by Nada Elia — special to SeaMAC
“My shoes are muddy, Mama,” Dima al-Wawi told her mother tearfully. “I feel embarrassed and ashamed, I bled from the torture, I feel humiliated, I’m terrified and my body trembles from the cold.” The child then explained to her mother that she was “forced to invent stories” and lie, as she confessed to planning to stab a settler.
At the tender age of twelve, Dima al-Wawi was the youngest Palestinian child to have been imprisoned by Israel. But on any given day, there are dozens of Palestinian children, many as young as 14, going through the living hell of a hostile military court system that views them as threats, and treats them as would-be terrorists, killers.
The frequency of reports about Israeli abuse of Palestinian children is alarming. Almost every day, one can read about Israeli soldiers shooting a Palestinian child in the eye, in the legs, kidnapping children from their beds in the middle of the night and, most disturbingly, routinely torturing these children. Based on the pattern of injuries they are treating, doctors have determined that Israeli snipers are “shooting to maim” an entire generation. Within the Israeli detention system, there is widespread and systematic abuse of Palestinian children, as exposed by the No Way to Treat a Child Campaign, a joint project of the Defense for Children International, and the American Friends Service Committee. The campaign issued a report that states: “Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes between 500 and 700 children in military courts each year. Since 2012, Israel has held an average of 204 Palestinian children in custody each month,” the report says. Most often Palestinian children are charged with throwing stones.
The report says that out of a total of 429 children who were detained between 2012 and 2015, 97 percent (416) had no access to legal counsel or their parents during the interrogation. 49% had been taken from their homes in the middle of the night, 75% experienced physical abuse after arrest, and 89% were blindfolded. Following days of very harsh interrogation, which include isolation and solitary confinement, 90% of the children provide confessions–frequently in Hebrew, which they cannot read or write.
In his foreword to the book Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak, Richard Falk, United Nations Special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, states: “Reading through such pages of torment, a pattern of abuse clearly emerges that exhibits Israel’s total disregard for international human rights and international humanitarian law as it applies to these young Palestinians, who are totally vulnerable to such oppressive tactics. Although international humanitarian law fails to focus with sufficient specificity on the vulnerability of children, there are some general measures of protection given in Articles 71-74 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which ensures that any civilian subject to occupation who is charged with criminal activity shall be informed in writing in a language that he or she understands, is assured the right to the assistance of a lawyer, and must be given the opportunity to present evidence in defense. It is no surprise, based on our knowledge of Israel’s apartheid administration of Palestinians living under occupation that none of these rights are recognized and respected. Indeed, the daily reality of life for Palestinians of all ages is one of rightlessness and unconditional vulnerability.”
Israel’s racist double standards become even more obvious when we realize that Palestinian children are subject to military law, while the children of Jewish Israelis living illegally on occupied Palestinian land, in segregated Jewish-only settlements, are subjected to civilian law. In this context of gross violation of the human rights of Palestinian children by an illegal occupying force, it is preposterous to claim that condemning this abuse is anti-Jewish.