To Be Young and Occupied

Living in Palestine, one routinely hears stories of discrimination, unlawful imprisonment, racism, beatings… While it is nearly impossible to consider one story of institutionalized hatred as worse than another, there is always one story that really buries itself in the depths of your heart. Typically, the story that leaves you feeling emotionless and completely useless deals with children. Children in Palestine often see the climax of youth at an abruptly early age, forced to enter adulthood prematurely. Despite being a signatory of the UN Convention of the Rights of Children, Israel has made a habit of arresting and abusing children in custody. There are stories of intimidation, sleep deprivation, torture, general violence, forced confessions and even sexual abuse. In December 2010, Defense of Children International reported that 213 Palestinian children were in Israeli prisons; since 2000, 1337 children have been murdered by Israelis. An average of 700 Palestinian children are arrested each year, 47.5% of which are accused of throwing rocks without proof. In 2009, 87.5% of children arrested were denied bail and the accused was jailed in 83% of the cases.

In January of this year, two youths were injured (Ismail, age 15, north of Gaza City and A.A. age 16, southeast of Nablus) and two more were shot and killed (Amjad, age 18 cousin of Ismail – killed in the same incident – and Yousef, age 15, near Hebron). Ismail and Amjad were attacked by the Israeli army while collecting metal scraps near the wall in Gaza and A.A. and Yousef were attacked by Israeli settlers. Typically, youths are tracked down and arrested for throwing stones and are often torn from their beds in the middle of the night. This is particularly prevalent in Nabih Saleh, a village with a long history of peace demonstration against settlers stealing land from the village (see above video) and in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan – where Israel opened 1,267 criminal files against Palestinian youths and 81 were arrested for questioning with no proof of wrongdoing. Yet the prevalence of violence against children is not limited and is spread across the occupied territories.

Moreover, children under Israeli law can be charged as adults at the age of 16 (though exceptions are made as children as young as 12 are charged as adults) whereas Israelis are considered adults at age 18. This is hardly the only discrepancy between Israelis and Palestinians. From the People’s Voice:

  1. detention until a hearing before a judge – 24 hours for Jews; up to eight days for Palestinians;
  2. total detention period before indictment – 30 days for Jews, and up to 75 on authority of the Attorney General; up to 180 days for Palestinians;
  3. detention from end of investigation to indictment – 5 days for Jews; 10 days for Palestinians;
  4. detention from indictment until arraignment – 30 days for Jews; up to two years for Palestinians;
  5. detention from arraignment to end of proceedings – 9 months for Jews; up to two years for Palestinians; and
  6. judicial approval of detention extensions if proceedings continue – 3 months for Jews (per a Supreme Court judge); six months for Palestinians (per Military Court of Appeals judge).

Despite international laws and commitments (Geneva Conventions, Convention of the Right of the Child, Convention Against Torture…) protecting Palestinian youth, Israel has made a habit of stealing the childhood of over 700 Palestinian children every year. Yet, as I mention, despite the mass of information, testimonials and tragic stories of human rights violations, there is always one story that simply knocks you over. For me, it is the dehumanization of Mohammad Mukheir. Muhammad story in which the 13 year old was tortured, urinated on and made to drink out of a toilet bowl was told on Mahsanmilim:

When Mohammad heard his sentence, he sat down and covered his face.
“I don’t want to be here”, he cried. And the confused father looked away, pale. And again found the strength to look at his son, gave him a tense smile and said in a forced voice: “But we’ll see each other tomorrow”. Tried to cheer him up. And it really was lucky that the visit his parents had applied for was allowed and scheduled for the next day, and the disappointed child’s eyes softened a bit, his mouth stopped trembling, looked brighter. Perhaps because in his child’s consciousness he had tomorrow to wait for. And tomorrow he’ll get a jacket and a blanket. That’s what his eyes said. And he smiled.
Yes, smiled.
Although maybe he didn’t.

Eight months in prison, and a fine, and a suspended jail sentence – this is what the 13-year old child got, a boy who, even according to the Occupation forces, hurt no one.
Eight months because of an advantageous plea bargain.
Thus, the military court.
Thus, when it comes to Palestinians.

Muhammed’s is a story of pure brutality and a reflection of the true face of the occupation of Palestine. The Israeli army do not photograph 13 year old children naked for the security of the state. Muhammed is a only a child. He was abducted by the Israeli army, beaten, abused, humiliated and then thrown in jail. He was not given the right to a lawyer, nor a fair trial. At 13 years old, Muhammed’s childhood has been torn apart, amputated prematurely. Unfortunately, Muhammed is not the only child whose entire life has been destroyed at the willing hands of Israeli brutality.

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