They have destroyed my son

The scenes that have broken my heart most deeply since returning to the occupied Palestinian territory, have involved the anguish of mothers as they watch their children endure horrendous situations that result directly from the occupation.  One such situation occurred a few weeks ago at the Salem military court outside of Jenin.  EAPPI was there to accompany 8 young men, including one minor, who had been arrested and held since December.  2 young men were previously arrested on stone throwing and molotov cocktail charges and during interrogation had implicated these other 8.  They were appearing that day in court and had their cases remanded until April 4.

While waiting to enter the court, we were approached by a middle aged woman who spoke in halting English.  She asked if we could help her son.  Anguish and pain was written all over her face.  Her 16 year old son had been arrested from school 13 months prior.  His mother maintains his innocence and says that prior to his arrest he was a responsible young man and a good student with aspirations for post secondary education.  During his time in jail, he has been beaten by the authorities and held in solitary confinement.  Conditions in the jail are difficult, and he currently is being held in a room with 10 others.   They are not allowed outside for exercise and he is unable to sleep.  Family are allowed to visit for one hour twice a month, and the visits must be held through a window with conversation over a phone.  A psychological assessment has found that he has suffered significant psychological trauma as a result of his incarceration and recommended that he be released.  “They have destroyed my son,” she told us, over and over again.  He remains in jail.

EAPPI referred this case to Defence for Children International (DCI).  We are told that the boy has been charged and is serving jail time, but details beyond that are unobtainable.

Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, was quoted in The Guardian, 22 January 2012 “The test of a democracy is how you treat people incarcerated, people in jail, and especially so with minors.”  For a country that prides itself on being a democracy, the following information can only be disturbing.

DCI have published an April 2012 report “Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted: Children held in military detention” found at http://www.dci-palestine.org/category/publications.

Here is an excerpt from the report:  “This report is the culmination of four years’ work during which time sworn testimonies were collected from 311 children held in Israeli military detention.  The report focuses on the period of time between the child’s arrest and being brought before a military court for the first time.  The testimonies reveal that the majority of children are detained in the middle of the night in what are typically described as terrifying raids conducted by the army.  Most children have their hands painfully tied behind their backs and are blindfolded, before being taken away to an unknown location for interrogation.  The arrest and transfer process is often accompanied by verbal abuse and humiliation, threats as well as physical violence.  Hours later the children find themselves in an interrogation room alone, sleep deprived, bruised and scared.  Unlike Israeli children living in settlements in the West Bank, Palestinian children are not accompanied by a parent and are generally interrogated without the benefit of legal advice, or being informed of their right to silence.

The testimonies reveal that most children undergo a coercive interrogation, mixing verbal abuse, threats and physical violence, generally resulting in a confession.  The most common offence children confess to is throwing stones. The Report also finds that in 29 percent of cases, the children are either shown, or made to sign, documentation written in Hebrew, a language they do not understand.

Within eight days of their arrest, the children are brought in chains to a military court where, in most cases, they will see a lawyer and their parents for the first time.  Although many children maintain their innocence, in the end at least 90 percent will plead guilty, as this is the quickest way out of a system that denied children bail in 87 percent of cases.  Within days of their arrest, nearly two-thirds of the children are transferred to prisons inside Israel in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits such transfers.  The practical consequences of this is that many children receive either limited, or no family visits, due to freedom of movement restrictions and the time it takes to issue a permit to visit the prisons.

…..The Report finds that when the totality of evidence is considered, a pattern of systematic ill-treatment emerges, much of which amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as defined in the UN Convention against Torture, and in some cases, torture – both of which are absolutely prohibited.” (pg 7, Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted, DCI April 2012).

UNICEF released a report “Children in Israeli Military Detention” in February 2013, found at http://www.unicef.org/oPt/UNICEF_oPt_Children_in_Israeli_Military_Detention_Observations_and_Recommendations_-_6_March_2013.pdf

UNICEF concludes “Ill treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized.  This conclusion is based on the repeated allegations about such treatment over the past 10 years and the volume, consistency and persistence of these allegations.  The review of cases documented through the monitoring and reporting mechanism on grave child rights violations, as well as interviews conducted by UNICEF with Israeli and Palestinian lawyers and Palestinian children, also support this conclusion.

The pattern of ill-treatment includes the arrests of children at their homes between midnight and 5:00am by heavily armed soldiers; the practice of blindfolding children and tying their hands with plastic ties; physical and verbal abuse during transfer to an interrogation site, including the use of painful restraints; lack of access to water, food, toilet facilities and medical care; interrogation using physical violence and threats; coerced confessions; and lack of access to lawyers or family members during interrogation.

Treatment inconsistent with child rights continues during court appearances, including shackling of children; denial of bail and imposition of custodial sentences; and transfer of children outside occupied Palestinian territory to serve their sentences inside Israel.  The incarceration isolates them from their families and interrupts their studies.

These practices are in violation of international law that protects all children against ill-treatment when in contact with law enforcement, military and judicial institutions.” (pgs 13,14, Children in Israeli Military Detention, UNICEF, Feb 2013)

In January of 2012, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty traveled to Palestine and Israel.  During his visit Mr Baird repeatedly stated “Israel has no greater friend in the world than Canada.” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/bairds-israel-visit-comes-with-a-personal-mission/article2320658/  He said that “the state of Israel embodies principles that Canada values and respects.” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/article2320300.ece  He also stated “In this region [the Middle East] today there is only one liberal democracy, only one place that values and respects democracy, human rights and the rule of law. And that is our ally [Israel],” he told the Jerusalem Post.  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/baird-sticks-to-party-line-israels-likud-party/article2326345/

One has to wonder, what are we supporting?  Are the people of Canada supportive of  the ill-treatment of children in Israel’s military court system?  Are they supportive of gross breaches in international law?  Are they supportive of “a pattern of systematic ill-treatment… much of which amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as defined in the UN Convention against Torture, and in some cases, torture”  (p. 7, DCI  Report Bound Blindfolded and Convicted) of children?

Statistics indicate that the problem is worsening, rather than improving.  Just this week, DCI released their Feb 2013 detention bulletin, found at http://www.dci-palestine.org/sites/default/files/feb_2013_detention_bulletin_final_20mar2013.pd

In the month of February alone,  there were 236 Palestinian children imprisoned and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system,  the highest monthly total since October, 2010.  Of that number, 39 were between the ages of 12 and 15.

Applying the above evidence to Mr Regev’s definition of a democracy, Israel scores an absolute F.

Sometimes, it takes a friend to tell us hard facts about ourselves.  Who better to take on the “friend” role, than the government of Canada, Israel’s self-proclaimed best friend?  You can rest assured that this will only happen if enough Canadians pressure Mr Harper’s government to take action.  There has been far too much pain, too much torture, too much coercion, too much injustice at the hands of Israel’s flawed and corrupt military justice system.  The ongoing suffering of Palestinian children, and the despair and heartache of their families, is unconscionable.

I still hear and feel the anguish of the young boy’s mother.  “They have destroyed my son.”  Her words and her pain continue to haunt me.

How does one respond?

Maybe it’s time to call our MP’s and demand that Canada pressure Israel to  “respect democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Jan

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