Nadar Khallaf lays out colourful cards in the centre of the circle and asks each of the 12 young men surrounding him to pick two of them. A member of the group chooses one depicting a figure wearing a white blindfold, set against a red background. “This picture reminds me of the day I was taken from home. They took me to the jeep and blindfolded me. Then they took me inside. The moment I saw it, I remembered when they blindfolded me,” he explains to the others.
Another selects a black card with a tiny, yellow square and a silhouette in the top corner. Holding it he tells the group: “The hardest part of all is getting arrested. It was night and I was blindfolded. I was afraid to be beaten, I couldn’t see. I was so scared I was following their shadows. Two were holding me, the others were mere shadows. That’s what the picture represents to me.”
The young men are part of a therapy group for young Palestinians who have been incarcerated in Israeli jails, which takes place every week at the YMCA in Hebron, Palestine. ‘When the Boys Return,’ a DocHouse event screening at the Rich Mix Cinema on Thursday evening, follows their stories as they attempt to reintegrate back into normal life. 8,000 Palestinian minors, between the age of 12 and 18, have been imprisoned in the last ten years. Most of them are arrested at night; the most common offence is throwing stones.
Upon their release, former detainees suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and often struggle to adjust to normal life. One explains how since he has returned to school he fights with his teachers every day, hitting them and swearing at them. “No one goes back the same as before,” he explains. Another describes how he has become “edgy” and has lost the will to do anything. He used to respect school, but now it has been six years since he has attended.
About half way through the documentary, news arrives that one of the young men from the group has been re-arrested, though it has only been a few weeks since his release. Khallaf, who is the young men’s therapist, asks them how they feel about hearing about this. One explains that because they are monitored by soldiers and spies when they are released from jail many don’t feel safe and are afraid to go out.
As children under 18, international law actually prohibits these arrests. “You have the right to come and go to school safely. You have the right to free movement without fear or harm. You have the right to sleep comfortably at home,” Khallaf tells them. Later when he asks them about what they want to become or study in the future, one replies “a pilot” and another “nursing.” One simply answers, “To be free. To live in freedom.”
When the Boys Return will be played at the Rich Mix Cinema in London on Thursday 16th May at 8.00pm, and will be followed by a Director Q&A.
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