The dire situation of Palestinian children in Israeli jails is a matter requiring urgent attention given that arrests of minors is becoming a daily occurrence. Palestinian Minister of Detainees Issa Qaraqe visited South Africa this week to shed light on the devastating circumstances Palestinian children find themselves in. If we subscribe to the notion of ubuntu, this cannot be a crisis we wash our hands of.
Even during the darkest days of apartheid, it was adults and not children who were dragged from their homes in the dead of night. Today it is Palestinian children dragged out of their homes in front of their parents.
According to Minister Qaraqe, almost all child detainees report ill-treatment or torture, and children as young as 12 are beaten with guns, shoes or electric cable, and routinely blindfolded and handcuffed. This was also reported by Dr Amal Wahdan, who heads the Detained Children’s Unit of the Shaikh Hasan Foundation, who visited South Africa recently.
On March 12, Dr Wahdan wrote a letter to UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres asking for a UN investigation team to look into the violations of children’s rights in Palestine.
The letter notes that Unicef, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Defence for Children International have found that Palestinian children are frequently held for extended periods without access to attorneys or their parents, and are detained, interrogated, abused or ill-treated by the Israeli military forces.
This is in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which prohibits the separation of a child from his or her parents.
While the Israeli military argues that it needs to use extraordinary measures in the name of national security, they are flouting all international norms and standards.
Under international law, a minor is a child under 18, although in Israel a minor is a child under 15. In 2015, a new law was passed in the Israeli Knesset allowing the police and military to arrest children as young as 12.
These children are not dealt with in special children’s courts, but in the same courts as adults, which are usually military courts.
The case of Ahmed Manasra is particularly disturbing. Ahmed and his cousin Hassan stabbed and injured two Israelis, which resulted in an Israeli soldier shooting Hassan dead at point blank range. Settlers then ran over Ahmed with a car as he attempted to flee.
Despite being seriously injured, Ahmed, then 12, was arrested and tied to a hospital bed, where he was interrogated. In August last year Manasra was sentenced to 12 years in prison, although prison authorities requested his sentence be reduced given his rehabilitation and good behaviour.
He is now serving a sentence of nine years, and his family was forced to pay a fine of R600000.
At the time of his detention, a video went viral on YouTube of one of Manasra’s interrogations in which he is seen hitting his head repeatedly as a result of the psychological pressure he was put under.
While Manasra engaged in a crime that cannot be justified even under the guise of the “right to resist occupation”, his treatment by the security establishment is unacceptable.
The social and psychological effects on children as a result of their treatment in detention are long lasting, and according to Minister Qaraqe, many ex-detainees suffer from extreme post traumatic stress disorder and refuse to go back to school, isolate themselves, and cannot sleep.
There are also increasing numbers of Palestinian children being placed under house arrest, again a phenomenon not seen during the apartheid era in South Africa.
According to Dr Amal there are cases where children have been put under house arrest for as long as a year, where they are prevented from going to school, visiting their family, or even playing in the garden. There are even cases of children resident in Jerusalem being deported to other Palestinian cities with the intent of compelling their parents to move out of Jerusalem to be with their children.
Whatever side of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict one is sympathetic to, the rights of children anywhere in the world must be considered indivisible. That starts with the right to life, the right to not be separated from their parents, the right not to be held incommunicado, the right not to be abused or tortured, and the right to a fair trial in a children’s court.
For as long as Palestinian children are not afforded these rights under the pretext of national security, the international community must raise its collective voices in protest.
* Ebrahim is group foreign editor
The Sunday Independent