released.

But what? Released to solitary confinement. Last week, the Israeli prison authorities extended Ahmad’s solitary confinement again, even though Palestinian political prisoners said, we are ready to receive Ahmad. We know what he needs, and we are ready to embrace him, just put him with us, Palestinian political prisoners said. But Israeli prison services refused again to allow him out of solitary confinement, again, arguing that he’s danger to himself and to other prisoners, and extended his solitary confinement.

On the 16th of August, there is another hearing by the Israeli district court in Beersheba in order to review the request of his lawyers to release him out of solitary confinement. But in addition to solitary confinement, and what really led to deterioration of Ahmad’s condition, after having spent seven years in prison, his family applied for an early release. Under Israeli law, if a prisoner serves two thirds of his prison term and is judged to have acted within the laws and boundaries and et cetera, he can be granted an early release. There is a committee that examines the conditions of the release, and he can receive early release.

But as if all that he was suffering was not enough, as if the sentence to which he was subjected was not enough, as if the psychological torture he was subjected to at the age of 13 was not enough, the Israeli prison committee refused to grant Ahmad an early release, claiming that his case, his sentence fell under the counterterrorism law, and people who are convicted based on the counterterrorism law cannot be granted an early release. And just to add to this picture, just to add that this counterterrorism law was enacted after Ahmad was arrested. So it kind of feels like he’s now being retroactively punished under a law that was enacted after he was even arrested and convicted and condemned.

Mansa Musa:  This is a good education for our listeners and people in general. Because when we look at Palestine and the occupation that’s taking place over there, a lot of times it is being filtered through distorted news sources that’s in America. So right now, you are the news source that’s going to tell the truth.

Talk about what’s going on. You just mentioned briefly about his attorneys and what his attorney is doing. Talk about what’s going on in response to the international community. Is the international community weighing in on Ahmad’s case, or are y’all continuing to be isolated in terms of the news and reaction from the world over this horrendous treatment of this juvenile?

Budour Hassan:  There are human rights organizations including Amnesty International that are trying to shed light on Ahmad’s case. There is a petition. There is the campaign, the Free Ahmad Manasra campaign that is trying to shed light on Ahmad’s case, to call for Ahmad’s release, to call for overturning the prison committee’s decision and to release Ahmad. And I said that there is a campaign by human rights organizations. But politically speaking, it’s almost nonexistent. It is as though nothing’s happening.

And that’s the thing. Ahmad’s case should not be viewed in isolation. Yes, it’s so severe, but it should not be viewed as in isolation of the other children who were arrested and who continue to live under this occupation that deprives them of their daily humanity. And that’s the thing, Mansa, is we live under occupation that tries to strip us of our dignity. That is the daily accumulation of this pain and suffering and violence and invisible violence. When you are in prison, imagine the layers upon layers of violence that were accumulating over the body and soul of this young man that completely destroyed him from inside.

And yes, we always like to say, and many of them are, that Palestinian prisoners are a symbol of defiance. And they are indeed a symbol of defiance, but also they are human beings, and human beings are fragile. And at some point people break down. And unfortunately all the years of imprisonment and torture, the initial torture, at least, to which Ahmad was subjected, eventually broke him down. And it’s because we want to be strong and we always try to be strong, and it’s important. But sometimes, even the strongest can’t just keep being bullied and hit and harassed and stay strong and stay steadfast. Even steadfastness has limits, you know?

Mansa Musa:  Oh yeah, I agree- –

Budour Hassan:  This is what happens to Ahmad and so many prisoners.

Mansa Musa:  Right. I agree. I served 48 years in prison prior to being released. I just got out, I’ve been out all of two years, so I understand from an experience point of view what you’re talking about. And on our viewers, we want this to be emphasized, that this is torture, that this occupation is not… It is exactly what it says, it’s an occupation, and it’s a brutal occupation. So we don’t want that to be not known or not taken into account. We definitely don’t want to be not taking into account that Ahmad’s case is an example of the type of oppression that the Zionist, fascist Israeli regime is inflicting on people.

And that, you’re right, this is about humanity. It’s not about anything other than that, that we are talking about human beings. But talk about how his family is getting along, because this is a child, and I know it’s having a horrendous impact or emotional impact on the family members. Talk about his family if you can. And then tell us a little bit about yourself, because we neglected to get your information out there earlier.

Budour Hassan:  I mean, I’m not important here, the important thing is for Ahmad to be released from prison. I mean, because he can’t tell his own story, so I’m trying to contribute, albeit slightly, and bring more attention and use the platform that you guys give me to bring more attention to Ahmad, and he is a story.

