Confiscating Childhood in the Occupied Territories

Thirteen is the age for a lot of things; it carries a certain significance for every boy that reaches that age with all the promises that life has to offer; it’s a time when boys get their first bike, enjoy their favorite video games, make it into the school’s football squad, it’s a time when boys begin to marvel at and appreciate the mysteries of life pre-adulthood, and for some; it’s even a time when they experience their first innocent crush; but if you’re a thirteen year old boy in occupied Palestine; you’re placed under house arrest by the Israeli authorities.

Thirteen year old Palestinian boy; Karam Khaled Da’nah was sentenced by an Israeli court to five months of mandatory house arrest in his uncle’s house –away from his parents and siblings- and a 2,000 shekel bail after a shameful charade that isn’t very well masquerading as a court hearing last Tuesday September 28th 2010, in complete disregard for anything even resembling human rights (or even common human decency for that matter); Karam was first arrested on the 20th of September right in front of his school in the old city in southern Hebron, dragged away from his friends and classmates and savagely beaten by Israeli forces before being thrown into the back of their military jeep and driven away; and the charge is… wait for it… lopping stones at (illegal) Israeli settlers.

And here you thought that peer pressure was the biggest source of anxiety for most parents, however; Palestinian parents will always have something else to worry about when it comes to their children; whether it’s sudden arrests, deadly assaults, torture, you name it; the list of horrific –and very possible- scenarios that Palestinian families are made to live with day in and day out are endless; indeed parenthood carries a whole different meaning in Palestine.

What’s particularly troubling though; is that the Zionists have -over the years- committed so many crimes and gross violations of international laws that I can’t believe the rest of the so-called civilized world haven’t called them out on it yet, they insist on placing “the only democracy in the Middle East” on a strangely unparalleled, high pedestal as the ultimate paragon of virtue; whereas when it comes to Palestinians it seems; the concept of human rights suddenly blurs, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) becomes a hazy afterthought; is it acceptable only if the victim is a Palestinian kid? Is it acceptable to snatch minors off the streets, torture and browbeat them into submission in Israeli prison chambers? Is all of this acceptable if everyone is practically silent about it?

These days we keep hearing all about poor little Binyamin Netanyahu and how “difficult” it is to be in his place; caught between the hammer of American pressures to re-impose a temporary freeze on settlement building and the anvil of a fragile government coalition of right wing fascists who firmly stand behind the settlement enterprise, we keep hearing how “unbearable” it is to be in the position of President Mahmoud Abbas, who is left with very few limited options; the best of which amounts to political suicide; but what about those who live under occupation and suffer its agonizing consequences, we sure have a tenuous grasp of their bitter reality, we disregard them -and often we do so with intent- in our quest to decipher the intricate details of the Middle East conflict, so let us this time try and place ourselves in Karam Da’nah’s shoes for a moment:

Imagine you’re thirteen years old, living in a neighborhood your family has been inhabiting for generations; yet is becoming less and less familiar to you -thanks to swarms of hostile (and armed to the teeth) Israeli settlers-, the day starts and ends with their vulgar harassments, verbal and physical abuse and often with them hurling their trash at your house for good measure, your daily trip to your own school and back disturbs the very delicate sensibilities of these “new neighbors”, they spit on you, shower you with unspeakable insults that a typical thirteen year old wouldn’t normally hear; there’s absolutely nothing neighborly about that! you try another (longer) route hoping against hope that this “maneuver” will spare you another one of those grueling confrontations, but to no avail; they’re all over the place; they enjoy the very same right and freedom of movement you’ve been long pining for; and always under the attentive watch of the IOF, going to school soon becomes a dreaded burden; an exercise in frustration and futility; you can’t help but feel like you’re a moving target; your destination –no matter how close- is always so far away, well beyond countless of check points, humiliating strip searches, antagonistic soldiers, exclusive Jewish-only roads, life-threatening altercations with over-zealous colonizers and a separation wall that stretches as far as the eye can see.

Nonetheless; you try as hard as you can to reconcile yourself with this harsh reality just to be able to enjoy –even if for a brief and fleeting moment- a false sense of normalcy; until one day and out of the blue; you get rounded up, accused and immediately convicted for a bogus crime you didn’t commit; there is absolutely no evidence except for a testimony by an illegal Israeli settler who’s hell-bent on forcing you out of your own land with no idea what he wants beyond that, you spend about a week incarcerated in a prison cell, exhaustion from ruthless interrogation sessions -designed specifically to “overcome” your frail thirteen year old mind and body- and fears of never being able to see your family ever again start to mount inside your small teenage chest until you can’t even take a proper breath anymore; when you’re finally released; you find out that you can’t live with your family anymore, instead; you’re sent to live with relatives and to top it all off; you’re not allowed to see the outdoors for at least five months; you have to say goodbye to playgrounds, football games, family picnics, going to school and basically all the activities that made up a huge and beloved part of your previous life.

Karam’s story is merely the latest in a litany of brutal practices and policies of aggression by the Zionist state and its raging herds of xenophobic settlers against Palestinians; only a little over a week ago; a Jewish settlement “guard” (whatever that means!) shot down a 32 year old Palestinian man –a father of five- in the Arab neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem: pretty much an open and shut, slam dunk case of cold blooded murder; from which the perpetrator was, yes you guessed it, exonerated after half an hour of “friendly” questioning by Israeli authorities (probably over a cup of coffee for all we know!); while, on the other hand, Karam Da’nah still has to adjust to his new living situation placed under house arrest deprived of all the things that millions of normal kids around the world take for granted.

Moreover; a recent CNN report revealed several cases of sexual abuse of Palestinian children detained in Israeli jails; the report included victims’ heart-breaking detailed accounts of what they’ve endured on the filthy hands of their Israeli captors; molestation, beatings, being forced to remain in painful positions and being grabbed by their private parts; are but few of the many methods mentioned in the report that are systematically employed by Israeli interrogators in sleazy albeit sadistic attempts at extracting forced “confessions” from kids as young as 9 years old; this in no doubt; will take its immense and devastating toll on these youngsters; physically, psychologically and emotionally as well; sure these kids will survive, they will continue to live, some might even grow up to be great leaders for their people; but I think their childhood and everything about it has been seared for life.

Indeed not only lands that are being arbitrarily bulldozed and confiscated in the occupied Palestinian territories, but most dangerously; childhood too.

AHMAD BARQAWI, a Jordanian freelance columnist & writer based in Amman, having acquired his Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics; he has done several studies, statistical analysis and researches on economic and social development in Jordan. He can be reached at:

Ahmad Barqawi is a freelance columnist and writer.