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Sunday, 8 March 2009

Lady Justice an apparition for Palestinian

The following is an exclusive Press TV interview with Mahmud Abu-Rida, a Palestinian refugee in the UK who tells the tale of his plight in the British kingdom.

Press TV: Can I ask you to tell us briefly about your life up to the point when you came to the UK?

Abu-Rida: I am Palestinian, from the Gaza strip, I came to Britain as a refugee after the war of 1967 when the Palestinians were expelled from their homeland. I was born in Jordon and I lived there with my parents in a camp called "Gaza"; the camp is concocted from tin material.

I grew up there in "Gaza" camp where no life supply was available. We lived off UN aid. Like many others in the camp, my father had no job and was very sick.

No human rights were exercised in such camps in Jordon; there was no education, no work, no university, no nothing, no life -- life itself is based on nothing there. I grew up without knowing where to turn to.

In "Israel", I was imprisoned several times during the first Palestinian Intifada. After that, I got married and then we went to Bangkok where we stayed for three days.

In 1995, we came to Britain with our daughter as refugees - we led an ordinary life in the UK as foreigners - in this year we also received political asylum.

We never had any problems and we were never arrested or investigated by the police. One morning after 9/11 when I was living in "New Malden" in London I woke up to find soldiers have broken into my house, broken down the door and came in through the backyard widow. They came in 7-10 vans backed with several sniffer dogs and weapons. They had spread out in every corner of the house; they were from different organizations: the Scotland Yard, the Immigration Department, etc.; they asked me, "Are you Mahmud Abu-Rida?" and I said, "Yes, I am".

The men from the Immigration Department informed me, "We've pulled out your permanent accommodation in this country; you have nothing in this country; now you are considered a threat to the British National Security; this operation is based on a new law named the 2001 law of emergency, and you are under arrest."

I immediately replied, "Well, take me to another country. Why are you arresting me? I don't want to be imprisoned. Just let me travel to another country. Get me a lawyer." But one of the men told me, "Don't say anything".

This is while, one of them was filming the entire operation; their behavior was so similar to that of the armies. My children and wife who were in their nightwear began screaming.

I was shocked to see this happening in Britain. I thought only "Israelis" were capable of doing such things; this is how "Israelis" treat Palestinians. It was unbelievable to see such behavior in Britain in the 21st century.

In a matter of a few minutes, they tied my hands and feet and rushed me into a van. The van was driving so fast that it took us only one hour from New Malden to New March. It was about 5:30 a.m. and I had not even said my morning prayers; I entered the reception of New March where I was fingerprinted.

All prison preparations were made. They gave me a number. I told them that I wanted to say my morning prayers but they refused to allow me to do so at first. "Don't move. Don't say anything. Stay here," one of the soldiers ordered me.

At about 8:30 in the morning, they put me in solitary confinement in a prison called "the Unit". It is a prison inside another prison. "You live here now," an officer said. "I need to call my wife and see a lawyer," I told him, but he replied, "It is impermissible; you have no rights here. Shut up."

I was arrested on Wednesday. And one day at noon, they gave us a one-hour break outside the prison cell. I informed them that I am psychologically sick and I have backaches and that I need to take medicine. The officers had not brought my medicines.

Four days after my arrest on Saturday 19/12- Saturdays are Boxing Days for Britons, so they shop for gifts. The officers finally gave me a box of medicine for backache, depression and sleep; i.e. a multi-purposes reliever- that's what one of the prisoners who spoke English informed me, for there were Irish citizens from the IRA among the prisoners; at that time no peace agreement had been reached between Britain and Ireland yet; in addition to them there were some "Islamists" prisoners.

I had excruciating pains in my stomach and all over my body, so I threw the medicine on the ground, and began shouting. The officers rushed in, bound my hands and feet, lowered my head and transferred me to solitary confinement. Everything I am telling you has been documented by them.

When my friends were exercising outside the unit, anti-riot police broke into my prison cell; they were wearing chest, hand and boot protection; one of them said that from then on I would be considered as a security threat, despite the fact that I was so weak; another officer hit me on the chest so hard that I couldn't breathe anymore; they tied me and caused me enormous pain in my back- I even cried from pain.

