How do you tell your five year old son that you cannot protect him from that eventual, fateful day when Israeli soldiers, in the middle of the night, will break down the family’s front door, enter his bedroom, forcefully pull him from his bed and, if so inclined, smack his head against the wall? What will go through your son’s mind when he sees you, his father and protector, beaten by the soldiers because you try to intervene? And what of the mental image he’ll keep of his helpless mother as their house is ransacked, his games and prized possessions crushed by callous soldiers whose job it is to harass and terrorize Palestinians because they can, with impunity?
Like his four brothers before him, when he comes of age, he will be blindfolded, his hands tied with a plastic cord so tight it will cut into his wrists at the slightest movement. His mother’s mournful cry will not deter the soldiers who will forcibly drag him to the waiting Jeep, kick and beat him on the way to the nearest settlement police station before finally, hours later, transferring him to a prison where his official interrogation, often with torture, will begin.
According to Israeli law, any Israeli, regardless of age or crime, is tried in a civilian court of law. As I recount in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides, a Palestinian arrested, whether child or adult, in either East Jerusalem or the West Bank, is tried in a military court with one caveat. A child must be at last fourteen years old to be tried.
Currently, if a child younger than fourteen is arrested, and they number in the hundreds, they are held in detention, without legal counsel, without parental visitation rights, tortured, and often times put in solitary confinement until they reach the designated court age of fourteen. At this stage, the Israeli authorities offer the detainee two options. They can sign a “confession” in Hebrew, a language they do not understand. If a child agrees to sign the paper, often times after torture, he is released with a criminal record, a stigma he or she will carry when applying for a travel permit from Israeli authorities to leave their village or seeking future higher educational or job opportunities inside Israel proper. If a child insists on his innocence and refuses to sign a “confession,” he is held in prison, without representation, until a court date is set, often times many years later.
Israel calls this policy suppression of resistance.
Palestinians call this a calculated and callous attempt to breach the familial bond of security and trust between child and parent. Israel’s policy is meant to dispel the idea that a parent can protect his or her child and that a home is sacred and safe, and that a child can safely sleep in his bed a night without fear of arrest.
Currently, there are 440 Palestinian children in Israeli prisons, a dramatic increase from 171 in February 2016. 75% are subjected to some form of physical violence. 60 children have been placed in solitary confinement for an average of 13 days.
This is no way to treat a child.
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