Long walk to freedom for jailed Palestinian teenager

Alaturka Amerika ABD Haberleri

By Salam Abu Sharar

RAMALLAH (AA) – For the past four years, Mohammed has been living without his brother Ayham, who was arrested and jailed by Israeli forces in 2016.

Ayham was shot and seriously injured by Israeli forces east of Ramallah for allegedly planning to carry out attacks against soldiers. He was 14 years old at that time.

Ever since, Mohammed, who was 12 years old when his brother was arrested, spent many nights crying and beseeching his father to bring Ayham back.

Adding to their pain, Israeli authorities banned the family from visiting Ayham in prison since his arrest on Feb. 18, 2016. After several pleadings in Israeli courts, the Israeli intelligence eliminated the ban, allowing the family to visit their son in the spring of 2019, three years after Ayham's arrest.

"Ayham was arrested when he was a ninth-grade student. He was denied the completion of his studies although he was a talented superior student in more than one field," his father Basem Sabbah told Anadolu Agency.

"He's a bright spark, has a high human spirit and does not refuse to offer help to me, to the family, and even to the road people."

– Unfair trial

Sabbah was able to see his son at the Ofer military court, 40 days after his arrest.

"He seemed to have signs of severe exhaustion, his face was pale but he tried to look good in our presence," the Palestinian father said.

Although he was barred by the court from approaching his son, Sabbah kept trying to raise Ayham's morale.

The family maintained the hope that their son will be freed soon, but the shock came on Dec. 12, 2018, when the court sentenced Ayham to 35 years in prison.

Israeli prosecutors appealed the verdict, asking the court to toughen the sentence.

On Jan. 15, 2020, the court scheduled a trial session and sentenced Ayham to life in prison, shocking the family and defense lawyers.

"We will continue to appeal the judgment," Sabbah said. "Israeli military courts are unfair in their trial of Palestinian children and issue unfair verdicts against them."

He cited that an Israeli settler was involved in a 2015 arson, in which a Palestinian family and his parents were burnt alive in the West Bank, received a light sentence.

In July 2015, Riham and Saad Dawabsheh and their 18-month baby were burned alive when settlers set on fire their home in the village of Duma in Nablus. Another child sustained severe burns in the attack.

Last year, however, the Central District Court in Lod approved a plea deal between the settler’s lawyers and the State Prosecutor’s office under which he was cleared of the murder conspiracy charges.

Under the deal, the settler would not serve more than five years in prison related to the murder.

Israel is holding around 200 Palestinian minors, according to the Palestinian Prisoner Society.

– Still hopeful

Every month, the Sabbah family visits their son for 45 minutes, behind a glass barrier. They talk about their memories together and the details of Ayham's life in prison.

Sabbah says his son is spending his time in prison reading the books his father sends to him every month.

The father says he misses his son in the preparation of pizza, where he learned to make when he was helping him in his restaurant in Ramallah.

"He now cooks many food items for his fellow prisoners, and he still maintains the spirit of initiative and helping everyone," he said.

These days, Ayham is incarcerated in Eshel Prison in the southern desert of Israel.

"We still hope that we will be reunited with our son soon," a hopeful Sabbah said.