Thinking of the Children

Thoughts from an EA after Omar, a 12 year old boy, was detained by the Israeli military.

by Jenn, Jayyus team

Omar’s story

On Monday the 10th of March, in Azzun, a town located in the north of the West Bank, over 10 military jeeps and over 20 soldiers came to detain and arrest a 12 year old boy.

After dark, in his own home, the soldiers came and took Omar’s 29 year old brother. However, the soldiers soon realised that they had the wrong family member and instead they re-entered the home. This time looking for Omar. The soldiers started asking and shouting for Omar, shouting at the women and children present, telling them that they would not leave the home until they had Omar. It took awhile to convince them that the 12 year old who had at first opened the door was the person they were looking for.

After accepting that the young boy was who they sought they told his mother to grab a jumper for him and he was led outside of his home in his slippers to were the soldiers still held his brother.

Here, Omar was asked to try on some shoes they had taken from the home. The shoes fit Omar. After this Omar’s brother was released and Omar was led away. Only his father was allowed to accompany him as he was escorted on foot to a road 10 minutes away just beyond the town of Azzun. Here, in the dark, Omar was asked to climb over the roadside barrier and down a roadside embankment and into an olive grove in order to match his footprint against a footprint in the soil of the olive grove. Escorted at this point by only three soldiers, into the dark field, myself and my colleague followed.

During our interview with Omar, he demonstrates how he was blindfolded by the Israeli soldiers en route to his interrogation. Photo EAPPI/R. Ribeiro.

During our interview with Omar, he demonstrates how he was blindfolded by the Israeli soldiers en route to his interrogation. Photo EAPPI/R. Ribeiro.

Omar’s footprint, belonging to a pair of Vans and displaying the common diamond pattern of the brand, matched one of numerous footprints criss-crossing the olive grove. This olive grove was to the side of a road leading to the settlement of Ma’ale Shomeron. His charge, throwing stones at the cars of settlers. Stone throwing is a dangerous action and also one hard to prove and a footprint in a local olive grove is hardly damning evidence. It is a serious charge but most definitely not a charge necessitating the intimidating presence and inquiry of over 20 military personnel and vehicles.

Omar was arrested by the Israeli Army in a night operation that unfortunately is far from uncommon, the large number of military present and the timing after dark adds to the already traumatic experience of child arrests. Unusually the Israeli Army allowed Omar’s father to accompany him and gladly we learned that Omar was allowed to return home in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

For security?

It is not unreasonable to ask how the presence of 10 Jeeps and a couple of dozen soldiers, arriving and shouting at a family home at night while armed with automatic weapons and tear gas might contribute to the security of Israel.

I asked a soldier at the start what was going on, he replied in one word “Terrorist”. Israel has a duty to defend its citizens against terrorism. However, there is no one standard and accepted international definition of terrorism and the question should be raised if it is appropriate to label possible stone throwing by a 12 year old boy as a terrorist act? A report by the former Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin recommended that ” the detention or imprisonment of a child be used as a measure of last resort” and raised concerns about Israel’s vague definitions in counter-terrorism legislation.

When I later challenged the legality of their actions and the importance of child protection another soldier replied “We are the law in this area”. In this they identify their role as the occupying force that has the responsibility to ensure law and order in occupied territory. Israel has signed the International Convention on the Rights of the Child and a 2013 UNICEF report made 38 recommendations about the Israeli contravention of the rights of minors when arrested and detained.

In October 2013 Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that progress towards the ending of these contraventions had been limited. This eyewitness account from Azzun backs up this assertion.

According to local contacts, in Azzun alone in 2013, 175 people were arrested. In 2014 so far the number has reached 35, 13 of these have been under 18 years of age. This is one village and this example is a mild version of something that happens frequently in villages in the West Bank. As a tactic to ensure law and order aimed at enhancing the security of Israeli civilians, arresting and imprisoning boys and the creation of a climate of  hostility does seem to work against prospects for future peace.

According to Defence for Children International every year between 500-700 hundred Palestinian children between the ages of 12-17 years are detained or arrested and prosecuted in military courts, most accused of the same crime as Omar – stone throwing.

The emotional effects of child detention

We visited Omar at his home two days after his arrest. He spoke quietly and in few words as he told us his story. Omar told us that following his arrest he was blindfolded and his hands were bound by the Israeli authorities. He is withdrawn in his speech and and it is only with encouragement from his older brother that he continues his story. He tells us that he was interrogated in a small room, that the door was open and that he could see his father. He also tells us about how while he was interrogated he was screamed at and that he felt intimidated and scared. He is still scared. Omar was lucky, he was released without charge in the early hours of Tuesday morning and will spend no time in prison. However, hundreds of other Palestinian children may face the same trauma and the possibility of incarceration unless the Israeli authorities take the necessary steps  to implement all of UNICEF’s 38 recommendations to ensure the welfare and protection of children in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international laws, norms and standards.

