The crisis in Gaza

Since the beginning of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge that started on July 8, Israeli airstrikes have more than killed 1800 Palestinian civilians and injured over 7000, despite having some of the most sophisticated and advanced military equipment. A number of UN humanitarian shelters and schools have been targeted, mosques and cathedrals destroyed, schools and hospitals bombed, doctors and medical staff injured. If this isn’t a public massacre, I don’t know what is.                         

While many of Israel’s allies condone Hamas for firing rockets into Israel, I do not. Condemning Hamas would be like condemning the residents of the Warsaw ghetto for resisting their Nazi oppressors. The Palestinians will resist any way they can, as is their prerogative.

Israel has imposed a near-total embargo on Gaza and has illegally occupied Palestinian land for over 65 years. The people of Gaza live in an open-air prison with limited access to food, water, humanitarian aid, gas and electricity for over half a decade. What you see happening now is only one of many ruthless massacres committed by the Zionist regime since the beginning of the illegal occupation in 1947. Israel spreads terror among Palestinian civilians and uses the notion of “self-defence” to justify its actions. No Israel, you do not have the right to defend yourself when you are illegally occupying another country.

So what can we do to help as supporters of the Palestinian cause?

Firstly we should all be supporting the BDS campaign. Boycotting Israeli products is the simplest and most effective means of resistance against aggression. The Israeli industry is perennial to its survival as a state and it is vital a clear message is sent to Israeli businessmen and exporters that their own government is responsible for their losses and the adverse consequences to their businesses.

Since Israel began their onslaught on Gaza three weeks ago, findings show that 1 in 5 Israeli exporters are finding it difficult to sell abroad because of anti-Israel boycotting and a lot of these boycotts are coming from the UK and Scandinavian countries. The Israel Export Institute has reported 66% of Israeli businesses have cut prices desperately trying to get people to buy their products. They have received more and more order cancellations and are now calling for government intervention to protect Israeli businesses from boycotts.

It may not seem like a lot but on a large scale, with a mass movement of international boycotts, Israel will feel the pressure. And it will hurt.

pal2

There is a new app called ‘Buycott’ which allows you to join different campaigns. I am part of ‘Long Live Palestine Boycott Israel’ and ‘Avoid Israeli Settlement Products’. The app allows you to scan barcodes from your Smartphone and it will tell you where the product has come from. It couldn’t be simpler to use and I would definitely recommend it.

We should also continue to report on social media. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are great tools to enlighten others and reach the conscience of the world as to what is happening without the filtering and bias of news reporters. It is also a really good way of pressuring news outlets to meet objective standards and report the truth.

This is a real test of the strength of the international community and the power of non-violent resistance against Israeli aggression. Never underestimate your role in this. Each and every one of us has a moral obligation to speak up. We cannot tolerate Israel’s utter disregard for international humanitarian law and the ongoing slaughter of men, women and children.

Let us continue to educate, boycott and resist.

In the face of injustice, there is only side to choose.

pal

Advertisements

Thinking of visiting Palestine and Israel?

Are you thinking of going away? Here are just a few reasons why your next trip should be to Palestine/Israel. Although far from an exhaustive list, these ideas will get you started.

1. Discover the beauty of the land

Though it remains a secret, The Middle East is spectacular. You get a little bit of everything, from desert lands to olive farms. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, it truly is a breathtaking landscape.

(1)

2. Visit the holy land for Christians, Jews, Muslims and Bahais

These religious sites are a part of human history and the lands are a mosaic of them all. Take a tour of Jericho, Hebron, Jerusalem and Bethlehem just to name a few.

(2)

3. Discover quite possibly the richest culture known to man

The Arabic culture is one that dates back thousands of years. It is distinct in all its facets from traditional foods like Musakhan to folklore dances like the Debkah! Immerse yourself in the culture and discover its beauty.

4. Get invited to drink tea 3 times a day by 3 different people

Arabs are known for their hospitality so naturally you will find yourself being invited for tea several times a day! This is just something you will have to get used to.

