Posted by Guest on June 10, 2017 in Blog

Online_Palestinian_Youth_Imprisonment.jpgBy Sarah Decker

At age 12, most American children are making the transition to middle school, learning how to use their first lockers, joining new sports teams, and experiencing all the changes that their teenage years have to offer. However, under the Israeli occupation in Palestine, age 12 means something different. At the end of 2015, there were 116 Palestinian child detainees between 12-15 years old. Each year, Israel systematically prosecutes 500-700 children in military courts. As we reflect on 50 years of occupation and systematic injustice, it is critical to reflect on the generations of Palestinian children whose entire lives have unfolded within a system of abuse with impunity. A panel consisting of three lawyers and one college student participated in a congressional briefing this past Thursday, held by Defense for Children International (DCI) – Palestine. The discussion emphasized the importance of exposing the grave violations against Palestinian children and the need to hold perpetrators accountable under the standards of international law.  

The panel included Nadia Ben-Youssef, a human rights lawyer with the Adalah Justice Project; Omar Shakir, the Israel-Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch; Brad Parker, a staff attorney at DCI – Palestine; and Yazan Meqbil, a Palestinian refugee and student at Goshen College in Indiana.

As the world’s longest military occupation in modern history, the Israeli occupation has been justified in the name of security. In the occupied Palestinian territories, including Gaza, the West Bank, and Eastern Jerusalem, children under the age of 18 make up 46% of the population. Checkpoints and machine guns have become an entrenched feature, constituting the physical presence of the occupation. 

According to Defense for Children International – Palestine, since the year 2000 over 1,800 children have been killed as a result of Israeli occupation policies and practices. The use of live ammunition and regulation changes under Israeli law have helped make 2016 the deadliest year for children in the West Bank.

During the briefing, Ben-Youssef noted that while the legal infrastructure that governs occupation assumes that it is temporary; the length of Israel’s occupation is unprecedented, making its regulations and legal institutions arbitrary. The Israeli occupation has violated numerous international laws and treaties, including the UN Charter’s Article 1 (1945), Article 2(4) (1945), the Hague Regulations IV, Article 43 (1907), Geneva Conventions IV, over 28 resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, and other international laws concerning the creation of settlements and the construction of the separation wall. These violations include unlawful killings, the targeting of civilian areas and structures, forced displacement, home demolitions, targeted assassinations, the Gaza siege, movement restrictions, lack of access to medical treatment, and abusive detention. 

In the occupied territories and within Israel itself, military law only applies to the Palestinian population. The legal system is patently discriminatory – holding Palestinian children to military law, while Israeli children just 2 kilometers away are tried under civil law. The impunity aspect has also been described by Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem as a “whitewashing mechanism.”

Military law includes punishments for a range of offenses, from membership in a banned Palestinian organization to throwing stones at police or Israeli armed forces. Stone-throwing is typically committed by Palestinian children, and is accompanied by draconian sentences, ranging from 10 to 20 years, depending on the target 

Typically, when a child is arrested, they are forcibly removed from their homes in the middle of the night, with no explanation given to their parents. The child will often be handcuffed, blindfolded, and brought to a military detention facility where psychological and physical coercion will be used with the intention of producing a confession. 97% of detained children are denied access to legal representation and 75% experience physical abuse including beatings, choking, and torture.  

Given these statistics, what does it mean to be a Palestinian child? Yazan Meqbil, descried what he called “the murder of [his] childhood,” providing a heart-wrenching illustration of what these facts and statistics look like through a child’s eyes. Raised in Palestine in a household that was issued ten demolition orders, Yazan detailed how every day he woke up with the fear that his house – with all of his family memories and childhood dreams – would be destroyed. Yazan saw several of his best friends killed in front of him, “their brains on the street,” and as a result grew up thinking that children everywhere lived surrounded by bullets and tear gas. After hearing that the Israeli army was ‘looking for him’ he lived in fear, sleeping every night in his jacket and shoes, waiting to be arrested and detained in the middle of the night. This all occurred during Yazan’s final exam period, with the threat of military detention looming over him as he studied physics and algebra. It was his dedication to school that would eventually give Yazan an opportunity to escape the occupation.

In 2015 Yazan received a scholarship to study biochemistry in the United States. He didn’t realize the psychological damage that remained from having grown up in the occupation until he came to the U.S., where he carried his passport everywhere and felt intense panic every time he saw a police car. Describing the effects of this never-ending trauma on his wellbeing and that of his family and friends, Yazan said “The life that I lived in Palestine, that my friends and siblings lived, I don’t know if I can call it life. We are living only because of a lack of death.”

Denial is at the core of Israeli impunity, according to DCI’s Brad Parker. “It’s not about green lines or settlements, this is about a form of pervasive denial that violates Palestinians’ basic human rights.” In order to address this denial, the panel encouraged those present to use international legal institutions to regulate the Israeli occupation and hold violators accountable, with the hope of dismantling the occupation’s inherent system of inequality. At the congressional briefing’s conclusion, the speakers reached a consensus: we need action.

The panel echoed the recommendations outlined by DCI’s report No Way to Treat A Child involving the use of international legal mechanisms and divestment strategies. DCI urges action in the form of placing pressure on Israel to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This would make Israel legally obligated to cooperate with the court which has jurisdiction over certain international crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. In addition, methods of action include labelling products produced by Israel that serve to financially support the occupation and divesting, boycotting, and placing economic sanctions on these products, as called for by the BDS Movement. 

International inaction and the failure to prevent the mistreatment of Palestinians has resulted in generations of lost childhoods. Discussions involving a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be grounded in the realities of occupation and abuse.

See AAI’s Palestine Issue Brief and Infographic on the imprisonment of Palestinian children for more information.

Sarah Decker is a 2017 summer intern at the Arab American Institute.