Targeting Palestinian children: broken legs, shattered futures

by the Bethlehem team, 

Imagine there are two 12-year old boys standing by the side of the road. Both pick up a similar size rock, and hurl it towards a passing tourist bus. Both have done wrong, there’s no doubt about that, but the consequences these two youngsters, from neighboring areas, may face will differ hugely, depending on their ethnicity and nationality.

16.11.15 Bethlehem, Tuqu, Military presence next to Tuqu school, Photo EAPPI/S. Rehell

16.11.15 Bethlehem, Tuqu, Military presence next to Tuqu school, Photo EAPPI/Suvi. R

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Nine minors detained during night raid

by Julie, Bethlehem team 

Tuqu' Military Jeep

On 3 December 2014, Israeli soldiers raided the village of Tuqu’ at night and detained 9 minors. Photo c/o Tuqu’ municipality.

On December 3, 2014 we got a phone call from Tuqu’ municipality in the Bethlehem area. The night before there had been a night raid in their village where 9  youth under 18 were detained. We called our driver and headed out there to meet with the municipality and the father of one of the detained children.

30 Israeli military jeeps and police cars with around 200 soldiers entered Tuqu’ village at midnight, they told us. They marched the street of the village and stayed until 6 am. The soldiers threw sound bombs in front of peoples houses and entered around 50 houses. All the soldiers either wore balaclavas or had their face painted.

The father of one of the boys told us that soldiers entered their house, and shouted for his 16 year old son. They gathered the family in one room, and his son was blindfolded and handcuffed with his hands behind his back, without giving them any reason to do so. His mother wanted to give him some water to drink, but was refused. The soldiers stayed in their home for an hour while they threw furniture around and took pictures of the house and family members, and took everyone’s ID numbers.

This was only one of 11 cases of detentions during this night raid. The boys who were detained were 13, 14, 15, 16, 16, 16, 16, 16, 17, 18 and 22 years old. In total nine boys under the age of 18.

After 6 hours the military and police left Tuqu’ village, taking 11 Palestinians with them, without telling anyone in Tuqu’ where they were taken.

“The arrest and transfer process is often accompanied by verbal abuse and humiliation, threats as well as physical violence. Hours later the children find themselves in a interrogation room, sleep deprived and scared.”

“Most children undergo coercive interrogation, mixing verbal abuse, threats, and physical violence, generally resulting in a confession. The most common offence children confess to is throwing stones… …in most cases, the children are either shown, or made to sign, documentation written in Hebrew, a language they do not understand.”

(Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted: Children held in military detention – Defence for Children International, Palestine Section)

So why does these detentions of minors take place? Breaking the silence, an organization of former Israeli soldiers telling their stories of their military service, told us that when new soldiers need to practice a night raid the best way to do so is to actually carry out a night raid, and to practice an arrest the best way is to actually arrest someone. They also told us that many of the Israeli military’s actions are taken to “make their presence felt”.

According to Save the Children, families often define the rise of juvenile detention in their neighborhood as a tool, used by the Israeli army, to make them and their children lose a sense of security and feeling of well being in their own homes.

Note from Israeli army

The note from the Israeli army explaining why they raided Tuqu’ village the night before. 

While leaving Tuqu’ after our meeting we are met by a ”flying checkpoint”, set up temporarily consisting of an Israeli military jeep, spike belts and armed soldiers. We are stopped and given a piece of paper with something written in Arabic. A soldier tells our Palestinian driver to translate it to us. He says he will do it later, but the soldier yells at him to do it now, while his assault rifle is leveled at us. The note says:

“Recently, many terror attacks took place towards Israeli residents by youth from your village. In response, our forces carried out an operation in the village and your houses in order to prevent the increase of harm to the security of the residents. The aim of this military operation in the area is to reduce the amount of violent attacks and the disruption of order against those that travel and live in this area. Therefore, the aim of this activity is not to disrupt your routine. Make the terrorists go away. Only with cooperation will we can achieve peace in the area.”

*The minors detained the night before were detained for throwing stones.  The throwing of stones are the “terror attacks” and those who throw them are the “terrorists” that this note refers to.