IMG_5511

5. Swim in the Dead Sea (or more like float)

Due to the high concentration of sodium chloride in the water, you will find yourself floating in the Dead Sea rather than swimming.  It is the lowest point on Earth and a site famous for its unique geological landform.

Make sure you rub the mud from the seabed on your body as the minerals heal wounds, wash away impurities, moisturise and cleanse the skin. Just be wary of any open cuts and don’t shave the same day!

(6)

6. Visit the birth place of Jesus

The village of Bethlehem is over 2000 years old and is the sacred city where Jesus was born. In the heart of the city sits the beautiful Church of Nativity where you can see the actual spot where the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus.

DSC00109

7. Discover a souq

Experience the bliss of simple living and walk through a souq where you will see village style entrepreneurship. Local vendors selling beautifully embroidered items from hand painted pottery to woven baskets. You can also find a wide variety of spices, fruits, sweets and other cooking essentials!

(8)

8. Try the best shawarma

We would recommend Abu el Abed in Ramallah. The shawarma sandwich is to die for, but be sure to eat with pickled chili for the full experience!

9. Discover Herodyon Palace 

King Herod built his fortress inside the tallest hill in the land. He used the site for hiding and protection during the expansion of the Roman empire. Its remains are still animate.

(9)

10. Visit the Cave of Patriarchs

Also known as the “Cave of the Double Tombs” or the “Sanctuary of Abraham.” The famous mosque in Hebron is the burial site of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah; the renowned Patriarchs and Matriarchs of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

(11)

11. Ride a camel

Riding a camel is extremely fun and will most definitely be memorable if you’ve never done it before. Just wait until the camel decides to stand up!

(12)

12. Try the first Palestinian beer

Just outside Ramallah you can visit the Taybeh brewery and take a tour of the factory. They brew both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beer and they really give the Germans a run for their money!

(13)

13. Walk on ancient ruins 

Some of the most prominent ruins of the Roman Empire are in the lands of Israel and Palestine. A walk through the cities of Sebastia and Jericho take you back to almost 25 BCE. The 500-year-old Roman structures are an exquisite painting of the past.

(14)

14. Visit the old ports of Akka 

Akka is a coastal city and its ancient port was once used for defence by the British Empire. The fortress, tunnels and cannons remain in excellent condition and are still standing today. Akka is also famous for it’s mouth-watering seafood straight from the Mediterranean Sea.

(15)

Start booking and prepare yourself for the trip of your life.

How much help should we accept?

Should we be accepting support from Israelis who live in illegal settlements in the West Bank?

Believe it or not but many Israeli Jews living in settlements in the West Bank and in Israel condemn the actions of their government and put their lives at risk to support the Palestinian struggle for freedom, equality and justice. I have met on more than one occasion Israelis who work for organisations like B’Tselem, which document human rights abuses.

For the longest time though, I felt this to be a massive contradiction. So you want to help our struggle but yet you are also living in a settlement? You are living in the homes of our parents and grandparents but yet somehow advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people? How can that be right? So I began to question things. Was I just being unfair on people who are choosing to extend their hands to us and want to help?

This took me back to 1947-48 when everything really went wrong for the Palestinians. In 1948 when the state of Israel was established and following the aftermath of the Holocaust, many Jewish families were paid to come and live in Israel. The reason behind this was to encourage mass immigration to the region – a very smart strategy if you ask me. Jewish families from all over the world began to immigrate to Israel being lured in by the prospect of a better life, financial support and benefits.

This was combined with a lot of hostility towards Jews from the MENA region as a reaction to the establishment of the state of Israel. (Whether this was a fair or reasonable reaction is a debate we will leave for another time.) Nevertheless there was uncertainty about their fate in the Middle East. Don’t forget it had also only been a few years since the end of the Holocaust and so most Jews still felt insecure about their future.

Now putting yourself in their shoes in the context of what had just happened and the reaction of the Arab countries, would you have said no to an offer of a better and more secure life in Israel? Really the question comes down to this: should we be standing against the Jews who chose to immigrate to Israel and become Israeli citizens or should we be accepting help from them as Palestinians because ultimately we all would have made the same decision?