One of the prisoners named "Suleiman" asked me why I was crying and I told him that I had been beaten. "Suleiman" was an African British who died as a result of being tortured shortly after his release.

Later, I was put in a dark underground cell used for punishment. I had nothing to occupy myself with not a book, a Qur'an, a carpet for praying, over even beads; there was nothing in that cell.

Once again officers stormed into the cell, pushed me to the ground and hit me on the chest, although I still had not recovered from their first beating, then they locked the door and left.

Press TV: Up to this point, had any one told you why you are being treated this way or why you are being detained?

Abu-Rida: Nobody told me anything. I still hadn't seen a lawyer or called my wife. It was after 40 days that I was allowed to call my wife; she told me that she had called the police station and many other departments in the area, but no one responded.

Nobody had asked her about the whereabouts of her husband as if I was hidden. Yes, I can consider myself as so, for they had not allowed me to call my wife or meet a lawyer or anybody else.

In addition to that, the treatment I had received had led me to decide to go on a hunger strike to protest their policy. No food was delivered, and the officers were satisfied by only asking whether I want food or not, and they would turn their backs and leave when I said "no" to food; I was never asked if I needed a Qur'an or anything else; I wasn't told the direction of Mecca [so I could say my prayers properly], or even given water to wash before praying.

Things continued in this way until Monday when a commander, accompanied by twelve soldiers, informed me that I would be tried for hitting an officer and that the officer was in hospital.

After hearing this, I began shouting, "Is it me who hit someone or am I the one being hit?" I showed them the bruises on my own chest from their beatings "look at this [bruise]; it has become blue and tumid. How did I get this bruise? You are the ones who hit me."

I started shouting for I felt so aggrieved- what happened to me brings to mind a popular Arabic proverb that says, "He hits me but complains before me".

The commander said, "You have been charged with two things: firstly, you have endangered public health by throwing the medicine on the floor; secondly, you've hit an officer on the chest and he is now in the hospital."

"These are lies," I said, "I have been imprisoned here without a trial, and I don't know why I am here. And you are here to try me for a trifle matter that happened in prison, for what? Throwing medicine on the ground?"

All that was going on was pure racism; they insulted me, forbade me and other prisoners from eating and praying, and even sleeping at nights; they kept focusing lights on our faces 24-hours a day, claiming that we might do something during the night, so how can one sleep under such circumstances?

All this is happening in March, in Britain, not in Guantanamo or in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. They all have the same rules and regulations. No difference between them.

I kept demanding that they let us sleep. But they forbade us from even doing that as every 15 minutes or so some of the officers would come in to inspect the cells, they would open the widows just to prevent us from falling asleep. In addition to all this, we expected to be hit or pushed at any moment. Cameras were not on all the time. During investigations, we demanded the availability of cameras, but to no avail.

After 40 days we were finally allowed access to a lawyer. I was also allowed to call my wife but I had to speak to her in English. My English is poor, so it was difficult for me to speak with her. The moment I greeted her by saying "Al Salamo Alaikom" (peace be upon you), the call was cut off. I informed them that Al Salamo Alaikom is the way we begin a conversation.

We experienced such racist treatment until 2005. We had many incidents there; they insulted the Holly Qur'an several times. Once one of the officers came and urinated on everything including the Qur'an and the prayer rug although there was a toilet in the jail. The anti-riot officers storm into our cells to insult us.

I kept complaining from my pains until doctors finally said I should be taken to a hospital. I was taken to a mental and psychological healthcare facility called Bred More; an institution where the most dangerous criminals including rapists and pedophiles are taken to, so it was strange for me to be taken there like a criminal.

There, I received the same bad treatment from both the employees and patients. Famous criminals in Britain are treated in this hospital. This hospital was not for my case. I was imprisoned for unknown reasons and until that point I had not even been interrogated. All I had been told was that I am a threat to British National Security. I was clueless as to what I had done.

I could not sleep thinking about the reasons behind my incarceration. There, all memories from my time in "Israeli" and Jordanian jails kept coming back to me.

