When children are treated like criminals

by Ingrid, Bethlehem team,

Now back in Norway, EA Ingrid spent much of her recent service in the Palestinian village of Husan, north of the Etzion Bloc settlement, in the Bethleham Governorate. This blog highlights the problem of child detention and arrests in the area.

I write this blog to bring attention to an event that really scared me and which I thought was abnormal. While preparing this post I was also attempting to write a report on the events I had witnessed that week. Ideally the report would have been completed the evening before. Ideally it would have made organizations and individuals that work in this field offer immediate assistance to the victims. But there are very few ‘ideal’ situations here in Israel/Palestine, and what is considered normal here is far from ‘normal’ back home. Incidents are so many that the Bethlehem team cannot cover them all, and our plans change every hour. Planned topics for blog posts and newsletters are thus postponed for more urgent topics, like this one:

Early on a Monday morning, an incident was reported forcing us to postpone our plans for the day and go to a village that we had already visited eight times. I wish that the reason for going to the village of Husan for the ninth time in four weeks had been a different one. I wish that the idyllic scenery seen from our local contact’s balcony and the pleasant breakfasts shared with his neighbors had been the reasons for this visit, but we were called to Husan for a very different reason. Once again, minors had been arrested in Husan by the Israeli military. The phone call I received about the night’s detentions, in Husan, made my head spin. I thought to myself:

‘What can a 15-year-old boy possibly have done that demands he is detained in the middle of the night?’.

08.04.15_Bethlehem, Husan. Armored vehicle on HusanArmored vehicle from the Israeli military on the main street of Husan. Photo: EAPPI / I. Baukhol.

08.04.15_Bethlehem, Husan. Armored vehicle on Husan Armored vehicle from the Israeli military on the main street of Husan. Photo: EAPPI / I. Baukhol.

The first mother we met was Mouna. Her son, Abed, had been taken from the family home at around 1:30am by 7 soldiers. Abed was handcuffed, blindfolded and put into an armored vehicle without even being given the time to get dressed. While this was going on, many more soldiers were in the streets and approximately 9 military vehicles could be seen from the house.

In Husan, parents have to live day-to-day knowing that their children can be arrested and imprisoned at any time by the illegal occupiers. As the EAs assigned to the Bethlehem Governorate, we meet with the families after arrests have taken place and talk with the boys themselves when they return home.

_Photo EAPPI_H.Jonsson

20.04.15 Bethlehem, Husan_Mouna mother of Abed holding her sons schoolbag. Photo: EAPPI / H. Jonsson.

When we met Mouna she did not know where Abed was being held, only that he would appear in court the next day. While talking with Mouna her sadness and despair were evident and I felt terribly helpless as I listened to her share the traumatic experience of the previous night with us. ‘How could I possibly give her any support? How did it help her and her son to sit with me and go over once again the terrible events of the previous night?’

Mouna shows us pictures of her son from when he was younger. Photo: EAPPI/H. Jonsson

Mouna shows us pictures of her son from when he was younger. Photo: EAPPI/H. Jonsson

In less than two weeks, 15 boys between the ages of 13 and 16, all from the same school, were arrested in Husan. This community of around 6,000 inhabitants suddenly saw half a school class of boys arrested and held at unknown locations for indefinite amounts of time. These boys have spent their entire lives under occupation and are, therefore, far more politicized than the average 15 year old back in Norway. But in reality their actions cannot warrant such large-scale retaliation.

I cannot help but think of my home district of Sør-Fron in Norway which is half the size of Husan, what would the reaction be to half a class of schoolboys being arrested and detained in Sør-Fron? Surely there would be both domestic and international outcry. However Sør-Fron is one thing and Husan another. Over the three months I have spent here I have come to realize that these stories occur with a frequency that is at first hard to accept. But I will have to accept it, despite the terribly unjust nature of these events, for this is the reality of a life under occupation. I  have to understand by sitting down, listening to the stories, bearing witness to these events and sharing them with the world that I am making a small contribution to combating this injustice and that there is value in these small contributions.

Israel ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1991. Therefore it has an obligation under the Convention to comply with the following under all circumstances:

  • The best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social-welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
  • Non-discrimination. States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child shall respect and ensure that the rights set forth in the Convention apply to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or their parents’ race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.
  •  Diversion. Children in conflict with the law should be channelled away from judicial proceedings through the development and implementation of procedures or programmes that enable many – possibly most – to avoid the potential negative effects of formal judicial proceedings, provided that human rights and legal safeguards are fully respected.
  • Use of detention only as a measure of last resort. Children should only be deprived of their liberty as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.
  • Alternatives to detention. Alternatives to detaining children should always be
    considered and encouraged, at both the pre-trial and post-sentencing stages of any
    judicial or military detention system. See full text here.


Read UNICEF’s the latest report here: Children in Israeli Military Detention.

Fact sheet: A summary of the rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child here

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