I would like to tell you about Leila from the Old City of Hebron. She gave her son, Akram, 15 shekels to buy bread for the family on the 24th February 2010 at 15.30.
At Bab Al-Baladdeia, a few metres from his home and a few minutes later, fifteen year old Akram was arrested by the Israeli military for allegedly throwing stones at the soldiers. A young on-looker, called Mahmoud told me that the soldiers took Akram and grabbed him by the chest and banged him against the wall twice. They then hit him across his cheekbone.
Akram’s mother, Leila, heard he had been arrested and she rushed to the scene. She saw her son blind-folded with his hands tied behind his back as she arrived. She screamed at the soldiers to give her son back to her, she tried to get through the military barrier gate to where he was being taken. They stopped her. They said they would arrest her too if she did not go away. She tried to push open the gate, continuing to scream. Then they closed the gate completely on her. Witnesses have said that Akram did not throw stones.
While accompanying Leila to find out where her son was detained, I found out about the justice system for Palestinian children in the occupied territories. Palestinian children are subject to Israeli military law and can be arrested, detained and imprisoned from the age of 12. They can be kept at a police station for 8 days with no family visits allowed. In some cases, even a lawyer can be denied access to them. They may, or may not be released on bail.
An Israeli minor, e.g. the child of a settler living illegally in the occupied Palestinian territories, is under Israeli civilian jurisdiction. If they are arrested they cannot be detained for longer than 12 hours without being brought before a judge. They cannot be interviewed without the presence of their parents and any questioning that is done is carried out by a “child investigator”, usually with a social work background. (Source: Defense for Children International)
The military trial of Akram took place at Ofer military court and prison four days later. I accompanied Leila to the hearing. She had not been able to see or to contact her son since his arrest. We leave Hebron at 05.30 a.m. to travel to the court outside Ramallah. We wait for the soldiers to open the gate for us. It is very, very cold. Other people come. They look at the mother from Hebron and at the bags of clothes she has brought for her son and they say that she will not be allowed to give the clothes to him. Leila starts sobbing. We continue to wait. After a half an hour we see the freshly painted bright red finger nails of a soldier as she puts her hands through the bars to open the gate.
We enter through radiation and security checks until we arrive at the waiting area. This area is a corrugated iron rain shelter open at one side and at its lower ends. Eventually over a hundred people are waiting under this shelter. The rain starts to pour and the wind picks up. We are trying to keep warm by putting the bags of clothes around our feet, but it is not working.
We push together to stay warm. Leila offers me one of the pairs of socks that she brought for her son. By this gesture I now knew that she had given up hope and was tearfully and angrily resigned to the Israeli military system.
At 11.30 a soldier eventually calls Leila to come through to the court area. He tells me that I cannot enter to accompany her. Leila told me later that she was strip-searched and had a detector put inside her underwear.
The torrential rain continues and now the thunder and lightning has started. I continue to wait. It is 14.50.
At 16.30 I see Leila exiting from the court area. Her news is that fifteen year old Akram will be charged and will be given between 3 and 6 months in the military jail. He pleaded his innocence. She is crying.
Coming back to Hebron on the bus, Leila tells me that when her son was brought into court he was chained at the ankles and handcuffed. She says she was able to talk to her son from a distance, but he was not able to answer as he was crying so hard. Akram is still detained and was moved to an Israeli prison while awaiting further Israeli military trial on the 22nd April 2010.
As I was walking through the Old City in Hebron a couple of weeks later with my EAPPI colleague, Sofie, we heard from Leila that two young men had been arrested. We hurriedly asked questions – “Who has been arrested?”, “Where?”, “Which way?” The complication of not being able to speak Arabic is always a problem when there is an emergency. So we rushed through the Old City towards the Ibrahimi Mosque. There were two members of the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT) with us. No one had seen any arrests.