While I am proud to be a Palestinian I sometimes wonder why my mother gave birth to me as a Palestinian with no rights; if only my nationality was Algerian, Jordanian, or Egyptian, I would have returned to my homeland and lived there under the protection of the local government. I would know that even if I was imprisoned in my homeland, I would at least be tortured by my own people who know my culture and traditions; they would have at least investigate my case, so I would know that I am not guilty, and that I am just an ordinary person.

I have done nothing wrong; I have no relation with "terrorists".

I keep asking myself why am I a Palestinian? Why am I always the object of anger or hatred?

My children ask the same questions. They are Palestinians born in Britain with no rights. The British government treats them like "Israelis" would treat them. I am now under house arrest with an endless list of things I am forbidden from doing or having: no cell phones allowed, no accommodation, and my house is now in a village.

Press TV: How has this incident affected your children?

Abu-Rida: In 2005, the House of Lords issued an order for our release. We thought that we are finally free. Later on, they put us under house arrest based on another law that has been issued by the parliament- the same story guilty with no evidence but with a letter informing you that you are a threat to British National Security.

Now, I am allowed spend 12 hours outside the house and another 12 hours inside. In addition to that, the list includes about 250 of forbidden things: no Internet access- land lines are the only connection line permissible -, no video/digital cameras, no job, no entrance to any post office, no sending/receiving of any messages, no bank account(s)- I don't know how I can continue this life of suffering- no use of street phones, no use mobile phone that belongs to another person, no use of devices like Play Stations, no entrance into any airport, port, international train stations or sea areas, no to many other places- even if I need to see my lawyer there are countless other complications, I must pass by two other train stations.

Press TV: Why?

Abu-Rida: To avoid passing through any international train stations; they want to block any chance of escaping the country. Besides all this, I cannot own more than one car and I must report every detail of the car I am using. I believe my car has been bugged.

No visiting or being visited at my house- I have had no visitors for the past 7 years. How many happy occasions or Christmases have come on gone? My son Ayman who is now one year and two-months old has not received his birthday gifts until now; none of my wife's friends have been allowed to visit her. What sin has Ayman committed? What is the crime my children have been charged with?

My children cannot do their homework as they must search the internet, the British education system requires online research, yet internet access is forbidden in my home. I wonder how the British government can treat my children in this way.

Having more than 99 pounds at my house is forbidden; if they find 100 pounds in my home they take all the money we have; they steal from us in broad daylight.

The same thing they are doing to Iraqi oil. They wanted to steal Iranian oil as well. They have inflicted much damage on Muslim countries.

How can one manage a life with six children without being allowed to even have 100 pounds at home? Many things have been forbidden for us. I am not even sure of what I am allowed to say or not to say in this interview.

Our life has become so difficult that death seems more merciful than this life! I am ready to leave this country. I don't want to live here anymore. I hate living here. I hold no grudge against British people, for I know them very well.

The British government is so bad; many laws have been issued and many honest people have been jailed. The British and the Americans are behaving similarly.

Worse laws are passed every day. It is becoming a police state. I don't know how things will finally end up in this country. The British and the American Foreign Departments repeatedly release reports about torturing in Syria and some other Arab countries; however they never say anything about the people being tortured here.

Press TV: Why don't you go and live somewhere else?

Abu-Rida: I've asylum in Britain. I am from Gaza, but I can't go there because I don't have an "Israeli" identity papers. The Hamas government has agreed to have me and my family go to Gaza. The problem is the blockade. Egypt refused to allow us to pass through "Rafah" crossing point which is always closed.

Entering from Rafah is dangerous. No one knows what may happen there. I informed British Intelligence that I am ready to be accompanied by them until I arrive into Gaza. A week ago, I was informed that from 2008 until February 2009, 220 thousand pounds have been paid to my lawyers. I was shocked.

They also pay the surveillance company that does nothing but check my voice print several times a day. In addition to this, there's also money that goes to tax. I want nothing form them. I want them to let me leave and live, even in the poorest country in the world, with dignity and have freedom. I want nothing more.

I was always unhappy to have been born a Palestinian forced to move from one camp to another. I never wanted such a life for my children. But now this is their fate. My children are suffering.

