Watch: Israeli prisons rob Palestinians of their childhood

Update 3 May:

Israeli forces arrested Obaida on 28 April and held him in Ofer military prison until 2 May. He was represented by a lawyer from Defense for Children International Palestine and released without conditions, according to the group’s senior adviser Brad Parker.

This marked the third time the 15-year-old boy was detained by Israeli forces.

Original story

Obaida Akram Jawabra is 15 and has already been arrested twice by Israel.

The teenager, from Arroub refugee camp in the southern occupied West Bank, is among hundreds of Palestinian children to be arrested by Israel each year.

“The first time was really difficult. I was on my way to the store when they arrested me,” Obaida says in a new film named after him.

“The soldiers would beat me in places that would leave no marks so there wouldn’t be evidence on my body that I could use to testify against them,” Obaida says.

The film was produced by Matthew Cassel for Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP). Cassel is a former editor of The Electronic Intifada.

Israel subjects Palestinian children in its jails to “slapping, beating, kicking and violent pushing,” according to prisoners rights group Addameer, as well as routine verbal abuse. Israel also subjects Palestinian children to sexual assault and harassment in its jails.

Approximately 75 percent of Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel report physical violence, and 62 percent report verbal violence, according to DCIP.

Disrupting education

Israeli military imprisonment and torture have traumatic and often lasting effects on children after their release, even if time spent in prison was brief.

“The arrest of children has a destructive impact on the level of children’s mental health,” Addameer states, making children more susceptible to drop out of school upon their release and harming their career prospects.

“Arrest, interrogation or house arrest – even for several months – can damage beyond repair years’ worth of studies,” the group adds.

Israel does not provide appropriate education for Palestinian children in prisons, forcing children to try to catch up on school work upon their release “while shouldering the invisible psychological consequences of traumatic military arrests and interrogations,” according to DCIP.

When Obaida was released from prison, he was unable to catch up with school work. He had to drop out and join a vocational school, called the Arroub Agricultural Secondary Coeducational School.

The school has pupils who have already been to prison. Others were arrested while they were pupils at the school.

“In both cases, we find that when these students come back to us, they can have trouble fitting in. It’s not easy for them to interact with others or build relationships,” Rashid Arrar, a counselor at the school, says in the film.

Location on highway

The school’s location plays a role in the pupils’ susceptibility to arrests.

“We are located in an area that sees a lot of friction,” Arrar says.

The school lies near Highway 60 between Bethlehem and Hebron in the southern occupied West Bank.

This highway, used by Israeli settlers, extends from the city of Nazareth in northern Israel, cuts through the occupied West Bank and ends in the city of Bir al-Saba in the far south of Israel.

Obaida, like many other children in Arroub, needs to cross the highway in order to get to school.

“Sometimes the Israeli forces assault the children. Sometimes there are arrests and raids on the school,” Arrar says.

Israel forbids Palestinians from traveling on the highway in certain areas without a permit. Palestinians can reach the road only by going through military checkpoints.

Israeli settlers are not subjected to the same restrictions.

At checkpoints, Israeli forces pull over Palestinian-owned vehicles – with green license plates – aside for inspection. Israeli-owned cars – with yellow license plates – are typically allowed to pass through without inspection.

“Dubious distinction”

“Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes between 500 and 700 children in military courts each year,” according to the No Way to Treat a Child campaign.

More than 12,000 Palestinian children – some as young as 12 – were detained by Israel between 2000 and 2017.

Ahed Tamimi became an icon of Palestinian child prisoners after spending eight months in jail for slapping and shoving a fully armed Israeli soldier in a video recorded by her mother during December 2017. She was 16 at the time and turned 17 in prison.

Israeli interrogators sexually harassed Ahed during a taped interrogation.

Shortly before Ahed slapped a soldier, Israeli troops shot in the head and seriously injured her 15-year-old cousin Muhammad Fadel Tamimi. The Israeli authorities then lied about the incident, by saying he “fell off his bike.”

Ahed’s 15-year-old brother Muhammad Bassem Tamimi was detained earlier this month from the family’s home in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.

This video shows Israeli occupation forces detaining Muhammad from his home:

Muhammad Fadel Tamimi, Ahed’s injured cousin, was charged earlier this month for allegedly throwing stones and engaging in “violent acts.”

Throwing stones is a common charge Israel uses against Palestinian children, which is “punishable under military law by up to 20 years in prison,” Addameer notes.

Last year, Minnesota representative Betty McCollum introduced the first bill in the US Congress that would prohibit Israel from using any of the billions it receives annually in military aid for the detention, torture and abuse of Palestinian children.

The bill currently has 30 co-sponsors.

During March, 205 children were held in Israeli jails, more than 30 of whom were under 16.

“Not complete freedom”

“A lot happened to me in prison, and when I left I noticed a lot had changed,” Obaida says in the film.

During a conversation with a friend who was also imprisoned by Israel, the pair bond on the difficulties and lessons of being detained.

“When I was in prison, I used to look forward to my court dates because it meant a change of scenery,” Obaida’s friend tells him in the film.

“On visitation days, you’d see your parents. That was the only good thing about prison.”

“Nothing is good in prison,” Obaida responds, and they both agree, although adding that the difficulties of being a child in Israeli prison has taught them patience.

“I learned how to cook and to work with others, and how to be polite and respectful,” Obaida says.

Despite being released from prison, Obaida says his happiness is not complete.

“I feel freedom but it is not complete freedom. We first have to be liberated [from the occupation] before I can feel that am truly free.”

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