Tuqu’ – a village under siege

by Alison, Bethlehem team 

An Israeli soldier cries as a Palestinian woman pleas for her olive trees not to be destroyed. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

An Israeli soldier cries as a Palestinian woman pleas for her olive trees not to be destroyed. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

It will be like killing our mothers…

A loud buzz of chainsaws greets our arrival following a call from Tuqu’ – a Palestinian village of about 12,000 people, south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. We find Israeli soldiers overseeing the destruction of row after row of mature olive trees.

The Palestinian farmers remonstrate with the army. They have land ownership documents dating back generations from the Jordanian, British and Ottoman administrations, but soldiers ignore their arguments and hold them back at gunpoint. I notice a woman pleading with soldiers who order her away, but she will not let up. An Israeli Border Guard, a young woman who speaks Arabic, is called to deal with her. I watch as the young soldier stands listening and silently drops her head, turning her face to wipe away tears.

Finally, the buzzing stops, but it is a temporary reprieve. The Israelis have declared this ‘state land’ and the farmers are given four days to cut down hundreds more trees themselves, or the world’s fourth largest army will return to defend Israel from the olive trees.

‘How can we do this?’ asks one farmer ‘It will be like killing our mothers!’

Emotional harassment in Area C

About three quarters of Tuqu’s land is in Area C, under full Israeli military control, although Israel was supposed to give the Palestinian Authority full control of this area within 5 years of the Oslo Agreement. Tuqu’ has already lost hundreds of hectares to the illegal Israeli settlements of Teqoa, Noqedim and Ma’ale Amos that surround it to the north, south and east. 

Our team comes regularly to Tuqu’. It is one of four Bethlehem villages where we accompany children to school as part of a UNICEF ‘Access to Education’ programme. Every day, children of 6 to 18 must run the gauntlet of armed Israeli soldiers and we have been present when the army shot tear-gas at the schools. The soldiers obstruct the school entrances with jeeps, and patrol the footpaths with guns, forcing the children to walk across rough fields or along the busy road.

‘It is emotional harassment’ says the mayor.

Recently we met a 16 year old boy who showed us the X- ray of a bullet still lodged in his back since a recent military incursion into Tuqu’. The mayor also tells us that over 20 children have been arrested in the last three months.

Quickly a new settlement is born

The Israeli forces set up concrete blocks and new warning signs. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

The Israeli forces set up concrete blocks and new warning signs. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

Two weeks before the trees were cut down, Tuqu’s mayor called us because Israeli settlers, accompanied by soldiers, began putting up Israeli flags and tents on Tuqu’ land each afternoon. Following this we saw the army erecting a series of concrete pillars along the roadside, with two red signs warning Israelis that this was a dangerous Palestinian village. Soon after this, settlers erected a large marquee and put up provocative posters with a picture of a car being fire-bombed. The Palestinian landowner protested, but the military commander told him the settlers would have  the land for two days for a party.  There was nothing the farmer could do to stop this, but the village held a peaceful protest, whilst a large Israeli military force guarded the settlers.

The people of Tuqu’ know that this is how it starts; a few tents, some flags, then some caravans – an illegal settlement outpost is born. With Israeli state protection and financial inducements it will soon grow to thousands of settlers. More land theft, house demolitions, movement restrictions and violence against local Palestinians will follow.

Two days after the party, the settlers are back. They include a vigilante group called Women in Green* led by a Belgian-born woman called Nadia Matar. We ask what she thinks about the 16 year old Tuqu’ boy who was shot it the back whilst going to visit his grandfather.

‘ He was probably throwing stones.’ She replies ‘Kids who throw stones should be shot in the head. ’

Children at non-violent protest in Tuqu'. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

Children at non-violent protest in Tuqu’. Photo EAPPI/A. Morgan.

During a visit to Tuqu’ a week after the tree cutting, we see scores of settlers coming towards the village, many bringing young children. A large number of Israeli soldiers position themselves across the road and fields, aiming their rifles and teargas cannons at Palestinian children coming out with their parents for another peaceful protest. The settlers hold a ceremony and light candles. It is Hanukkah, and they tell us they are giving this area a new Hebrew name.

