Thursday, December 5, 2013

Breaking a Generation

I ask your prayers for the children of the Occupied Territories. For all of us who are parents, the treatment of children in the Occupied Territories is incomprehensible.  Imagine being the parent of a four year old child. It is in the middle of the night, at about 2:00AM, and the Israeli soldiers are banging on your door. Sleepily you go to the door to be met by two fully armed soldiers who are on a mission to arrest your child. You collect the documents for your entire family and hand them to the soldiers. They call out for Mohammed.

"Mohammed?" you ask. "Are you sure?"

It is Mohammed they seek, so you bring the sleepy 4 year old child, clinging to your body, legs wrapped around you in a tight grip. The child is now sobbing. You are also on the verge of tears. But calmly, you ask the soldiers if you should prepare some diapers and milk for them to take with Mohammed. In their confused state the Israeli soldiers back down and leave, Mohammed still clinging to your body.

I wish I could tell you that the soldiers often leave without arresting the child. Since 1967, 7-800,000 children under the age of 18 have been arrested and interrogated by the Israeli military, according to Gerard Horton, an attorney for the detained children. Approximately 500-800 are aged 12. These children are arrested primarily for throwing stones at the settlers or at the military towers. Why do they persist in throwing stones when they will be arrested? There are several friction points in the Occupied Territories, usually at a location where a road that is used by both Palestinians and Israeli settlers (living in their illegal settlements). The role of the military is to protect the settlers, and they do a very good job. Since 1967 only 2 settlers have been killed, and those two were in the last year.

Settlers have been emboldened by the presence of Israeli military and over the past several years have taken land by cutting down olive trees and vineyards and planting their own crops. Once the crop is in the ground the military will protect them. A common scenario is that the land is raided in the middle of the night and in the morning a parade of military jeeps comes through the Palestinian village to protect the settlers who have stolen land. The children throw rocks. If the military does nothing then tomorrow more kids will throw more rocks. The tactic is that the commander makes assumptions based on boys with prior arrests who are young. They put together lists of children that are the usual suspects. During interrogations they try to recruit children who will give them the names of other children. That is how 4-year old Mohammed made the arrest list.

When arrested, the child's hands are tied with a zip tie. This zip tie will tighten further if the child squirms to loosen them. They blindfold the child and often place the child on the floor of the jeep. There are no arrest warrants. The soldiers will not respond to questions about where the children are going. The soldiers often calm the parents by telling them that the child will return very soon, but then the family is forced back into the home at gunpoint. By the time the child arrives at the police station which is inside of an Israeli settlement, often he has wet himself. He may have to sit for 8 to 9 hours before the interrogation begins, often in uncomfortable positions. The child has the right to remain silent, but the rights are never read. The questioning begins with why did you throw rocks? Then there is a threat of violence, often against the child's parent, perhaps to revoke a work permit. Then the interrogation becomes violent with the child hit off of the chair or tasered. The child is by this point sleep deprived, hungry and thirsty. About one third of the time they are thrown a paper written in Hebrew and told that if they sign this confession they will receive only a minimal sentence. If not, the case will be delayed 4-5 months with the child kept in solitary confinement during that time. The conviction rate is 99.74% versus 6% conviction rate for Israeli children.

While this system is totally illegal, it is effective because as any mother will tell you, the child never fully returns home. Parents talk about nightmares, bed wetting, isolating, and never ever wanting to see an Israeli soldier again. So the system works.

This is psychological terror.

I ask you to join with me in demanding equal rights for Palestinian Children as received by Israeli children:
(1) That the night raids be ended and instead an arrest warrant be served to the family, allowing the family to bring the child to the local police station. Every child must be accompanied by a parent.
(2) That the child in the presence of parents be read his rights prior to the interrogation.
(3) That every child sees a lawyer before interrogation.
(4) That a video recording be taken during the interrogation. This is proven to reduce violence by 60%.
(5) That if any of the above are not fully met the child should be immediately released.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


[and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." ] Martin Luther King, Jr.

There are no mighty streams left in the Occupied Territories. I can no longer say there are no mighty streams left in the West Bank because the West Bank is full of illegal Israeli settlements that have full access to water and electricity, bypassing the Palestinian villages which have water tanks on the roof and a generator that runs on propane for electricity, and often a tank of water that was purchased from the Israelis.