We are not allowed to live. What sort of a life is this? It's true that- I am sick but I am not crazy. Policemen know nothing about my history. Some of them come and bang on the door and break the window. 4-5 men hit the door at once. Security forces raid my house and search everywhere, the laundry room and basement.

I don't know ethics, religion or tradition allows men to raid a house full of women and children and go through their personal belongings and inspect even their undergarments.

It is always male officers who raid my home, no once has a female officer accompanied them. I wonder if Prime Minister Golden Brown, or the former premier Blair, would have found it acceptable for someone to go through their wives' undergarments.

I would never be able to do these things. If I were a policeman and I received such an order, I would not obey it because it is totally against my morals and humanity.

Press TV: Have you asked them why they for example use female officers to search your wife and children or why they don't come during the day rather than at night time?

Abu-Rida: I have repeatedly asked them to send female officers- but to no avail. They say this is a part of the policy of the British Intelligence, the Scotland Yard, and some other decision makers.

I have also asked them to schedule their raids so that my children are at school and would be less traumatized by the ordeal. Fighting "terrorism" in Britain is a lie. It is something they have made up here. Although they are British my children sometimes think about attacking policemen. They are getting ideas from TV dramas in which people resist occupiers.

However, I tell them we should not respond to bad treatment with bad treatment. All what we want is to avoid them. One night the policemen came while my daughter was watching TV, she said let me resist them just like what happens in Syrian drama I was watching.

I usually pray in the Mosque and meet people there, and I think that Britain is losing millions of pounds trying to improve its image. They pretend that the UK is not launching a war against the Muslims, the Arabs, Islam or any other tradition or culture; surely UK is fighting all of these.

The British Interior and Foreign Departments together are working on improving the image of Britain worldwide; yet, the image of the British along with the Americans has deteriorated in the world. It's becoming hard for the British and the Americans to travel to Arab states or elsewhere because they are afraid.

What has led to this? I am not the cause. I have done nothing wrong. The reasons behind this is their own wrong policies and their so-called "war on terror".

They are actually fighting Islam rather than "terrorism". At least this is what I think. Had I done something wrong, I would want to be tried, I would want to attend my hearings and serve my sentence but don't want to be left in limbo with no evidence or secret evidence of my crime and without a clue as to what I have been charged with.

"Terrorism" has become a business and a means to make maker off of by journalists and writers in Britain. Books are written in the name of "Terrorism,"Taliban," and "Hamas"- a wrongful association. They use the wrong facts, Hezbollah, Hamas are not terrorists groups; they are fighting to defend their homeland. They are resisting occupation yet they have been categorized as "terrorist organizations".

Although I am a Palestinian, I am accused of being linked to "al-Qaeda" or "Taliban" or other sides in Algeria. I have never made a phone call to Algeria and I have never been to Algeria.

Surely it would make more sense to accuse me of having connections with Hezbollah or Hamas? They are closer to my homeland. I wonder what they base their policy on or where they get their information.

It's beyond my ability to express my sufferings. I am sick and get sudden high-fevers during the night. As the case paralyzes me, I wonder what to do and how to manage. Whom do I call for help? I call the police who are in charge of taking care of me yet nobody responds. My wife tries to bring down my fever with water.

It is hard to manage when there is an emergency and I know there is no one I can call, when my car breaks down in the middle of the street or when my child is sick and I have no mobile phone to call for help.

Once I was stopped by a policeman who asked for my insurance and identity; I informed him that I am under house-arrest, so he asked why. He ran an ID check on me and when he found out I have been imprisoned due to "terrorism" and nothing more, he started asking me for details, he asked me why my case was linked to terrorism. I replied that I have no idea but he didn't believe me.

I said, "You are an ordinary policeman and you've stated the reasons why you are stopping me. However, I have no idea why I've been linked to terrorism." He was not convinced. Then he received a call telling him to strip search me in the middle of the street. This incident took place on 28/8/2007.

The policeman along with 5-6 other officers forced my head into the van I was driving and searched me, a Muslim Somali woman passed by just then, I don't know maybe they thought I was carrying a bomb or something. I had nothing, so I asked them, "Why are you searching me on the street? Arrest me and make your searching in a jail."