I decided to investigate this question a little further as I wasn’t sure what to think. One part of me understood how simple the decision must have been for them but then the other part of me thought how cruel these people must have been to be able to live in homes that did not belong to them. These were our homes, our land, our trees. How could a person make such a selfish decision and live in the home of another family, knowing full well it was not their own and yet not say anything?

One man in particular really made an impact on me and helped me come to terms with the reality of what happened in 1948 and I want to tell you his story. Let us call him X.

X is an Israeli, originally a Moroccan Jew whose family has lived in Israel since the 1950s. I was curious as to how he could live with himself knowing he took over another family’s home (of course I didn’t say this to him but that’s exactly what I was thinking) so I began to question him about things and I was completely taken aback by his response.

X was a young boy – no more than about 8 or 9 years old – when his family emigrated to Israel. They were previously living a comfortable life in Morocco until the late 1940s when riots broke out against Jews all over the Middle East in response to the establishment of Israel. More than 18,000 Jews fled their homes in Morocco in 1948 and 1949 alone seeking a better life.

X’s family were offered money by the Israeli government to come and live in Israel – a life they could not even have dreamt of in Morocco or anywhere else in the Middle East at the time. Of course, his parents did not hesitate and they packed up their things ready for a new life in Israel.

On arrival, he described to me how he walked into the new house given to him by the military and he could feel the presence of another family. The house almost felt ghostly with the carpets, antiques and belongings of another family. They had obviously belonged to the Palestinian family that had lived there before them.

I then asked him whether his parents had said something, asked who the family were, demanded to be moved to another house and his response was this:

“No one spoke about it. We just didn’t ask. We knew, but we didn’t ask.”

For them it was very straightforward, they were told this was their new home and that was that. They made it their own. Until this day, they still do not know the Palestinian family who used to live there.

After hearing his story, it made me question how I would have reacted in the same situation. When I put myself in their shoes – would I really have said no if someone had offered me a life in Israel in the context of 1948, only several years after Hitler’s killing spree of the Jews? Would I have made that choice, as most Jewish families did, of a better quality life for my family and just turned a blind eye to everything else?

They didn’t physically remove us, heck most of them didn’t even see us thrown out at the time. They were invited into empty homes and many of them chose to simply not ask questions. Would you have asked had you been in their position?

Of course, hundreds of years of suffering is not an excuse to justify what happened and what continues to happen to the Palestinian people. Palestine was not an empty land when the Jews began to immigrate in and as each year passes, we watch as the land we once called Palestine is slowly engulfed by Israeli settlements and the 400 mile long wall.

I do however accept that at the time the state of Israel was established, the Jewish people needed to identify themselves with a land and they needed a place to call home. This is a point of fact not an opinion. And unfortunately for us, this was at our expense. Being Palestinians though, we must understand their struggle and their need for a homeland. After all, we are now a people without a land.

I remember reading a book about Judaism and something really stuck in my head: “What is hateful to yourself do not do to your fellow-man.”

Religion advocates justice, peace, righteousness, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. I believe in both our rights to live in the land and I believe we have the potential to live together; if we could do it before we can do it again. Don’t kid yourself into thinking it isn’t possible. Wounds can heal, painful memories fade and hate can be overcome.

IMG_3635
[The wall in Bethlehem, West Bank]

Let’s create a community where we accept each other’s existence and focus on what both people have in common rather than dwelling on our differences. Let’s bring together the new generation of Palestinians and Israelis and recognise both peoples’ struggle and right to self-determination.

The power of change is in our hands. It is us – the new, young generation of educated Palestinians and Israelis – who can prevent more suffering. Let’s make sure we all have a good future and our children and grandchildren do not suffer as our ancestors did.

We need as much help as we can get from inside and outside, from Palestinians and Israelis, from Arabs and non-Arabs, from Jews and non-Jews. Do not shut out people who extend their hand to you.

Let’s create a democratic state and home for us all.

Made in Palestine

It has been quite a while since I last contributed to Palestine 101 and I’ve only just realized why. I arrived back in the States a month ago and since then I’ve been seeing friends, family and living the comfortable life I have always lived.

