Violent banging on the door at dawn frightened the children. Armed Israeli soldiers were at the door, wanting to raid the house and arrest the mother of the family. There is no need to ask why, as she is a well-known Palestinian writer, and the free pen in Palestine may lead its holder to an Israeli occupation prison.
The image of the writer Lama Khater’s arrest at her home in Hebron, in the south of the West Bank, on 24 July, was heart-rending. Her youngest son clung to her before being plucked away by Israeli soldiers. It was a farewell that one of the people at the scene managed to capture.
Can Benjamin Netanyahu’s government provide a Palestinian child with a justification for his mother’s arrest or why he could not visit her when the family went to the detention centre a few days later? The child was aware that his mother was close by, hidden behind bars and barbed wire, but the soldiers did not let him in.
This is what happened to Lama Khater, a writer well-known for her articles which are critical of Israeli policies, Palestinian conditions and human rights violations. In her writings over the years she has described a reality that is not conducive to the establishment of an “independent and viable Palestinian state”, as promised by the so-called Middle East Quartet. The occupation authorities have continued to impose grave facts on the ground whenever they please; reinforce their control with walls and barriers; confiscate land; harass Palestinian civilians; and carry out daily arrest campaigns, of which Khater was a victim.
She wrote as she watched illegal settlements spread across Hebron, the area with a dense concentration of armed, radical and violent Israeli settlers, especially in the Kiryat Arba settlement, which is rife with neo-fascism. Settlers planted by the occupation in Hebron threaten the daily lives of Palestinians in the old city. They continue to destroy the famous vineyards in Hebron and burn olive trees across the occupied West Bank. This suggests that those behaving thus have a psychological problem. “If we were to wonder why the Israeli settlers insist on burning Palestinian olive fields every year,” wrote Khater about this, “I would say that this will continue as long as the settler feels that he is an outsider on this land, because they did not inherit an olive tree that is hundreds of years old from their father or grandfather, linking them physically and morally to the land, giving him proof of his extensive and deep presence.”
Writing about the oppressive occupation policies exercised in the West Bank, Khater explained how successive Israeli governments forced the Palestinians to live in what are little more than the hated Bantustan “homelands” created by the Apartheid regime in South Africa. This was done by the Israelis to ensure that Palestinian communities in the occupied territories lacked geographical contiguity.
Lama Khater does not give in to this reality; she carries within her a revolutionary, rebellious spirit that made her articles an “intifada of words”. In her writing, she talked about the sacrifices of her people and described proudly the perseverance of Palestinian women and girls under occupation.
Freedom of expression remained a concern for the imprisoned writer, and in recent years she noted that the occupation leadership has become more inclined to “abandon many of its masks it was cautious to wear in the past, especially those related to its claims of allowing freedom of opinion and expression.” Today, she said, the Israeli occupation authorities believe that the policies of repression, censorship and gagging are more useful and effective to resolve their battles or to vent their frustration with other crises. “The occupation also believes it is no longer required to present a report to the world regarding its democratic behaviour because all it needs to do now is carry a misleading sign related to the war on terror or combatting incitement under the pretext of which it commits major violations and abuse. It also seems that the world is not concerned enough to examine the validity or accuracy of these claims.”
Khater also criticises the Palestinian Authority: “[The PA] was keen to portray a delusional image of its approach regarding liberties and freedoms and pretending to preserve them. However, it always fails to preserve and respect such freedoms, even within the minimum limits… Our problem with the PA is much bigger than a matter of freedoms, and the recent repression it is exercising is considered a small-scale crime compared to the sin of security cooperation with the occupation, on which the PA was founded, and continued to serve in every stage and with every leader.”
The bold and courageous writer was unwilling to flatter the PA which, in her eyes, has turned into a functional apparatus that plays complementary roles in cooperation with the Israel government. This has caused trouble for her and her husband, Hazem Fakhouri, who was previously imprisoned by the Israelis. Such trouble includes repeated summonses to the PA security services, which are openly loyal to intelligence cooperation with their Israeli counterparts. The sophisticated term in the Oslo Accords for this relationship, which provokes the anger of the Palestinians, is “security coordination”.
The Accords were signed 25 years before Lama Khater’s arrest by Israeli soldiers. She was 17 years old when pen was put to paper. On the anniversary of this agreement, we can say that Oslo was a massive delusion sold to the Palestinians from which, 25 years later, they have gained nothing but the perpetuation of the occupation, settlement expansion and continued arrests, along with more diktats imposed by the US administration sponsoring the “peace process”.
With every day spent by the wordsmiths in prison, the Israel occupation’s issue with their work is exposed even more. Their words could be in articles, blogs or poems. It is a tradition of the tyrannical colonial state that it has long relied on the oppression of the people, the breaking of their pens and the suffocation of their freedom, for its occupation to survive. It will all be to no avail, for Lama Khater’s imprisonment exposes Israel’s fear of words, which really can be mightier than the sword.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.