|Amir and his mother just hours before he was abducted by Israeli soldiers. (Nora Barrows-Friedman)|
Amir al-Mohtaseb smiled tenderly when I
asked him to tell me his favorite color. Sitting in his family’s living
room last Thursday afternoon, 4 March, in the Old City of Hebron, the
ten-year-old boy with freckles and long eyelashes softly replied,
"green." He then went on to describe in painful detail his arrest and
detention — and the jailing of his 12-year-old brother Hasan by
Israeli occupation soldiers on Sunday, 28 February.
after our interview, at 2am, Israeli soldiers would break into the
house, snatch Amir from his bed, threaten his parents with death by
gunfire if they tried to protect him, and take him downstairs under the
stairwell. They would beat him so badly that he would bleed internally
into his abdomen, necessitating overnight hospitalization. In complete
shock and distress, Amir would not open his mouth to speak for another
day and a half.
In our interview that afternoon before the
brutal assault, Amir said that on the 28th, he was playing in the
street near the Ibrahimi Mosque, on his way with Hasan to see their
"Two of the soldiers stopped us and handcuffed us," Amir
said. "They brought us to two separate jeeps. They took me to the
settlement and put me in a corner. I still had handcuffs on. They put a
dog next to me. I said that I wanted to go home. They said no, and told
me I would stay here forever. They refused to let me use the bathroom.
They wouldn’t let me call my mother. They blindfolded me and I stayed
there like that until my father was able to come and get me late at
Amir’s detention inside the settlement lasted nearly ten
hours. "The only thing that I thought about was how afraid I was,
especially with the dog beside me. I wanted to run away and go back to
my house," he said.
Amir and Hasan’s mother, Mukarrem, told me
that Amir immediately displayed signs of trauma when he returned home.
"He was trying to tell me a joke, and trying to laugh. But it was not
normal laughter. He was happy and terrified at the same time," she
said. "He wet himself at some point during the detention. He was
Amir revealed that he hadn’t been able to
sleep in the nights following his detention, worried sick about his
brother in jail and extremely afraid that the soldiers would come back
(which, eventually, they did). Today, approximately 350 children are
languishing inside Israeli prisons and detention camps, enduring
interrogation, torture and indefinite sentences, sometimes without
charge. The number fluctuates constantly, but thousands of Palestinian
children between the ages of 12 and 16 have moved through the Israeli
military judicial system over the past decade since the outbreak of the
second Palestinian intifada. Israel designates 18 as the age of
adulthood for its own citizens, but through a military order, and
against international law, Israel mandates 16 as the age of adulthood
for Palestinians. Additionally, Israel has special military orders
(#1644 and #132) to be able to arrest and judge Palestinian children —
termed "juvenile delinquents" — as young as 12 years old.
way, they have a ‘legal’ cover for what they are doing, even though
this is against international laws," said Abed Jamal, a researcher at
Defence for Children International-Palestine Section’s (DCI-PS) Hebron
office. "However, in Amir’s case, they broke even their own laws by
arresting and detaining him as a ten-year-old boy. These laws are
obviously changeable according to Israel’s whim. We have yet to see a
prosecution for crimes such as these."
I asked Amir and Hasan’s father, Fadel, to describe how one is able to parent effectively under this kind of constant siege.
not safe for the children to go outside because we’ve faced constant
attacks by the settlers and the soldiers," he explained. "This by
itself is unimaginable for us. And now, we have one son in jail and
another traumatized … they’re so young."
On Sunday, 7 March,
exactly a week after Hasan’s arrest and Amir’s detention, the family
and members of the local media made an early-morning journey to Ofer
prison where Hasan had been held since his initial arrest. After a
lengthy process in which the Israeli military judge admitted that the
boy was too young to stay in prison, Hasan was released on the
condition that he would come back to the court to finish the trial at a
later date. This trial followed the initial hearing last Wednesday at
Ofer, where Maan News Agency reported that the judge insisted that
Fadel pay the court 2,000 shekels ($530) for Hasan’s bail. According to
Maan, Fadel then publicly asked the court, "What law allows a child to
be tried in court and then asks his father to pay a fine? I will not
pay the fine, and you have to release my child … This is the law of
Consumed by their sons’ situations,
Mukarrem and Fadel say they are trying to do the best for their family
under attack. "What can we do?" asked Fadel. "We lock the doors. We
lock the windows. We have nothing with which to protect our family and
our neighbors from the soldiers or the settlers. If a Palestinian
kidnapped and beat and jailed an Israeli child, the whole world would
be up in arms about it. It would be all over the media. But the
Israelis, they come into our communities with jeeps and tanks and
bulldozers, they take our children and throw them into prison, and no
DCI-PS’s Jamal reiterates the point that
international laws made to protect children under military occupation
have been ignored by Israel since the occupation began in 1967. "Most
of the time, we try to do our best to use the law, the Geneva
Conventions, the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child as weapons
against this brutality," said Jamal. "All of these laws exist, but
Israel uses their own military laws as excuses to defy international
law. As Palestinians, we have to work together to create solidarity
against this brutality. Through our work, we try to tell the
international community what’s going on with Palestinian children to
create a wide berth of support against this situation. We believe that
the only way this will stop is through the support of the international
Amir slowly began speaking again 36 hours after the
beating by Israeli soldiers. Zahira Meshaal, a Bethlehem-based social
worker specializing in the effects of trauma in children, said that
Amir’s "elective mutism," a symptom of extreme psychological shock
caused by his beating and detention, is a common response, but that it
is a good sign that he began talking again. "This is a reaction of fear
on many levels. Amir’s house and his family are his only source of
security," said Meshaal. "This was taken away from him the moment the
soldiers invaded his home. It’s easy to attend to the immediate trauma,
but the long-term effects will undoubtedly be difficult to address.
He’ll need a lot of mental health services from now on."
comments on the nature of this attack in the context of the unraveling
situation inside Hebron. "We are talking about a place that is on the
front lines of trauma," she said. "This is an ongoing and growing
injury to the entire community. Parents have to be a center of security
for their children, but that’s being taken away from them. Especially
in Hebron, the Israeli settlers and soldiers know this, and use this
tactic to force people to leave the area. It’s a war of psychology.
This is a deliberate act to make the children afraid and force people
to leave so that their children can feel safer."
At the end of
our interview last Thursday, Amir sent a message to American children.
"We are kids, just like you. We have the right to play, to move freely.
I want to tell the world that there are so many kids inside the Israeli
jails. We just want to have freedom of movement, the freedom to play."
Amir said that he wants to be a heart surgeon when he grows up. His
mother and father told me that they hope Amir’s own heart — and theirs
— heals from last week’s repetitive and cumulative trauma at the hands
of the interminable Israeli occupation.
Barrows-Friedman is the co-host and Senior Producer of Flashpoints, a
daily investigative newsmagazine on Pacifica Radio. She is also a
correspondent for Inter Press Service. She regularly reports from
Palestine, where she also runs media workshops for youth in the
Dheisheh refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.