If I am going to be honest with myself, I really just forgot. I left Palestine, I left the Middle East and I forgot. I forgot about everything; the occupation, the poverty, the poor living conditions, the weapons and the struggle of the Palestinians. It’s amazing how quickly I reverted back to my luxurious Western lifestyle and without even realizing, lost the inspiration and drive I felt to help the Palestinian struggle.

In all fairness, I guess you could say how could I be expected not to forget? When you have the gift of freedom and are able to live peacefully in a country where your rights as a citizen are safeguarded, how can you still remember the Palestinians?

For those that haven’t read my previous article on Palestine 101 ‘Palestinian or non-Palestinian’, I thought I’d give you a little background on me. My dad is American and my mom is Iraqi, but I was born and raised in New York.

Anyway a few days ago, I went out with my mom to buy some groceries. She always likes to shop in KNS Glatt Farm Inc, which is in Lawrence, New York. You can find pitta bread, vine leaves and chickpeas in the market – absolute essentials for Arab-style cooking!

I should probably mention this suburb of Long Island is also home to many Orthodox Jews. To think an Arab would travel from their own hometown to a Jewish market in order to buy food used in traditional Arabic dishes — a little ironic, huh? (Let’s leave that discussion for its own article).

So while I was at the grocers, I picked up a jar of olives to see how they had been made and I saw plastered in big, black letters:

PRODUCT OF ISRAEL

It didn’t take more than a second for all the memories to flood back and I was reminded of my experiences in Palestine and the injustice of it all. Now some of you might be thinking, ‘but this is just a simple package stamp? Who really cares?

For me, it was much more than that. This ordinary stamp is just another attempt at erasing the identity of the Palestinians. Israel has robbed them of their land and robbed them of their homes and now they’re trying to rob them of their cultural food, too? Since when did Israel start growing olives?

photo (1) olives israel

This is a strategy used all over America to deny the Palestinians of their rights. It is a strategy used to lie to American generations about the history of the Palestinians. It is a way of covering up the truth and creating a false sense of connection with Israelis, who have kindly provided us with olives from their land. Wow have they thought this one through.

I for one refuse to be lied to.

Did you know buying a made in Israel product not only directly finances the occupation but also funds the racist, Zionist movement that wants to get rid of all the non-Jews from the region? I decided to do a little more research on the whole situation and ask around how much people knew and you would not believe what I found out.

Did you know all goods exported out of Palestine with a made in Palestine label are denied export by the Israeli forces? That’s why we don’t ever see them. These goods are only sold within the Palestinian borders and can’t be exported out.

It’s the exact same tactic used to cover up the realities of the occupation. The unlawful treatment of Palestinians is not broadcasted internationally because that kind of information would be detrimental to Israel’s public image (and subsequently its biggest supporter – the US). They have done the same thing by denying anything made in Palestine from being shipped. They just don’t want people to know.

So the next time you see a made in Israel label, take a step back and remind yourself of what it really means; it is a small but very significant example of the systematic and ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people.

It is so much more than just a label.

(Contributor 714)

The Arab Threat to Israel

Have you ever heard people talk about Israel being under threat from the Arabs? (Thinking about it, maybe I should have titled this the non-existent Arab threat as it’s a bit misleading).

My usual response to these conversations is, “sorry, what threat exactly?”

From what I can see, there is no military threat from the Arab world (at least what we would normally think of as the conventional, military threat). With the Iraqi army gone and the falling apart of both the Egyptian and Syrian army, I wonder why people are still hung up about the Arab military threat posed to Israel.

The Arab world is so caught up in internal conflict that any sort of coordinated revolution against Israel has become virtually impossible. There is just no way it is going to happen. With the disenfranchised, political elites and the growth of religious sectarianism in the Arab world, it comes as little surprise that we lack a common purpose or belief to collectively guide us.

We are no longer Arabs. We are Muslim, Christian or Jewish. We are Palestinian, Lebanese or Jordanian; Iraqi, Syrian or Saudi Arabian; Egyptian, Kuwaiti or Libyan. Is anyone identified purely as an Arab anymore?