The settlements are not trailers or tents, but modern cities with neighborhoods of identical multi-family buildings interspersed with high rise condos, office complexes, and hospitals. Close to Jerusalem they have swimming pools and fountains, green space, parks, medical clinics, shopping centers, and industrial complexes. These often house 50-60,000 people who mostly have moved from the US, Russia, and Africa to live in subsidized housing, and who have been paid sometimes upward of $20,000 to move to a settlement. For many of the settlements around Jerusalem and Bethlehem the address is Jerusalem, and unless they ask, may never know that the apartment they are living in is in an illegal settlement. The Israeli road system which crisscrosses the West Bank dissects the land as Palestinians are not allowed to drive or even cross these roads. Sometimes these roads separate a village from their farmland. Riding on these roads, a passenger or driver never sees a Palestinian village as they are cleverly disguised by a wall or routed so as to skirt far enough away so they are invisible.

The latest injustices are occurring within Israel. There are 1.2 million or 20% of the population of Israel that are Arab Israelis, in other words, 20% of the population of the Jewish State of Israel is Palestinian--Moslems and Christians. These are people who were not displaced by the Jews during the Nakba in 1948, or in 1967 after the 8 day war. Recently two pieces of legislation have been passed that discriminate against the Arab Israelis. The first is a recent law that refuses a permit to the spouse of an Arab Israeli. The citizen of Israel will have to decide to move to the Occupied Territories or not to live with their spouse. This law does not apply to Israelis who are Jewish, as any spouse of an Israeli Jew can get citizenship rather quickly.

The second law gives preference for housing, education subsidies, and jobs to those who have served in the military. In Israel an Arab Israeli is forbidden to serve in the army, so they are not able to receive the subsidies or preference for housing and jobs. This is clearly a form of racial discrimination.

Inside of the Occupied Territories justice continues to allude Palestinians. We met again with Omar in Al Walaja. His home has been separated from his village by the new Israeli only wall. His normal way of passage to get his children to school has now been closed and he has to drive through a tunnel that was built by the Israelis at a cost of $600,000 NIS. This road now takes an additional 30 to 45 minutes to get the children to school. Due to the proximity of the settlements it is impossible for Omar to leave his home unattended, and he cannot have visitors past 7:00 PM. He knows that every move is seen by the military as they have installed cameras around his property. Within a few months a fence will be built around his home. He has been promised that he will be able to get to his olive trees twice a year--once to harvest and once to prune.

Justice seems to be an illusion. The settlements have grown in the past year despite promises to cease the construction. Children are angrier the only have an outlet seems to be in throwing stones. We witnessed a group of young boys throwing stones at the wall. Then a young man who had been arrested at the print shop where he worked at about 10:00AM, was interrogated and then released at about 5PM. We watched as his mother walked eagerly up the hill to greet him and the crowd cheered for his release. Later we saw the same angry children throwing rocks at the military tower in Bethlehem. We quickly exited the area and learned the next day that one of the young boys had been shot with a rubber bullet. He will survive. 

Pray for Justice so that peace may be upon these people.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Once again, onward to Jerusalem

I am just finishing up my packing, making sure I have my toothbrush, enough underwear, and clothes suitable for the warm weather. Tomorrow I begin leading a tour of 3 other women; two of whom have never set foot in Israel. The planning has been daunting--how can I share months of experiences in a little less than a week? After the week I have planned we will be attending a conference which will be awesome with many speakers, many viewpoints.

The news of late is frustrating. We have the report of a tunnel in Gaza that had been discovered so the Israeli military came into Gaza (illegally) to destroy the tunnel. They were met by a boobie trapped tunnel, and 4 were injured, one seriously. The next day 4 young Palestinian men were "neutralized." in other words, 4 deaths to pay for 4 injuries. Neither side is right. All violence is wrong.

The Prawer Plan will be back in the Knesset. This is a plan to bulldoze all of the Beduoin villages in the Negev. It passed in the spring but is coming up for final discussions this week. Hopefully all will remain peaceful in Bethlehem while we are there.

On this journey we will be staying with a Palestinian family in a 4 bedroom, 2 bath home. I'm excited to do that, because I know the family and they are awesome! We will be visiting refugee camps, Beduoin villages, Hebron, the Tent of Nations, villages of Al Masara where we will take part in their weekly peaceful demonstration where we will see the IDF (Israeli military) in action, Al Walaja, Battir, and other locations where the occupation is particularly difficult on its citizens, although I'm not sure it's fair to say or believe that some have it worse than others. It is all difficult. And best of all we will enjoy the hospitality of Palestinians and will enjoy their food.

I ask you all to keep us in your prayers so that Jan, Marcia, Lisa, and I will all return safely home in two weeks. Then we will tell you all about it!