Naked City

Caught Up in the Action

Andrew Clarno and his mother Nancy
Andrew Clarno and his mother Nancy

The last thing you expect when you take your wife and daughter shopping on a sizzling hot Saturday afternoon is to return home and get a call informing you that your child had been arrested in a faraway land. Yet this is precisely what happened to James and Nancy Clarno of Round Rock on August 11. Earlier that day, their son Andrew, 26, a UT graduate and Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan, was arrested by Israeli police in Jerusalem during a peaceful protest opposing Israel's seizure of Orient House, the unofficial Palestinian headquarters in the occupied eastern part of the city.

While the Clarnos were away from home, a photo showing an Israeli policeman dragging Andrew by the neck appeared on, prompting calls to the Clarno residence from concerned relatives and friends. Many had recognized Andrew by his balding head -- not by the caption, which merely identified the photo as that of "a man" being "subdued" by Israeli police.

CNN's report mentioned neither Andrew's name and nationality, nor that 10 other demonstrators -- including four Americans from Seattle and Chicago -- who were also arrested. All belong to the International Solidarity Movement, a nonviolent umbrella organization working with foreign civilians concerned about the Palestinian struggle for freedom and calling for and end to Israel's occupation of Palestine.

"As a parent, my initial feeling was to find out what I could do to help. I felt so helpless being so far away," James Clarno says. "My biggest fear was that Andrew was hurt, and this was the very first thing I needed to find out." Despite the eight-hour time difference, Clarno called the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. "It was the weekend, and a very polite Marine guard was the only person available to take my call at 3:30am." In fact, he had to wait till the weekend was over before an embassy official visited Andrew in jail.

"He was still banged up and bruised as a result of his arrest, but other than that, he was all right," says Clarno, who also made calls to the White House, the State Dept., and several members of Congress and the Senate to try to secure the release of his son. "I spent the entire weekend on the phone and on e-mail," he adds.

The contacts and the media coverage paid off. On Aug. 13, two days after his arrest, Andrew was released on $500 bail. He was told that he would be brought to trial within 48 hours and could be charged with illegal demonstration and allegedly attacking a police officer, which he denies doing. (According to eyewitnesses and film footage, police used clubs and fists to apprehend Andrew and the other demonstrators.)

Following his release, Andrew had an important call to make. It was his father's birthday. "I'm sorry I didn't buy you a present, Dad, but I've been kind of busy lately," he told him.

To date, Andrew's trial has yet to materialize. "I was taken in for questioning again a few days ago," he wrote in an e-mail from Jerusalem on Aug. 25. "There is still a possibility that I will face trial." If there is no trial by the time Andrew leaves the country on Sept. 3, his attorney will ask that the charges be dropped.

Despite his arrest, Andrew intends to stick to his original plan and stay in the Palestinian Territories until early September. A recipient of both the Fulbright and Social Science Consortium grants, he traveled to the region in July to work on his pre-doctoral research on refugees. From Palestine, he will conduct further field research in Syria and Uganda before finally coming home to Round Rock in January 2003.

Meanwhile, the possibility of a trial and a sentence remains James Clarno's biggest concern. "Andy has never been arrested nor been to jail," he says. "Other protesters shared his jail cell the first night, but they were released the next day and Andrew remained alone. His mind started playing games on him and he became very scared that he may beaten up again by the police, or placed in a cell with Israelis who could do the same thing."

But even if his son is convicted, Clarno insists that he is proud of Andrew. "He had the courage to speak up for what he believes in. And he did so in a nonviolent way."

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