The conventional military threat against Israel is gone.

Really take a moment to let that sink in.

The conventional military threat against Israel is gone.

The Arabs are busy killing each other while Israel is winning. What does this really mean?

Simply put, the potential of the new Israeli generation is vast. Israel has room to progress and develop economically, to foster innovation and creativity, to build infrastructure and improve education. There are more opportunities than ever before. But with all these new opportunities in mind, Israel could still be doing better.

What are they missing, you ask?

Compromise.

In order to realise the regions’ real potential, Israel is going to have to compromise.

Ever thought about the potential benefits if Israel were to free up its labour market and immigration policies? What would happen to the quality of life of the Palestinians and Israelis? How about free trade with its Arab neighbours – Jordan and Palestine?

Jordan valley
[View of Palestine and Israel from the Jordan Valley, 2014]

Only when Israel has chosen to compromise will they really be able to maximise their economic growth potential and this will only happen through partnership and trade with neighbouring countries, compromise and replacing its government officials with realists and technocrats. If Israel refuses to compromise, it will eventually be forced to by international pressure.

An Israeli journalist recently made the following statement in Haaretz:

“The signs of a boycott against Israel are worrisome. This is a civic boycott that originates from the grass roots and is harming the standard of living of all of us. Consumer organisations are imposing a boycott on the purchase of Israeli consumer goods, port workers are refusing to unload Israeli ships, academic organisations are imposing boycotts and European firms don’t want to do business with Israeli firms, because the occupation contradicts their ethics.

The direction is clear: Israel is slowly but surely becoming illegitimate. The international isolation surrounding it is intensifying, and this situation will deteriorate if the negotiations with the Palestinians reach a dead end. See what United States Secretary of State John Kerry said in Davos. This is a slow and creeping process, but it is liable to erupt all at once, when a large international bank or a multinational corporation announces a severance of business ties with Israel. Much of Europe already considers us an apartheid state, and when that becomes the prevailing public opinion, the boycotts and sanctions will go from sporadic and civil to official government policy — just as happened with white rule in South Africa.”

Sorry Israel but your ethnocratic government really doesn’t know how to realise your true potential.

A Long Walk to Freedom

So last night I watched the new film Mandela: A long walk to freedom and what a brilliant film it was. (Don’t worry, I won’t give too much away for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet!)

All throughout the film I could not help but relate it to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and notice the mutual struggle of the native South Africans under apartheid rule and Palestinians under the Israeli occupation. Watching this film really was an emotional rollercoaster for me. (And I have to admit I did cry a good three times…Thank God for my pocket tissues!)

As the film takes you through Mandela’s fight for freedom, there were times where I felt perhaps the best thing for the Palestinians would be for us to be revolutionaries and fight for our country, for our land, for our Palestine. To be more like Mandela’s wife as portrayed in the film who channels her anger and frustration at the apartheid system to encourage people to use violent means to bring it down (although this never actually worked). At one point in the film, she gives a speech and declares, “although we may not have AK47s, we have stones and we have our hands.” Sounds a little like the Palestinian struggle, no?

IMG_4020
[Palestinians’ daily struggle through Israeli checkpoints]

Just as it happened in South Africa, maybe we need more bloodshed, more martyrs and more people resisting Israel for us to gain international support and awareness. Palestinians deserve the right to self-determination and the right to determine their own future in the very land that they come from, no?

Then as the film went on, I noticed how Mandela spent more than 25 years locked up in prison, sacrificed his family and his life for his country and then turned around at the end of it all and publicly declared his forgiveness to those in power, I could not help but admire him for his grace, humility and devotion to peace.

Mandela represented hope for the black people in South Africa. He was an advocate of peace and non-violent resistance as a means of achieving freedom and was lucky enough to live the downfall of apartheid and see his people liberated.

So the film made me think, are the Palestinians fighting the right battles?

