(These blog entries provide brief reports and insights from our conference in Israel and Palestine. They are written by our participants Anne French and Emily Oshinskie and are neither comprehensive nor in depth reports, but simply glimpses into the amazing experiences we are having together.)
Gerrard Horton of Military Court Watch and Salwa Duaibis, who works with the Women’s Center for Legal Aid, gave a presentation on the issue of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention. The work of Military Court Watch, a group of twelve lawyers from around the world, is guided by two principles: that children detained by the Israeli military authorities are entitled to all the rights and protections guaranteed under international law and that there is no legal justification for treating Palestinian and Israeli children differently under Israel’s military and civilian legal systems. In order to assess to what extent children are being denied their legitimate legal rights, MCW monitors their treatment from the moment of arrest until final release.
According to Gerrard Horton, 750,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been detained by the Israeli military since 1967. He emphasized that it is critical to understand the motivation and primary objective of these detentions in order to find solutions. This objective, openly acknowledged by the Israeli government, is the security of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, Considering that there are 400,000 Israeli civilians living “in a conflict zone”, this is a daunting task. He asked us to imagine if the U.S. decided to put 400,000 American civilians in 150 settlements in Afghanistan, with housing, commercial activities, and road systems. The U.S. military would then be tasked with keeping these civilians safe. That, he explained, is what is being asked of many junior officers in the Israeli military who are in charge of settlement security.
Mr. Horton noted that the Israeli military has been incredibly successful in meeting this security challenge by employing two strategies: collective punishment and mass intimidation. He explained in detail what this looks like on a local level, specifically in regard to the arrest, interrogation and detention of children. He walked us through a typical scenario: soldiers in combat gear force their way into a home in the middle of the night, chaos and panic ensue, fathers are humiliated and restrained, siblings are screaming and mothers beg to know where their child is being taken. The child being arrested is blindfolded, handcuffed, and held for hours while waiting for offices to open before interrogation begins. Then the child, who has been deprived of sleep, food and water, is pressured and threatened for hours or days, to confess and to provide names of others who have thrown rocks or participated in acts of resistance. Threats are routinely made against the child’s family members. In only 25% of cases are they informed of their right to remain silent. Although some physical abuse of child detainees has been documented, Mr. Horton says that this is rarely necessary to obtain a confession, given the level of fear created by these tactics. In fact, almost 100% of children who are interrogated confess to the crimes for which they were detained. Most will be remanded to prison for months, some for years.
Mrs. Salwa Duaibis then spoke about the trauma that Palestinian children experience as a result of living in constant fear and the repercussions for those who have been arrested. For many, the last memory of their parents was witnessing their humiliation by Israeli soldiers, helpless to stop the soldiers from taking them away. These children no longer trust that adults can keep them safe and when released, they have difficulty forming relationships and become socially isolated. Parents in the community forbid their children from associating with them, suspicious of what they may have done or said and fearing that any connection might lead to accusations against their own children. Depression and anxiety are widespread, and most detainees drop out of school, having lost so much time in prison. Mrs. Duaibis urged us to understand that “the settlements are the epicenter of this nightmare. The situation for these children will not change as long as there is settlement activity.”
During the question and answer period, both speakers emphasized that the treatment of Palestinian children under Israeli military occupation is in violation of international law and has been condemned repeatedly by the international community, including in the U.S. State Department’s Report on Human Rights, which is soon to be released.