Ahed Tamimi, a 16-year-old Palestinian child from al-Nabi Saleh village who was detained during a pre-dawn raid on her home by the Israeli army and border police in the occupied West Bank, is the latest addition to the hundreds of Palestinian children languishing inside Israeli prisons. Tamimi’s story is not an isolated incident; it is a story that represents the oppression Palestinians endure living under Israeli occupation and Israel’s complete control over Palestinians’ lives. When she stood up against the Israeli soldiers and resisted the occupation in an attempt to protect her house and land, little did she know the impact she would have and the extensive media coverage of her story. Different mainstream media sources have twisted the story and misrepresented it, questioning the origins of Tamimi’s family, describing her as an oppressor and a terrorist rather than a victim of the Israeli occupation. Regardless of the different agendas and discourses used to formulate the context of Tamimi’s story, there is no doubt that her internet fame, unlike many other child detention cases, spotlights the illegal detention of Palestinian children by the Israeli Occupation Forces and the violation of their rights.
From illegal occupation of the land of Palestine, to destroying villages, displacement of thousands of Palestinians, and restricting their right to movement, it is a no-brainer that the daily detention and arrests of Palestinian children are part of the systematic and collective oppression that Israel has been exercising on Palestinians, ever since its establishment in 1948. Confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians, including minors, are not uncommon scenes. In most cases, these confrontations are followed by collective arrests and detentions of Palestinian civilians and minors. Prison has become an essential part and an element of the Palestinian narrative where it is estimated that over 600,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned by Israeli forces since 1967. Israeli army and police constantly detain Palestinian children, of which there are currently around 300 in Israeli jails.
Child Arrest: Israel’s System of Control
For decades, Israel has successfully created a discourse around its discriminatory and repressive policies towards Palestinians, including the arrests of children. Israel argues that these measures are necessary for defense and security reasons. However, one can argue that the illegal ill-treatment of Palestinian children detainees exposes Israeli “security” justifications that maintain a system of collective punishment and control over Palestinians’ lives. Since June 1967, the Israeli authorities have issued over 2,500 military orders to justify their detention operations against Palestinians in the name of “security and defense.” These military orders and decrees are applicable to all Palestinians living in the occupied areas but not to Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which are governed by Israeli civil law. Furthermore, these military orders are regularly revised and adjusted without Palestinians’ awareness since these orders are not made public or translated into Arabic. Two sets of courts have functioned in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the era of post-Oslo agreement: civil courts operated by the Palestinian Authority that deal with internal crimes inside Palestinian society; and Israeli military courts that deal with anything relevant to Israel’s “security.”
According to Defense for Children International, Israel is the only country in the world that automatically prosecutes children in military courts that lack basic and fundamental fair trial guarantees. Betwen 500-700 Palestinian children are arrested, detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system each year. The majority of these children are charged with throwing stones, in which three out of four experience physical violence during arrest, transfer or interrogation. However, no Israeli child ever comes into contact with the military court system. Whereas Israeli minors can be detained for up to two days before seeing a lawyer, Palestinian minors can be detained for up to 90 days. Israeli minors have 80 percent chance of bail before trial, compared to 13 percent chance for Palestinian minors. Moreover, the conviction rate for Israeli minors is only 6.5 percent, compared to 99 percent for Palestinian minors. This is reflected in Ahed Tamimi’s case, about which her lawyer, Gabi Lasky, has said that they do not know how long the trials will last.
Tamimi is indeed a victim of these military orders applied only to Palestinians, as she faces 12 charges, including allegedly assaulting an Israeli soldier. According to an interview with Lasky, the court did not accept any of the arguments brought by the defense regarding the fact that there are two sets of law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) for Palestinian minors as compared to Israeli minors who are usually transferred to civilian court. Lasky also describes how cases in military court are more difficult than those treated in civilian courts because the laws there are stricter, the charges heavier, and individual’s rights only partially protected. Lawyers usually face difficulties defending Palestinian minors in military courts including difficulty in accessing files and visiting their clients.
It is worth mentioning that observing the Israeli interrogation process before and after the intifadas provides more insight into the lack of neutrality in military courts where sentences become more intense and harsh for Palestinian children in tandem with the political atmosphere in the OPT. The more Palestinians resist, the harsher the sentences become regardless of the nature of the “crime.”