I have long heard people (Palestinians and Arabs especially) refusing to accept the existence of Israel (some even refuse to say the word by the way). People talk about how Palestine belongs to the Palestinians and will always belong to them (including the cities that are now in Israel), referring to Tel Aviv as Tel al-Rabi (the name it used to be called when it was a Palestinian village) and publicly declaring their denial of Israel’s existence.

But does this actually lead anywhere?

Realistically, are we ever going to get Palestine back?

Are we ever really going to be able to rightfully return the homes back to the millions of Palestinian refugees living in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon?

Or is this just the less painful way, to stay in denial and pretend like Israel doesn’t exist? Is that what they mean when they say ignorance is bliss?

The Palestinian people have certainly paid a heavy price for Israel’s existence and continue to suffer a great tragedy at the hands of the occupation. But from what I can see, it takes a great deal of courage to accept the painful reality that Israel isn’t going anywhere, especially when it has gained the support and backing of the most powerful nation in the world, the United States of America.

Ever since my trip to Palestine three years ago, I have felt a strong connection to my homeland, a feeling that has been ingrained in me ever since and it has been a constant Ping-Pong game in my head.

Am I turning my back on my country if I accept Israel exists? Or am I just avoiding accepting the reality of the situation and obfuscating any possible solutions for the Palestinians through wishful thinking?

My family has directly suffered at the expense of creating a homeland for the Jews. My grandmother used to share tales with us of how they fled their home in Jaffa in 1948 with only a few possessions and the key to their home. My grandfather told her not to take any more because they would be coming back as soon as things had settled down. Years later, my grandparents both passed away having never returned back to their home.

So I understand the frustration. I understand the struggle and I understand the unfairness of it all. I am after all a second generation exiled Palestinian. I just question whether we are fighting the right battles and what help it will really do for us if we continue to live in the past.

Inspired by a man of wisdom, should we reconsider what we are fighting for?

Children of the Military Courts

Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNICEF):

“No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and used only as a measure of last resort for the shortest appropriate period of time.”

DSC05884
[Old City of Nablus, 2013]

I am an avid proponent of international law but it is so discouraging when you witness reoccurring violations. Although I still consider myself a human rights activist, when I attended hearings at Ofer Military Court in Israel, I started to question the law.

Children are one of the world’s most vulnerable populations. Their violent arrests in the middle of the night by the Israeli military are not by any means “a measure of last resort.” The imprisonment of children in military prisons is also not for the “shortest appropriate period of time” as they claim.

During my trip to Ofer Military Court, one resilient young boy stuck out to me. His name was Mohammed (name has been changed for confidentiality reasons). I met Mohammed’s parents at my first visit to the military court. Mohammed was subjected to an arrest in the middle of the night from his family home in Hebron. These types of arrests are just one of the ways of instilling fear in the occupied Palestinian population.

No summons or warrants are given to the child so he has the option to turn himself in or have his parents accompany him. Rather, the arrests by the Israeli military are intended to make the child disoriented and psychologically vulnerable before even reaching the interrogation room.

At 3 a.m. on the night of the arrest, the Israeli soldiers told Mohammed’s parents to get him out of bed and informed them that they were taking him away. No reason was given as to why. Can you imagine your child being pulled out of bed at 3 a.m. to be arrested and blindfolded without any explanation of why or where he was being taken?

Sounds more like a legal kidnapping to me.

Mohammed’s parents called Defence for Children International/Palestine Section (DCI), a non-profit organization, to help them locate Mohammed after the arrest. DCI tracked down which prison he was being held at and agreed to represent him as part of their non-profit work.

It was about 9 a.m. when I finally entered the military court and Mohammed’s parents were in the waiting room. They had travelled all morning from Hebron to finally see their son. It had been a week since they had seen or heard from Mohammed.

By 2 p.m. we were all still in the waiting room and by this time, I was hungry and restless.

“They don’t tell you when it is your turn, you will just know when they call his name.”

Finally at 3 p.m. I heard Mohammed’s name. We all stood up and Mohammed’s attorney, who was also the attorney I was observing, called me over to the makeshift courtroom. I walked in and heard someone yelling in Hebrew, only to realize the soldiers were pointing at me. The attorney told them that I was with him, but as I sat at the front of the gallery I heard yelling again. Apparently, I was not allowed to sit in the first row, but had to sit in the second or third row. My guess is this is a tactic to make the parents and children feel even more vulnerable by making sure they aren’t near to one other.

