Generation after generation, Israeli prison marks a rite of passage for Palestinian boys
NABI SALEH, West Bank (AP) — For all Palestinian parents, Marwan Tamimi said, there comes a moment they realise they’re powerless to protect their children.
For the 48-year-old father of three, it came in June, when Israeli forces fired a large rubber bullet that struck the head of his eldest son, Wisam, as he watched a raid unfold from his grandmother’s rooftop with his family. A week later, Marwan said, soldiers came for the 17-year-old, dragging him out of bed with a fractured skull as his mother cried.
Wisam was later charged with a range of offences he denied — throwing stones, possessing weapons, placing an explosive device and causing bodily harm. He was sent to Israel’s Ofer Prison. Last Saturday, after six months behind bars, he returned home with 38 other Palestinians in exchange for Israeli hostages released from Hamas captivity in Gaza — part of a temporary cease-fire in the war that started after Hamas’ October 7 attack on southern Israel.
His parents said they hadn’t seen or heard from him in two months, since the war started. Wisam said he spent that time in an overcrowded cell and was denied adequate food and medication, was interrogated about his friends, and was beaten repeatedly.
“I yelled, ‘No, he’s my boy, you can’t take him, he’s injured,’” Marwan Tamimi said. “That’s when I realised they will take him. And if I stop them, they will put his life in danger.”
Wisam’s homecoming last week, along with the release of his well-known activist cousin, Ahed Tamimi, touched every home in the village of Nabi Saleh, where prison is a grim rite of passage for Palestinian boys.
People clapped. Tears fell. Wisam hugged friends and family, one by one. But the euphoria spoke to pain as much as to joy in the occupied West Bank, where the United Nations estimates 750,000 Palestinians have been arrested since Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Mideast war.
The competing claims of Palestinians and Israelis have left their scars on Nabi Saleh, home to charismatic activists, journalists and lawyers known for their refusal to submit to occupation. Once an idyllic village on a hilly stretch of farmland growing grapes and green olives, it serves today as a powerful example of how Israeli prison over decades of war has crushed families, constrained lives and stamped out popular resistance.
Israel’s security service didn’t respond to questions about Wisam’s case. But the military defended large-scale arrests of Palestinians, including minors, as necessary to prevent militant attacks. In a statement to The Associated Press, the army said it aims to “preserve the rights and dignity” of Palestinian suspects during court proceedings and detention and that convicting a minor “requires a burden of proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”
Palestinian activists and human rights watchdogs say Israel’s mass detentions seek to sow fear among the youngest, breaking communities that continue to defy Israeli military rule, now in its 57th year.
“We’ve seen that this system suppresses and intimidates the majority of children,” said Salwa Duaibis, co-founder of Military Court Watch, a Palestinian legal advocacy group. “It crushes their spirit so that even when they’re 40, they’ll be running away when they see soldiers.”