Inside Israeli Jails: Constant Violations of International Law
During Israeli trial, children in most cases are handcuffed, surrounded by heavily armed soldiers and denied any kind of contact with their families. In a Middle East Watch Report, it is stated that Israel constantly uses verbal abuse, humiliation, threats of injury, sleep and food deprivation during Palestinian minors’ interrogation with no respect whatsoever for international law and child rights. Tamimi, just like all other children detainees, was kept away from her parents prior to the trial and her mother was arrested when she went to stay with her daughter in the detention center. This violates Article 37 of the Convention on the Right of the Child with regard to detention and punishment, which states the following: “No one is allowed to punish children in a cruel or harmful way. Children who break the law should not be treated cruelly. They should not be put in prison with adults, should be able to keep in contact with their families, and should not be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without possibility of release.” Moreover, Palestinian minors face extreme psychological and physical abuse during the interrogation and, in most cases, they are forced to sign confessions before the trial takes place. These confessions are mostly written in Hebrew, a language Palestinian minors living in the OPT do not understand.
Although the international law is clear about what should and should not be done with regard to child arrests, Israel constantly violates these laws. Israeli authorities try nominally to appear as if they work within the legal provisions by occasionally issuing arrest warrants, conducting interrogation sessions within hours permitted by law, and making the minors sign written confessions. While these acts create an image or semblance of legal conduct, they thinly veil the illegal procedures they are attempting to legitimize. Furthermore, though the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a “child” as “every human being below the age of eighteen years,” Palestinian children age 16 and older are frequently tried and sentenced by Israeli military courts as adults. In comparison, juvenile legislation defines Israeli children as age 18 or younger.
A report published by Israeli rights groups HaMoked and B’tselem, entitled “Unprotected: The Detention of Palestinian Teenagers in East Jerusalem,” includes 60 affidavits collected from Palestinian teenagers studying the alleged violations committed by Israeli forces against Palestinian minors. The report states that the Palestinian teenagers who were arrested said that they were interrogated without the presence of their parents or lawyer and were never told about their right to stay silent or their right to counsel. In addition, even though Israeli law which is applicable to minors in the OPT prohibits night interrogations and arrests, 91 percent of the interviewed minors stated that they were arrested at night when they were in their houses. Although physical abuse directed at minors should, by law, be used in exceptional cases and as a last resort, eight out of ten Palestinian minors said that they were handcuffed during the arrest and were kept in restraints at the time of interrogation.
Impact of children Detention on Palestinian Minors’ Development
The experience of prison is not one that ends upon release. Rather, it is an experience that stays in the mind of prisoners for the rest of their lives. It shapes the way they reintegrate into their societies and with their families. For Palestinian minors, the psychological effects of imprisonment and detention are severe and can be permanent because they receive several types of internationally prohibited physical and mental abuses inside Israeli prisons. Additionally, when they leave prison, the Israeli occupation remains an ongoing part of their lives. Frank Roni, a former child protection specialist for UNICEF in the Palestinian territories, said he had observed the “intergenerational trauma” of those growing up under occupation. “The ongoing conflict, the deterioration of the economy and social environment, the increase in violence – this all impacts heavily on children”, Roni added. Moreover, “Children form a ghetto mentality and lose hope for the future, which fuels a cycle of despair.”
Not only does detention of Palestinian children deprive them of their basic right to live a normal childhood or get an education, but it also has a destructive impact on their mental health, causing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This leads to the inability to build a normal future and participate functionally in society. It often leads to high rates of dropout from school, attempts at suicide, and self-isolation since kids are not physically or mentally prepared to deal with the atrocities and abuse they encounter inside Israeli prisons. Moreover, little attention has been directed to rehabilitation processes, such as preparing children to reintegrate into normal society. This is made harder because of the difficult conditions of living under Israeli occupation where there is little institutional support to provide social care to the children, their families and society as a whole.
The imprisonment of Palestinian children contributes to creating a generation that is unable to develop themselves or their communities. It is one pillar of Israel’s system of oppression. This system encompasses violence and torture throughout the entire incarceration process, backed by a discriminatory legal system, and illegal psychological strategies used to defeat any attempts of resistance made by Palestinian youth. From the Israeli authorities’ perspective, Palestinian children are seen as main actors in resisting the Israeli occupation; therefore, attempts used to suppress them are important to maintaining the illegal Israeli occupation that manifests itself not only on the land of Palestine but also in all daily life of Palestinians. This system of oppression, as partially represented in the detention of minors, aims to gradually suppress their willingness to resist the occupation that binds Palestinian people together. The time has come for the international community to take action and put pressure on Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people, including the illegal detention of minors.
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