A report from Defence for Children International has just been released outlining the culmination of four year’s work in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Entitled, ‘Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted: Children held in Military Detention’, the report outlines many of the common, everyday occurrences carried out in the name of ‘defence’ by the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces). 311 children held in military detention gave sworn testimonies in collating the report. As a brief overview:
In the past eleven years, around 7,500 children, some as young as twelve are estimated to have been detained, interrogated, and imprisoned within Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories (since 1967). This averages between 500-700 a year, or nearly two children each day.
Testimonies of the children reveal that the majority of children are detained in the middle of the night in what are typically defined as terrifying raids conducted by the army. In 95% of cases, hand-ties were used, 90% blindfolds, 75% physical violence and 63% detention inside Israel, which is in violation of Article 76 of the fourth Geneva convention which states: ‘Protected persons accused of offences shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein.’ The arrest and transfer process is often accompanied by verbal abuse and humiliation.
Unlike Israeli children in the settlements in the West Bank, Palestinian children are not accompanied by a parent, who often do not know where their children are being held.
Within eight days of their arrest, the children are brought before a military court where they are allowed to see a lawyer and their parents for the first time. Around 90% end up pleading guilty having protested innocence at the beginning of the process. This is because they see it as the quickest way out of a system which denies bail in 87% of cases.
All of this leaves children scarred and terrified, and in my brief experience in the West Bank last year, often leads to greater mistrust, hatred and resentment of the occupation. I only saw a brief glimpse of the ugly nature of the occupation, but what I did see coupled with stories and testimonies from people I know well who have spent considerably longer there, back up the facts above.
Hearing a former head teacher of a Palestinian school, now within an illegal Israeli settlement in Hebron, she described how settlers would frequently jump over the school gates and throw rocks at the Palestinian teachers and children. The security forces would not do anything to stop them, but if a Palestinian child threw one rock back, a situation would ensue very similar to that described above.
It is clear that Israel has the right to exist within secure boundaries, taking the threat of terrorism seriously. But this cannot continue to mask the evident violation of human rights in the name of ‘defence’ and ‘security’, one aspect of which is described in the DCI report. The illegal settlements in the West Bank perpetuate this problem and continue to dis-empower and strip Palestinians of their human rights while the international community stands by, doing next to nothing.
An example of how the Israeli authorities often mistreat children can be seen in this recent video during a peaceful children’s protest after the rules for the checkpoint were changed so that everyone, including pregnant women and those with pacemakers had to pass through the metal detectors even thought it might endanger their health (particularly from 2.20 on the video): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tT18S412uqE.
More information on the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories can be found at:
Breaking the Silence: http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/
(The author has no connections to any of these organizations, and wished to remain anonymous.)