So yes, I mean Ahmad’s uncle has been very active in the calls for his release. His father is obviously… His father is scarred. With the passing of time, his father is no longer… I mean, he’s exhausted, the mother is exhausted, his whole family is exhausted, and they fear for their child’s life and safety. And this is what his lawyer told me, that don’t take this case lightly. Ahmad is staring death in the eye. If they keep prolonging Ahmad’s solitary confinement, if Israel refuses to grant him release, Ahmad, even when he goes out, and this is what we… If Ahmad eventually will be released, hopefully will be released alive, but the scars that this imprisonment will leave on him is just something. Yeah, it’s something that we cannot even envision.

So I mean, his family is trying to do all they can. Sometimes families try to keep a low profile because they are worried that more attention can be damaging to the case rather than helpful to the case. And as I said, I mean, I’ve been following Ahmad’s case since he was first arrested in 2015 because I was covering all that was going on in Jerusalem back then as a freelance journalist. Working in Jerusalem, interviewing families, trying to understand the roots, because people usually talk, oh, there’s violence, but they don’t know why this happened, what are the root causes? Colonialism, apartheid, all that, the Israeli’s different policies.

Before starting and after joining working as a researcher now, as I do with Amnesty International, just focusing on specific cases, before that, Ahmad’s case was important to me. Now, at least I’m trying, and the team and the campaign is trying to play even a small part to tell the world that somewhere in this world there is a 20-year-old young man who has not even lived his manhood or his adolescent, who’s continued to be imprisoned since the age of 13, and who just wants one thing: to be free, to join his family, to be able to mend his wounds and live his humanity once again.

Mansa Musa:  Yeah, and the only thing he’s guilty of is being a Palestinian in an occupied territory and wanting to be treated as a human being. And that in and of itself is sick on the part of the Israeli government, because it is my view and the Rattling the Bars’ view, that just like in Soweto and Sharpville, apartheid is ugly, and the apartheid is brutal.

But in terms of, what do you want us to do or what do you want the international community, or more importantly, the Rattling the Bars viewers and listeners to do, or the takeaway of this horrendous act of inhumanity?

Budour Hassan:  I mean, we can obviously sign the petition. There is a petition to free Ahmad Manasra, so people can join and sign it to put pressure on, I don’t know, the governments, different governments, the US government. I know that, I mean, in the case of the United States, we also need to call on the United States to pressure the US government to free political prisoners at home and abroad. So there’s this struggle for prison abolition, for freedom for all prisoners. I think to understand that mass incarceration, that this system of incarceration, of imprisonment, it’s something that’s brutal everywhere, and it’s part of a colonial, capitalist, global system that tries to strip us of our humanity as human beings, that prison is never fair.

And especially in these conditions in which Ahmad finds himself, I wish, as I said, what people can do is just pressure their governments, sign petitions to free Ahmad, demand. Try to learn more about Palestinian prisoners, stories of Palestinian prisoners, connect the different struggles for freedom, for emancipation everywhere, be it in the United States against the US prison system, in Palestine against the Israeli occupation and prison system, and everywhere else. And yeah, hopefully one day we will be able to live in a world without prisons and without prison bars.

Mansa Musa:  Well, we want to definitely send out our solidarity to Ahmad and the Palestinian people in their struggle to fight apartheid.

Budour Hassan:  Thank you. It means the world for us, thank you.

Mansa Musa:  We recognize that the prison-industrial complex and mass incarceration is the new form of slavery. We are definitely subjected to it daily in the United States as well. But at the same token, we want to leave our views and our listeners with this understanding that injustice anywhere is injustice, regardless. And we appreciate your taking the time out to come on and enlighten us and educate us about this travesty that’s taking place in Palestine. We hear about it a lot, and I can’t overemphasize that, but then as you just outlined, you select, you isolate, and you take the children and try to break their spirit because you feel as though that they’re the next ones up. This was the same thing that took place in South Africa, and it’s the same thing taking place throughout the world when you have colonialism, fascism, and imperialism. Well, you have the last word on this, what’s the last word on this, Budour?

Budour Hassan:  I cannot be more eloquent than you were, really. I mean, as you said, that it’s one struggle against all forms of injustice. And it warms my heart to see people who lived through this pain and who lived through this oppression. I mean, all solidarity means a lot, but solidarity from you particularly means the world to us. And let’s hope that the next time we get together, Ahmad will be free and we’ll try to recover, piece together the life that Israel tried to deny him.

Mansa Musa:  There you have it. The real news about Ahmad Manasra. A 13-year-old was arrested, not giving due process of law like we get in the United States, or even the modicum of due process of law, was not given the benefit of even proving his innocence, and is still being tortured and continues to be oppressed, all because of one thing and one thing only: he’s a Palestinian in occupied territory, and wanted to be treated as a human being. Thank you, sister. Thank you very much for this enlightening conversation.

Budour Hassan:  Thank you, brother.

Mansa Musa

Mansa Musa, also known as Charles Hopkins, is a 70-year-old social activist and former Black Panther. He was released from prison on December 5, 2019, after serving 48 years, nine months, 5 days, 16 hours, 10 minutes. He co-hosts the TRNN original show Rattling the Bars.