When the Boys Return: Palestinian Youths Try to Come to Terms With Being Jailed by Israel

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Al-Jazeera

When the Boys Return: Palestinian Youths Try to Come to Terms With Being Jailed by Israel

In Hebron in the West Bank, 11 young Palestinian men come together each week in a room at the YMCA.

All of them have spent time in Israeli jails. They are just a few of the 7,500 Palestinian minors aged between 12 and 18 who have gone through the prison system over the past 11 years.

The arrests of these youngsters, undertaken by the Israeli army, often happen at night. The most common charge is stone-throwing and the average sentence is two years.

Upon release, many former detainees display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and almost all find it difficult to slip back into the position they occupied in their families and communities prior to arrest.

Among the group are 15-year-old Mohammad Jamil, who was newly-released from prison when filming commenced, and 17-year-old Hamze Mahfouz.

Mohammad spends some days at demonstrations and some nights wandering the streets of his neighbourhood, coming close to re-arrest several times during filming. Eventually persuaded to enrol in a vocational course in car mechanics, he begins at last to settle in, much to his own surprise.

Hamze is articulate and polite, but struggles with aggression - often demonstrated through physical assaults on his brother - and is desperate to be the first son in his family to sit and pass the Tawjihi (senior high school exam).

Mohammad, Hamze and the group live with the fear that they could be re-arrested and taken back into prison at any time.

When the boys return follows the group over 10 weeks as they take part in a structured course of therapy, run by counsellor Nader Khallaf, aimed at helping them re-integrate into normal life.

This subtle, moving and well-crafted film lays bare the challenges the youths face as they try to rebuild their lives in the face of the ongoing Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

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