The Palestine Solidarity Project reported today that Yousef Abu Hashem, a 19-year-old Palestinian from the southern West Bank village of Beit Ommar, was released from Israeli prison after he was arrested six months ago by Israeli soldiers.
He was arrested in October 2011, in the middle of the night by brutal soldiers with dogs, most likely because of his active participation during demonstrations in Beit Ommar. Yesterday he was back with his own family and friends.
As I reported a couple of weeks ago, a new report by Defense for Children International - Palestine section has found that Israel’s routine arrests, detentions, interrogations, abuses and torture of Palestinian children are in breach of various UN and international laws, and that the majority of arrests of minors occur in the middle of the night. The report added that:
In the past 11 years alone, around 7,500 children, some as young as 12 years, are estimated to have been detained, interrogated, and imprisoned within this system. This averages out at between 500-700 children per year, or nearly two children, each and every day.
Yesterday, on 4 April, DCI-Palestine issued an urgent appeal directed towards the Israeli military’s rampant arrests of children specifically in Beit Ommar. The report states:
The town of Beit Ummar is situated halfway between Bethlehem and Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, and has a population of around 13,500. The town is located approximately three kilometers south of the Israeli settlement block of Gush Etzion and adjacent to the settlement of Karmi Zur.
Every Friday, residents of Beit Ummar hold a demonstration near Karmi Zur in protest against being denied access to their agricultural land. Each year, numerous children from the village are arrested during demonstrations, or in the middle of the night, and accused of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers and settlers.
Since January 2009, DCI-Palestine alone has documented 26 cases of children from Beit Ummar being arrested mostly on suspicion of throwing stones. According to the United Nations, a total of 43 children were arrested from Beit Ummar in 2010, rising to 27 children arrested in the first two months of 2011.
Following their arrest, most children are taken to the police station in the settlement block of Gush Etzion for interrogation. In all of the cases documented by DCI-Palestine, the children report some form of physical violence during their arrest, transfer and subsequent interrogation at Etzion. DCI-Palestine is also increasingly concerned by the activities of one particular interrogator at Etzion who goes by the name of ‘David’ or ‘Dawoud’. Complaints made by children against this interrogator include severe acts of violence and threats of rape and electrocution. It should be noted that the cases included in this Urgent Appeal only represent a small sample of the total number of cases involving the arrest of children from Beit Ummar.I spoke with Bekah Wolf of the Palestine Solidarity Project, which has set up a legal defense fund to place lawyers at the bail hearings for as many youth as they can. Wolf said that what’s important to note about Israel’s policy of arresting children “is the psychological effects that this has on not just the kids, but their families … how destructive it is to a community that feels like they can’t protect their kids. It tears at the fabric of family structures. One man in Beit Ommar had four of his sons in jail at one point. The psychological torture of having your kids dragged away from you in the middle of the night creates a collective dynamic of being under siege and total instability in family life.” She added:
What happens with these kids is that they’re arrested, there’s a bail hearing, and then they might be able to post bail. If the family can’t post bail, or if they’re denied bail, sometimes these kids stay in jail for up to a year. Rarely do these cases go all the way to a real trial, but having lawyers at the bail hearings in particular is key to getting them out.When young people are arrested in Beit Ommar, Wolf said, they’re especially interrogated about the grassroots organizing committees in the village, in an attempt by Israeli forces to throw a wrench into their political activism. In its report, DCI-Palestine calls on people across the world to contact their Israeli embassies — and especially US representatives — to call for the end to these kinds of detention and interrogation policies against Palestinian children.