Monday, April 30, 2012

Children in Palestine

The knocking on the door at 3AM was followed by the cries of a boy. Samira, the headmistress of the girl's school in Tu qu' thought it was the military as it is their habit to enter homes at night often to make an arrest or just to harass. Reluctantly she went to the door to discover 14 year old Mohammad Talek Alzeera standing before her terrified and with his hands bound in front of him. She took him into her home, found a sharp kitchen knife, and tried to cut the bindings, but they were too strong. She finally had to heat the knife over the fire to burn through. Once the child was freed he called his father to pick him up.

Six months ago his brother was imprisoned and earlier that evening--about 6PM--the military had told his parents that they just wanted to ask Mohammad a few questions. So Mohammad went with the soldiers. From the military jeep he was taken to a jail where he was put into a room with no light no window. He remained there for many hours during which time he was periodically questioned. He was then taken by car to the edge of Tekoa Settlement (Israeli settlement) just outside of the Palestinian village of Tu qu' where we do twice weekly school runs to provide protective presence between the children going to school and the military who often stand outside of their jeep fully armed to "protect the Israeli settlers from the children who throw rocks at their cars." Mohammad was left in a very dangerous situation as the settlers are afraid of the Palestinians and often are armed. Fortunately Mohammad chose to knock on the door of a headmistress and he was returned home.

Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident. Children are often taken into custody for questioning or worse. Many are detained for days or weeks without any formal charges against them. Some are beaten. Some cry. All are frightened. Almost all are male. This happens all over the West Bank and Gaza. It happens in Area A, B, or C. Even though Area A is designated to be governed exclusively by Palestinians and where Israelis are strongly advised not to go for their own safety, the military does anything it wants and goes anyplace it wants.

In the Village of Al Jaba the Israeli Military Base is just on the other side of the hill and across the border of the West Bank and Israel. Helicopters and fighter jets soar through the sky daily. The military jeeps roam their hillsides and set up checkpoints randomly. Many of the children wet their beds well beyond the normal age. Some still wet the bed at age 12. The parents know that the trauma of being under military surveillance is causing psychological problems but they have no resources to help the children through the trauma.

It's almost to the end of my stay here and I am feeling very ambivolent about leaving. I will carry these stories with me and I'll bring them home to share.

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