All of a sudden, I saw this small young body with his legs and hands in shackles walk into the courtroom. I was shocked at how tiny and fragile Mohammed looked. All I could hear were the cries of his mother as he was brought into the room and I had to hold back the tears prickling my eyes.

The hearing was all in Hebrew and for the first five minutes I did not understand a word. The military translator walked in late and began translating only some parts of what was said. He would translate for a few minutes then walk out and socialise with a co-worker while the hearing went on. It was like some sort of a sick joke to him. It was obvious he had no incentive to translate because either way he wasn’t going to lose his job.

To have the free assistance of an interpreter.”

I thought back to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know whether to cry, scream, laugh or yell. How could the military court system in Israel, the only so-called ‘democracy’ in the whole of the Middle East, be subjecting these people to such cruelty? And why was I the only one who seemed bothered by it?

Under Israeli military law, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 12 years old. Mohammed was being charged with throwing stones at a military vehicle and if convicted would typically receive a sentence of a few months in prison. Having said this, under Israeli military law the sentence could be anywhere from several months to several years.

Mohammed pleaded not guilty. The hearing did not last more than ten minutes because the prosecutor suddenly remembered there was a video of the alleged crime. The DCI attorney told his parents that the hearing would be rescheduled for the week after so the new evidence could be reviewed and Mohammed was escorted outside the courtroom once again in his leg shackles and handcuffs.

Mohammed!” his mother called out to him, “Be strong, you will be fine and do not talk to anyone about anything.”

Mohammed nodded and turned away.

Many children are convicted because of the confessions of other children in prison. These confessions are squeezed out of the children who cannot take the pressure of being in prison, and more often than not one can assume they are false allegations taken from traumatized Palestinian children. In a system that denies bail for 87% of child cases and has a conviction rate of 99.74%, at least 90% of children eventually plead guilty even if they are in fact innocent.

A week later, we are back in court and there is 12-year old Mohammed again with that boyish smile and tiny hands and legs in shackles. It is then revealed to us that there was no video evidence to be reviewed. This was probably just another tactic to prolong detention and put pressure on the child to plead guilty.

Mohammed’s mother and father were not in court this time because his mother was in hospital and so the only family he had present was his uncle. The family could not afford to post his bail or pay the fine if their son were to plead guilty and so the only option was to keep Mohammed in prison until his lawyer could find a way of getting him out. The patience, resistance, and resilience of this 12-year old child was extraordinary and I couldn’t believe he could still manage a smile in court despite what was happening.

How could a ‘democratic’ country like Israel expect peace with the Palestinians when they treat their children in this way?

DSC05906
[Refugee camp in Nablus, 2013]

The hearing I witnessed was supposedly in a military youth court. From what I could see, there was nothing youthful about it.

While the military youth court is an example of what should be in place, not much has changed since its establishment. It has not been established in a manner that is consistent with international law. The Committee on the Convention of the Rights of the Child states that all professionals involved in the administration of juvenile justice should be knowledgeable about child development. Israel’s juvenile military court does not provide separate facilities or staff from the adult one. The youth court is not qualified to deal with matters of the detention of children. It seems to me like the existence of a youth court is just a public show from Israel.

UNICEF’s recent announcement that the Israeli military has agreed to not arrest children in the middle of the night is certainly welcomed, but just like the juvenile court, I think we need to wait and see if this is actually done.

After this experience in court, I left feeling shocked, overwhelmed, depressed and motivated all at the same time. How could my country, the United States, be giving billions of dollars of military aid to Israel when they do not treat children in a way that would suffice for international standards?

This experience really made me rethink my role as an advocate of human rights and how important it is to share the story of my experiences. Until today, the image of Mohammed’s smile in court still haunts me, because while this was only one child’s story, can you imagine how many other Palestinian children are subjected to such cruelty and humiliation?

(Contributor 444)