It's the law of the jungle. It's permissible for policemen to do whatever they want to Muslims in the name of the "war on terror" and "Islam". My family and I are suffering a lot.

When I was in the jail, one of the officers put his shoe inside my mouth and forced me to kiss it.

Press TV: Why do you think they are treating you in this way rather than taking you into the van or another more private place? Do you think they really want to search you or to embarrass you?

Abu-Rida: Policemen wanted to torture me and practice their authority over me as if I were slave in their hands. British policemen think Muslims or foreign people in UK are slaves.

This is their mentality despite the numerous human rights organizations established in the world. Today, laws in Arab countries are becoming better than those in the western world and especially in Britain.

The law of the 2001 upon which they imprisoned me is based on old laws dating back to 500 years ago- arresting people with no visible evidence or accusations. The house arrest law dates back to the middle ages- torturing people- what they are doing to us now.

I've watched a documentary film that shows that a Lord of the House of the Commons is going through its archives in search of old laws to be adopted once more- against us.

Britain is working to improve its image in the world but no matter how much money they spend, it would not help because their image is much worse than any could ever imagine.

They are treating us as if we were slaves. My children now hate Britain. Every person, no matter what their background, be it Jewish or Buddhist etc, would resist any kind of torture. However, this reaction is considered as "terrorists" or "extremists" by Britain.

I am not willing to do anything against this country. I would like to kill myself, but my religion forbids me from doing so.

Being under house arrest means I must go to the police station twice a day to sign - from 9:30 to 10:30 in the morning and 1:30 to 2:30 in the afternoon. It takes me about 25-30 minutes to get there, as the station is not close to my house. I have to go there twice a day as if I were an employee there- even an employee with a salary would feel exhausted from this situation. It is torturing.

I have to answer five daily calls checking my voiceprint. There are calls at 3 o'clock in the early morning and another at 11 o'clock in the evening.

When should I sleep? When can I feel like a human with dignity and freedom? No weekends, Fridays, Sundays or praying time can be omitted. I must go twice a day whether I am dead or alive. One day I had to go twice under the heavy rain, as a result I became very sick.

Press TV: Do you have any hopes for the future?

Abu-Rida: I am not optimistic. Once one is put on the "terror" list, nothing will change his situation. They don't think themselves capable of making mistakes. That is the policy of the British. This has been their policy throughout history.

They are the one's who have tortured others most. The British are interrogating in Guantanamo, torturing in Iraq and in Pakistan. An Ethiopian man who has been tortured to the point of castration in Guantanamo has been recently transferred to Britain. This is a factual story.

It is their fault that this has happened yet no one is judging them. They commit one mistake after the other - the British Interior Secretary has been removed from his post for having extramarital relations; he has two children from his girlfriend and has even obtained a visa for his babysitter.

It's permissible for them to commit mistakes, steal or harm the country, but me, a person who has done nothing wrong I am treated so badly.

Were I a blue-eyed Briton, they would not have tortured me. I am Palestinian; I have no government that can protect me; I have no one to support me, so any behavior is permissible.

Because they raided my house, and did not even give my wife and daughters a chance to put on proper clothing, my wife and children have been sleeping completely dressed for the past four years; completely dressed 24 hours a day as if we were in an emergency situation or as if we are preparing to go out; all this is just to avoid the repetition of what happened when the police raided my house and they saw my wife without her hijab.

They are making mistakes. The Bangladesh Force Gate killed a Brazilian man in the underground train station claiming he was a "terrorist". Trials here take so long time.

They have hurt us so much in prison that I have no hope left but the hope to leave this country. I plead with Britons or anyone in the government who still has a sense of decency to help me leave this country.

Britons are not bad people they protested against the war on Iraq and Palestine. Their protests have been the biggest in the world. I hold no grudge against them. I still rush to the help of for instance an old man I see on the street. I still have a sense of decency. A human is human above all. We are all similar. How can one human torture another? I would like to tell the policemen who came and tortured me in my own home that I am totally ready to help them if need be. If they needed water, food or anything, I would offer it to them without hesitation.