Palestinian children deserve future, not danger
I often think of the children of Palestine – the West Bank and Gaza – as I now teach two classes of children each week in the Tiffin schools. I think of our local kids’ immense future choices and possibilities which their education gives them. I see parents and teachers working daily to encourage and develop the kids’ innate gifts and potential.
During my three years in Palestine, I lived in a neighborhood of many children who mostly played in the streets, sat in very crowded classrooms, crossed several checkpoints to get to school and saw Israeli occupation soldiers on every street. These soldiers were trained to keep their forefinger always on the gun trigger, to keep their eyes focused on each person, including each child passing by. At the end of January, these same soldiers had accused – and, consequently, the Israeli military court system had imprisoned and prosecuted – 183 of these Palestinian children for allegedly throwing stones at the soldiers.
It was most difficult for me to control my anger when I saw the soldiers kick the kids to exert authority, deny the kids normal kid games, frighten the kids by chasing or hollering at them unreasonably, detain them for senseless reasons and at times injure the children who happened to be in their way.
Research shows children who are arrested on suspicion of throwing a stone arrive at Israeli interrogation centers blindfolded, bound and sleep deprived. They go without a parent or guardian – unlike their Israeli counterpart children, who are tried in civil, not military, courts – and they are taken to a place with parents uninformed of their whereabouts for up to 14 days.
A huge percentage of the children are questioned alone and rarely informed of their right against self-incrimination. One child, 15 years old, whom I knew very well, went through the usual blindfolding when arrested, then was pushed into a police jeep and taken to an unknown destination, was questioned, given no restroom rights and allowed no water for 15 hours.
My young friend insisted on his innocence. He stayed in an adult prison with no protection for at least two weeks and then was transferred to a youth detention center. He said he was always hungry and sleepy. When he returned home, he was ordered to stay in his neighborhood and not leave its confines for two years while he was on parole.
The Defense for Children International has documented hundreds of cases like this involving children. Children are thus traumatized to the point where they no longer want to go outside for fear of arrest, or thereafter they wet the bed or they never want to be alone.
Defense for Children International Palestine found that three in four Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank last year also endured physical violence during arrest and interrogation.
Likewise, when the kids return to their home after months of confinement and their family is charged a bail of 2,000 or 3,000 shekels, they often are frozen into silence. With soldiers still all around them in the streets, these kids are anxious and know they could be picked up at any moment for another trumped-up charge.
The amount of endurance toward the actions of the Israeli occupation that these teenage boys are expected to endure without any words or recourse for themselves was always judged pure insanity to me. Because the kids were also most often poor, they didn’t have access to lawyers who could clear their names quickly outside the court system.
No child must be left to such ruthless forces, to such danger. Every child deserves a future.