International Law and Israeli settlements

Under international law it is illegal for Israel, as an occupying force, to transfer its own population into the occupied Palestinian territories. Despite this, Israel’s massive settlement programme has continued unabated for decades, with thousands more homes being planned during the current Peace talks. With many settlements to the east of Bethlehem and other Palestinian centres, the Israeli strategy seems clear: to expand the eastern settlements westward to join up with Jerusalem, bisecting the West Bank and corralling the Palestinian population into a series of isolated areas.

EAPPI is keeping international agencies informed about these developments in Tuqu’ and a legal challenge is underway, supported by UNOCHA and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Watch video documentation of Tuqu’:

Tuqu’ Village Olive Trees Cut Down & Women in Green settler action

Israeli Settlers and Israeil army harass Tuqu’ Village in the West Bank


*Women in Green (WiG) is a right wing group that opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and supports Israeli settlement of the West Bank, which it proposes Israel should annex. WiG also opposed Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon.  Nadia Matar, the Belgian-born leader of WiG claims that the ‘Arabs’ in the ‘Holy Land’ are descended from relatively recent immigrants, and should be ‘transferred’ to neighbouring Arab countries.

Burdened smiles

by Luther and Esther, Bethlehem team

Dawn broke as the little children of Tuqu’ village—their backpacks a little too big for them—made their way to the first day of classes for the new school year. Their faces lit up when they saw the EAs, smiling and greeting them good morning. “What’s your name?” some of them asked, laughing and giggling. The children were at their best being what they are—children, quite unmindful of the troubles of their land.

Schoolchildren from Tuqu'. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

Schoolchildren from Tuqu’. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

As class time approached, the six- to fourteen-year-olds silently passed the two heavily armed soldiers in front of the school—the reason for the EAs’ presence. The two young men in uniforms, armed with rifles and binoculars, were there for the security of the State of Israel.

Just a few kilometers away, school was also beginning, but trouble was brewing. That afternoon, a number of young residents at the ‘Ayda Refugee Camp joined a demonstration about the recent deaths of three Palestinians in Qalandiya at the hands of the Israeli military. Eventually, stones were thrown as a manifestation of the anger and frustration of a young generation. The soldiers responded with a resolute clampdown on the stone-throwers, some of them as young as 11. The Israeli army fired teargas and stun grenades in an attempt to defuse the spontaneous outburst of emotion.

Youth at 'Ayda Camp during an encounter with the Israeli army. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

Youth at ‘Ayda Camp during an encounter with the Israeli army. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

A teargas canister hit one 11-year-old boy on his forehead. Two ambulances also entered the camp, a sign that some had been seriously injured. This is a far cry from the picture of happy school children the EAs saw earlier that day. In the encounter with the Israeli military, the Palestinian youth of ‘Ayda Camp were forced to confront a reality that has no place for something as trivial as homework.

To the northeast, in Khan al Ahmar in East Jerusalem, again, we see a completely different picture. Israeli settlements close off a Bedouin encampment in the Judean desert from the rest of society. The Israeli government’s restrictions on the Bedouins – severe restrictions on running water or electricity and prevention of constructing new buildings – force the Bedouin to live in grinding poverty.

Bedouin child at Khan al Ahmar. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

Bedouin child at Khan al Ahmar. Photo EAPPI/E. Kilchherr

There is a school in the encampment, signifying that the Bedouins place a value on education—but even that is denied to them. The Israeli government has issued demolition and stop work orders making it virtually impossible for the Bedouin to set up the necessary infrastructure for a functioning education system.

These different pictures of schoolchildren show the various ways the Israeli occupation shapes and limits the daily lives and future prospects of the people of Palestine, particularly the youth. Nevertheless, the smiles of Palestinian children not only reflect a temporary respite from their country’s predicament, but also a future for a troubled land. The laughter that has not yet died in their hearts echoes the same hope, the same innocence, the same enjoyment of life every child possesses, whether in Palestine, in Israel, or in any other part of the world.