*This blog was first published on one of our EAs blogs: Operation Observation: A Pacifist in Palestine.

Is it acceptable to blindfold and arrest an eleven year old?

by Elina and Heidi, Jayyus team

An older guy gives Ahmed support before he turned himself into the Israeli soldiers. Photo EAPPI/E. Mäkilä.

An older guy gives Ahmed support before he turned himself into the Israeli soldiers. Photo EAPPI/E. Mäkilä.

Omar and Ahmed’s story

On 16 November the Israeli military went to arrest fourteen year old Ahmed. According to the military he and his friend Omar, eleven years old, had thrown stones at Israeli cars passing by. Because Ahmed was nowhere to be found, the soldiers decided to arrest his father. Two members of the Jayyus EAPPI team were present at the site to witness this arrest. As one of the soldiers went into the back of one of the armored vehicles, for a brief moment one member of the EA team was able to see Omar. He sat in the car with his hands tied and blindfolded. Omar is only eleven. He was alone. He was not accompanied by a parent. One of the EAs confronted the soldiers and pointed out that this is illegal, even according to Israeli law! The soldier looked the EA dead in the eye and denied that there was a child in the car and then drove away.

Ahmed’s family was told that the father of the family would not be released until they handed over Ahmed. With tears in her eyes Ahmed’s mother turned to his sister and argued that the military would anyway come at night to arrest Ahmed if they did not hand him over today. The sister wept. Ahmed himself, who returned home after the military had left, also looked really nervous when hearing he would have to face Israeli imprisonment.

Fortunately, both the boys and Ahmed’s were released from detention about an hour after Ahmed turned himself in. When the Jayyus EA team spoke with Omar, he explained that the  Israeli soldiers had neither hit him nor threatened him. When an EA team member asked him if he was afraid during the detention he became quiet and then denied being afraid. Then the adults in the room said that it is ok to be afraid.

Sadly, this is not a unique story

Under the current Israeli occupation Omar’s and Ahmed’s story is by no means a unique one. As EAPPI observers we have witnessed several similar cases that have led to the detention and imprisonment of a child for several months. Under the occupation Palestinian people, including children, are tried according to military law. Children over 16 years of age are considered adults before Israeli military law -responsibility before law starts at the age of 12. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a “child” to be “every human being below the age of eighteen years”. Palestinian children arrested by the Israeli forces continue to be interrogated without the presence of a lawyer or parent, and without a video recording of the sessions.

The hardest thing to witness is the psychological damage and violence the occupation causes to Palestinian children and their families. Not only is this a violation of human rights and international law, but most importantly it is a disgrace towards human dignity. As EAs we have seen the sorrow of the families who cannot provide security for their children.  What kind of consequences does this have on the peace process?  What will the future look like, when it is built in this manner using tools of oppression, fear and humiliation? By hiding behind the law one can justify actions taken and continue breaking young minds, causing suffering for the Palestinian people, not just as individuals but for the community as a whole.

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Facts about Israeli military court and child arrests in the occupied Palestinian territory
(source Addameer.org)

  • 159 children were kept in Israeli prisons and detention centers on November 1, 2013. Fifteen of them are under the age of sixteen.
  • Israeli administration detention orders empowers military commanders to detain an individual without a charge for up to six month long renewable periods if they have “reasonable grounds to presume that the security of the area or public security requires the detention.” On or just before the expiry date, the detention order is frequently renewed. This process can then be continued indefinitely.
  • The current Israeli order of Criminal Code divides Palestinian children into three different categories – those under 12 are considered children, those between 12 and 14 are considered “youth” and those between 14 and 16 are defined as “young adults”. Palestinian children over 16 years old are considered adults before the military law while Israeli children age 18 and older are tried under Israeli civilian law.
  • Palestinian children continue to be charged according to their age at the time of sentencing, instead of their age at the time of the alleged offense, as required by international law. This practice enables them to be sentenced as an adult for an offense they may have committed as a child if they are unfortunate enough to be charged years after the alleged offense, or simply if they turn 16 while awaiting sentencing.

How will children grow up when violence is an ever-present reality?

An EA reflects on the affect on children from the non-violent protest of Kafr Qaddum, which frequently becomes violent – the Israeli army shoots tear gas and sound bombs at the protestors; protestors throw stones and burn tires.

by Julia, Tulkarm team

Tear gas surrounds the houses of Kafr Qaddum as the Israeli army often shoots towards the houses. Photo EAPPI/M. Soderstrom.

Tear gas surrounds the houses of Kafr Qaddum as the Israeli army often shoots towards the houses. Photo EAPPI/M. Soderstrom.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine affects Palestinian society on many levels. In the village of Kafr Qaddum, it is impossible not to be involved in some way. The village is known for hosting Palestine’s largest weekly demonstration and the whole village seems to be involved in the protest, in one way or another.

