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.

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