MIFTAH, April 28, 2010
I have a 10-year old son. He is big for his age but his soft eyes and
his sweet smile betray his tender years. He is a child regardless of
his shoe size. This morning, he was practically in tears when he found
a cockroach hanging out in his sneaker, to which he ran across the room
at a speed that surprised even me. While it’s true, finding a roach in
your shoe is quite disgusting, I couldn’t help but notice how childlike
his reaction had been. I calmly reassured him that although cockroaches
are "gross", they are otherwise innocuous.
My point for sharing this anecdote
is, obviously, not about the roach. If a 10-year old "tough guy" like
my son was so freaked out from a small (albeit repulsive) bug, what
would happen if our home was broken into and he was handcuffed,
blindfolded and dragged away by Israeli soldiers? Don’t say it doesn’t
happen, because in this place, to this people, it does.
On Thursday April 22, two 14 and 15
year old brothers were forcefully taken from their homes in a
Bethlehem-area village at 3 a.m. The boys, the Israeli soldiers who
came to arrest them claimed, were accused of throwing stones at Israeli
troops in the area. The boys are now standing trial for their "crime."
Last Thursday was apparently the
"Arrest Palestinian Children Day" for Israel’s army. Ahmad Sabbah, a
13-year old boy from Tuqu’ south of Bethlehem was also handcuffed and
blindfolded before being carted off to an Israeli detention camp. As I
read about Ahmad’s story, told by his distressed mother, all I could
think about was my own son and how this could be him one day.
"He was shivering and crying hard,
he grabbed onto my nightgown," Ahmad’s mother recalls. Ahmad’s older
brother, 17-year old Mohammed, was also arrested, both for alleged
stone throwing. When Ahmad’s mother pleaded with the Israeli officer to
let her terrified and sobbing son go, asking him if he had children of
his own and if he would like to see his child in a similar situation,
she received this cold answer. "My child does not throw stones."
Currently, there are over 300
Palestinian children in Israeli jails, some as young as 12. Israeli
military law allows for the prosecution of Palestinians as adults once
they turn 16 while Israeli children can only be put on trial as adults
when they are 18. However, the treatment these children receive,
regardless of whether they are tried as adults or not, is certainly not
proportional to their age and often causes long-term trauma for these
children. In February, another 13-year old boy, Hasan Al Muhtasib was
arrested along with his 10-year old brother while walking home from a
family visit in Hebron. After the two boys were summoned by patrolling
Israeli soldiers, they were taken to separate detention centers. Hasan
was interrogated, made to sign a document in Hebrew and brought before
a court a few days later, all on charges of throwing stones. His little
brother, Amir, was released later that night Traumatized and
frightened, Amir started wetting his bed.
In my own neighborhood, another
13-year old boy was dragged from his house during the most recent
clashes near Al Aqsa, without even a pair of slippers on. The boy was
so scared, he wet his pants. He was also released that night, sent home
after police realized he was epileptic and did not have his medicine.
Fortunately, someone had brought him a pair of shoes to walk home in.
The stories of course, are endless.
Palestinian children are constantly exposed to Israeli violence,
whether in the form of direct contact (arrest, beatings and even death)
or as witnesses to violence perpetrated against family or neighbors. My
mind constantly wanders back to Ahmad’s poor mother. What kind of
raging emotions must have gone through her as she watched Israeli
soldiers brutally dragging her little boy away? One feeling for sure
would have been a feeling of helplessness and failure as a mother to
protect her child. That, I can tell you, is probably one of the worst
feelings a parent can experience because it is instinctive that you
protect your child at all costs.
Israel has stripped us even of
that. When an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint turns me away because my
papers are not in order, which leaves me and my children on opposite
sides of the barrier, I am also overwhelmed with helplessness. This
occupation has the power to separate me from my children, not only at a
checkpoint but by way of transporting me back to the West Bank if ever
they deem me unworthy of a residency permit for Jerusalem.
Still, I consider myself lucky.
Yes, my 10-year old has seen the occupation up close in the form of
checkpoints, the separation wall and even demonstrations outside of Al
Aqsa. He has inhaled the suffocating odor of teargas wafting into our
windows during the most violent clashes in our quarter. But thankfully,
he has not been so unlucky as to have been hurt or scarred by seeing
some of the awful violence Israel’s army perpetrates against
Palestinians every day.
He is only 10. In any other corner
of the civilized world (of which Israel claims to be part), he is a
child. He should be preoccupied with school, playing soccer and
learning the newest car game on his computer. As his mother, these
(especially the first) should be my concerns as well, along with
keeping him healthy and happy. But like every other Palestinian mother
living in the occupied territories, one nagging and omnipresent fear is
not be able to protect them. Israel has no right to strip our children
of their childhood. Arresting and beating children does not contribute
to the security of Israel. This is the behavior of cowards.
Joharah Baker is a Writer
for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative
for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.