Why do the people of Kafr Qaddum demonstrate?

To understand why the demonstration takes place one has to know what lies in the surrounding area. Kafr Qaddum is located 15 km from the city of Nablus, where many of the inhabitants from the village work or study. Walking distance from the village lies the Israeli settlement Kedumin. On the webpage of Kedumin, one can read that the settlement hosts a high school specialized in boys with ADHD problems, a music academy and several women’s clubs. The settlement is expanding and currently there are 700 housing units under construction.

Kedumin’s homepage, however, does not mention that the Israeli military has blocked the road between Kafr Qaddum and Nablus in order to protect the settlers.  The roadblock forces Kafr Qaddum residents to take a detour and drive an additional 15 km in order to get to Nablus. Moreover, it does not mention that the settlement, through its mere existence, violates international humanitarian law, as the settlement is built on occupied Palestinian territory.

The role of children

The Israeli military is waiting as the residents of Kafr Qaddum approach the road block non-violently. Photo EAPPI/I. Lindwall.

The Israeli military is waiting as the residents of Kafr Qaddum approach the road block non-violently. Photo EAPPI/I. Lindwall.

The Kafr Qaddum demonstration takes place every Friday, after prayers. According to its organizer, Murad, it aims to lift the road block to Nablus and prevent the settlement from expanding. The demonstration strives to be nonviolent. “That’s why we let our children participate,” states Murad. Despite this, the demonstration tends to become very violent – tear gas and sound bombs are shot at the protestors, stones are thrown by the protesters, tires are burnt, and people are arrested.

“Last Friday was like a war,” says Buker, one of the sons in the family whose house is the closest to the settlement. He tells us that the feathers of the family’s geese have turned black because of the smoke resulting from the protests every Friday.  Sometimes his family is too afraid to stay in the house when the demonstration is about to take place. They fear not only the tear gas, but that their house will be occupied by the Israeli army (which has happened on several occasions in the past). I asked Murad if the purpose of the demonstration can get lost amidst the tear gas. He answers that this is not the case: “The whole village is proud of our resistance”.

“I wasn’t afraid when the Israeli army detained me”

On Friday, 16 November 2013, four boys aged 8-10 years-old were playing outside one of the houses closest to the settlement. It was around 9.30 am, three hours before the demonstration would start. Different people have different versions about what happened that day, but it seems clear that the children were detained and handcuffed for one hour by the Israeli military and asked whether they would be participating in the demonstration.  During this detention, a neighbour heard the children cry and tried unsuccessfully to convince the soldiers to release the children. The neighbour then called the Palestinian authorities, and after negotiations with Israeli authorities the children were released.

The demonstration that followed was very violent, even by Kafr Qaddum standards. About 14 people were injured and arrested.The Mayor of Kafr Qaddum stated that hundreds of tear gas canisters were found on the ground after everything ended. Several people from the village speculated that the demonstration was unusually violent since it coincided with Palestine’s national day.

In June 2013, the Israeli army shot a tear gas canistar into a Palestinian house in Kafr Qaddum with 6 children. Photo EAPPI/B. Myszkowski.

In June 2013, the Israeli army shot a tear gas canistar into a Palestinian house in Kafr Qaddum with 6 children. Photo EAPPI/B. Myszkowski.

A few days after the demonstration took place I had the chance to speak with one of the boys that was detained. Hussam, 8 years-old, said that he wasn’t afraid during the detention. He did not have any problems sleeping afterwards, so why would he be afraid? Yes, he and his friends discussed the detention in school but none of the boys admitted that they were scared. He then showed the bruises on his arm that he claimed was a result of one of the soldiers grabbing him. When I asked how it felt to talk about what happened, he replied, “I am proud”. As a response to this, one of the men in the room gave him a manly pat on the back and laughed. I felt that I had to look away, close my eyes and take a deep breath to try and have a neutral reaction.

Resistance, but a what cost?

I reflect on the negative aspects this culture of masculinity fostered by the occupation, where violence is constantly present. I think about how this eight year old boy is being introduced into a romance of violence that he may be too young to fully understand. How Hussam, despite his young age, is now ‘one of the guys’ and what he has been through might be the first of many detentions and violations of human rights that he will experience. I think about the attention this boy received as a consequence of being detained, attention received even from people like myself. This may have been the first time he has spoken to a foreigner. Probably is.

I also consider the alternatives that the people of Kafr Qaddum have. They want to express their discontent; they want to prevent further expansion of the settlement, they want to change their situation. As the settlements are already considered legal by the occupying power, the legal system seems to offer little help. Every Friday the people of Kafr Qaddum show their resistance. But at what cost? Alternatively, what is the price of refraining from demonstrating? If you live in Kafr Qaddum you cannot choose to ignore the politics surrounding you. Most Palestinians do not have that luxury: they are drenched in the politics of the occupation.