The man looks tired. His eyes are filled with pain, sorrow and anger. He’s just told me the story of his 17 year old son who’s been in an Israeli jail for three years, since he was just 14 years old. The father has been allowed to visit his child only one time during these years. It almost looks like he’s about to cry. When the subject suddenly changes, life then goes back to normal. Delicious Arabic coffee is being served in small cups and the chatter and laughs roll on.
His story is not unique, nor are these meetings in Palestine.
Palestinian children are considered adults at the age of 12, and could in theory be detained indefinitely in Israeli prison. There are numerous reports of children being subjected to torture and violence while in prison. Often they are arrested in the middle of the night. Dragged out of bed to an undisclosed location, they are often not allowed to talk to their parents before being taken, and parents are often not told where their children are. Security forces are known to use choking, threats and beatings during arrests and interrogations, which leave children with ongoing feelings of uncertainty, fear and anxiety. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reports children as young as nine years old being arrested. Others have told me children as young as five are arrested and taken away by police, often for several hours. And their crime? Often these young children are arrested for throwing rocks at police or the military.
Twice I witnessed children this age throw rocks at soldiers armed with machine guns. Why do they do this? They are all fully aware of the potential consequences of these actions. Everyone knows someone who has been arrested. Everyone knows of someone who has been killed.
It is a case of children with no future. There is a hopelessness within these children. The Israeli military and police subject Palestinians to dehumanising treatment several times a day as they go through check points. This is reason enough to get angry and lose hope. The harassment and violence, against both adults and children, by the Israeli settlers is a daily struggle. What hope does an 11 year old boy have left when the Israeli settlers target him and harass and bully him daily until the family see no other option but to move? The Israeli security forces do nothing to stop this. Rather they protect the adults who throw rocks at children.
There are numerous measures in place to dehumanise Palestinians. The water supply is frequently and randomly shut off for extended periods of time without warning. During my few days there we were without water for more than 24 hours. A man I met was busy that day filling his water tanks as it was the one day a week he had a water supply at all. The water shortages are severe, and there is not enough water to even meet the basic needs of Palestinians. The children know that in the eyes of Israel, they are not even human enough to enjoy the basic right to water. But behind the fence, the settlement enjoys unlimited supply of running water all year round – in full view of the Palestinian children playing outside. The aggressive and violent settlers also find another use for water: spraying children, even babies, with high pressure water hoses – fully protected by the Israeli armed forces. How does growing up with these daily experiences affect a child?
The children I met were like any other children. Running around, playing and laughing. However the stories I was told were not like any other. The story of the boy whose father was arrested just after he was born, so they didn’t see each other for the first two years of his life. The three year old subjected to tear gas, leaving her with breathing difficulties and problems with hearing. The 11 year old girl who had clear symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by nightly raids and brutal arrests of her father. The 10 year old boy who, along with his classmates, was stopped and searched several times a day by soldiers.
There is a quiet seriousness about the children in Palestine. They are just like any other child one minute, the next they’re talking about their frights from soldiers, their nightmares, their anger at the situation. Children told me about their fear of the “incident sirens”, leaving them constantly on edge, never really able to relax. Anything can happen at any minute.
Perhaps tomorrow they’ll come home from school to find their home demolished.
Featured Image: Palestinian children pose with their slingshots in Mas’ha, West Bank, Wikimedia Commons. Credit: Justin McIntosh
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