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The War on Innocence: Palestinian Children in Israeli Military Court

On July 29, 4-year-old Muhammad Rabi’ Elayyan was reportedly summoned for interrogation by the Israeli police in occupied Jerusalem.

The news, originally reported by the Palestinian News Agency (WAFA), was later denied by the Israeli police, likely to lessen the impact of the PR disaster that followed.

The Israelis are not denying the story in its entirety, but are rather arguing that it was not the boy, Muhammad, who was summoned, but his father, Rabi’, who was called into the Israeli police station in Salah Eddin Street in Jerusalem, to be questioned regarding his son’s actions.

The child was accused of hurling a stone at Israeli occupation soldiers in the Issawiyeh neighborhood, a constant target for Israeli violence. The neighborhood has also been the tragic site for house demolition under the pretext that Palestinians there are building without permits. Of course, the vast majority of Palestinian applications to build in Issawiyeh, or anywhere in Jerusalem, are denied, while Jewish settlers are allowed to build on Palestinian land, unhindered.

With this in mind, Issawiyeh is no stranger to the ridiculous and unlawful behavior of the Israeli army. On July 6, a mother from the beleaguered neighborhood was arrested as a means to put pressure on her teenage son, Mahmoud Ebeid, to turn himself in. The mother “was taken by Israeli police as a bargaining chip,” Mondoweiss reported, quoting the Jerusalem-based Wadi Hileh Information Center.

Israeli authorities are justified in feeling embarrassed by the whole episode concerning the 4-year-old boy, thus the attempt at poking holes in the story. The fact is WAFA’s correspondent in Jerusalem had, indeed, verified that the warrant was in Muhammad’s, not Rabi’s, name.

While some news sources bought into the Israeli ‘hasbara’, readily conveying the Israeli cries of ‘fake news’, one must bear in mind that this event is hardly a one-off incident. For Palestinians, such news of detaining, beating and killing children is one of the most consistent features of the Israeli occupation since 1967.

Just one day after the summoning of Muhammad, Israeli authorities also interrogated the father of a 6-year-old child, Qais Firas Obaid, from the same neighborhood of Issawiyeh, after accusing the boy of throwing a juice carton at Israeli soldiers.

“According to local sources in Issawiyeh the (Israeli) military sent Qais’ family an official summons to come to the interrogation center in Jerusalem on Wednesday (July 31) at 8 am,” reported the International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC). In one photo, the little boy is pictured while holding up to a camera the Israeli military order written in Hebrew.

The stories of Muhammad and Qais are the norm, not the exception. According to the prisoners’ advocacy group, Addameer, there are currently 250 children in Israeli prisons, with approximately 700 Palestinian children going through the Israeli military court system every single year. “The most common charge levied against children is throwing stones, a crime that is punishable under military law by up to 20 years,” Addameer reports.

Indeed, Israel has so much to be embarrassed about. Since the start of the Second Intifada, the popular uprising of 2000, some 12,000 Palestinian children have been detained and interrogated by the Israeli army.

But it is not only children and their families that are targeted by the Israeli military, but also those who advocate on their behalf. On July 30, Palestinian lawyer, Tariq Barghouth, was sentenced to 13 years in prison by an Israeli military court for “firing at Israeli buses and at security forces on a number of occasions.”

As flimsy as the accusation of a well-known lawyer firing at ‘buses’ may sound, it is important to note that Barghouth is well-regarded for his defense of many Palestinian children in court. Barghouth was a constant source of headache for the Israeli military court system for his strong defense of the child, Ahmad Manasra.

Manasra, then 13-years of age, was tried and indicted in Israeli military court for allegedly stabbing and wounding two Israelis near the illegal Jewish settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev in Occupied Jerusalem. Manasra’s cousin, Hassan, 15 was killed on the spot, while wounded Ahmad was tried in court as an adult.

It was the lawyer, Barghouth, who challenged and denounced the Israeli court for the harsh interrogation and for secretly filming the wounded child as he was tied to his hospital bed.

On August 2, 2016, Israel passed a law that allows authorities to “imprison a minor convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder or manslaughter even if he or she is under the age of 14.” The law was conveniently crafted to deal with cases like that of Ahmad Manasra, who was sentenced on November 7, 2016 (three months after the law was approved) to 12 years in prison.

Manasra’s case, the leaked videos of his abuse by Israeli interrogators and his harsh sentence placed more international focus on the plight of Palestinian children in the Israeli military court system.

“Israeli interrogators are seen relying on verbal abuse, intimidation and threats to apparently inflict mental suffering for the purpose of obtaining a confession,” Brad Parker, attorney and international advocacy officer at Defense for Children- Palestine, said at the time.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which Israel, as of 1991, is a signatory, “prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Yet, according to Parker, “ill treatment and torture of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli military and police is widespread and systematic.”

So systematic, in fact, that videos and reports of arresting very young Palestinian children are almost a staple on social media platforms concerned with Palestine and Palestinian rights.

The sad reality is that Muhammad Elayyan, 4, and Qais Obaid, 6, and many children like them, have become a target of Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

This horrendous reality must not be tolerated by the international community. Israeli crimes against Palestinian children must be effectively confronted as Israel, its inhumane laws and iniquitous military courts must not be allowed to continue their uncontested brutalization of Palestinian children.

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Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.

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