CPT decided to go towards Shuhada Street which has been evacuated of Palestinians since 1994 when 1,865 Palestinian homes, shops and offices were closed down. This closing of the street was the military response to the Mosque massacre of 29 Muslims by Baruch Goldstein, a Jew, in 1994.
Only Israeli security forces and settlers, some of whom also have guns slung over their shoulders, can now walk through what was once a busy commercial centre and the main street in Hebron. It is now a militarily sanitised ghost street adjacent to the Old City.
Still trying to locate the young men we had been told were arrested, my EAPPI colleague and I headed back towards the Old City and then saw Leila and Afa running towards us. They told us that one of the arrested young men was a son of Afa’s. Leila and Afa took us through the tunnels of the Old City and banged on the door of a house asking the family to let us in. We rushed up the stairs of this house, out on to the balcony and climbed down to the eerily empty Shuhada Street. Leila and Afa followed us. I suggested they remain where they were and wait for us, as Palestinians can be arrested immediately for walking on Shuhada Street.
We rushed down Shuhada Street and found our colleagues from CPT pleading with the soldiers to let the young men go free. We joined in these pleas. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Leila and Afa coming towards us. They would surely be arrested for walking on Shuhada Street! It was obvious by their dress and scarved heads that they were Palestinian Muslim women.
Leila came straight to one of the two soldiers and spoke with him. She did it so eloquently and so well. A settler woman drove by during this conversation. She glared at all of us. The soldier said he had to call his commander. We held our breaths. The commander arrived. Then we saw one of the soldiers marshalling the young men through a tunnel with Leila running after them. Our pleas had not been listened to by the soldiers? She would be arrested too!? Then the soldier opened the blocked off gate at the end of this tunnel and I see that it leads back into the Old City. He motioned us all to go through with a smile on his face. No one was arrested.
As the door was locked behind us, Leila and Afa had massive smiles on their faces, ear to ear. We headed through the Old City, with its 3,700 year old history, feeling exhilarated. We recounted the events over and over again. Leila had done what she had not been able to do for her own young son. The woman of resistance was starting her journey!
Leila wants other children in the world to know what is happening to Palestinian children. She has since been interviewed by CNN, by Reuters News Agency, by LBC TV and by “P4”, a Swedish National Radio station. She has met with the Irish Ambassador to Israel and the Irish Representative to the Palestinian Authority. ......and she waits for her fifteen year old son’s next court case on the 22nd April 2010 as he continues to plead his innocence.
The average number of children detained by the Israeli military per month, in the year 2008, was 324. Of this number, 26.7% were charged with stone-throwing. (Source: The Israel Prison Service and visits by Defense for Children International (DCI). Palestinian children can be kept at a police station for 8 days with no family visits allowed.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child states that the arrest and detention of children must be used only as a measure of last resort, and for the appropriate period of time, and that the juvenile detainees must be separated from adults, allowed contact with their families, and receive appropriate assistance, including access to education, recreation and rehabilitation.
A “Defense for Children International”(D.C.I.) publication , “Sustained Occupation, Suspended Dreams – An Analysis of Human Rights Violations Against Palestinian Children in 2005” states that
“Once in the military jeep, alone with soldiers, children are invariably subjected to cruel and humiliating treatment at the hands of their captors. They are usually made to sit on the floor of the jeep, at the soldiers’ feet. Often the soldiers kick and beat the detainees, and curse, threaten and subject them to a torrent of verbal abuse for the duration of the journey to the detention centre. If such events were isolated occurrences, then the treatment could be explained away as the actions of a few ill-disciplined soldiers. As it is however, such abuse and humiliation is the norm. It is systematic and well documented, designed at inculculating fear in the prisoner, and softening them up for the next stage of the arrest process: interrogation.”
EA based in Hebron January 2010 to April 2010
I work for Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches' (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this email are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer QPSW or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or to distribute it further, please contact the QPSW Programme Manager for Israel/OPT firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to do so.