Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Israeli soldiers detain children for throwing rocks

A few weeks ago, a Palestinian teenager was shot and seriously injured by Israeli soldiers as he attempted to flee their custody — despite the fact that he was already handcuffed and blindfolded. Osama Hajahjeh, was among a group of Palestinian youths who were arrested for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers in the West Bank village of Tuqu’.

Earlier this month Israeli troops also arrested Zein Idris, a 9-year-old Palestinian boy, at his school in the West Bank city of Hebron and held him at a nearby military base for under an hour.

A video clip, recorded by human rights campaigner Aref Jaber, shows Israeli soldiers inside the elementary school attempting to remove Zein Idris and his younger brother, 7-year-old Taim, as teachers and the school principal attempt to stop the soldiers from taking the boys.

At one point, a soldier threatens to break a teacher’s arm if he doesn’t let go of Zein. Zein was eventually taken away to an army vehicle and was held at a nearby military base for just under an hour, according to the school.

Osama and Zein are just two of the thousands of Palestinian children who have been detained, injured, or even killed by Israeli armed forces over the years for throwing rocks. “Arresting children here is becoming normal,” Jaber, the human rights activist, told CNN.

But children being detained is far from “normal.”

“The situation on the ground in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, with more than five decades of Israeli military occupation, is that of a perpetual human rights crisis with severe impact on children’s rights, who are victims of unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, and collective punishment policies such as home demolitions,” Saleh Higazi, deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, told me.

Children as young as 9 are being detained for throwing rocks

Each year approximately 500-700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12, are detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system. The most common charge is stone-throwing, according to Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P).

Israeli military law allows anyone 12 or older to be imprisoned. But according to Bill Van Esveld, a senior researcher for the Children’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, stone throwing is “also considered a ‘security’ crime under Israeli military law, which means that Palestinian kids accused of stones throwing may even be deprived of certain legal protections.”

In 2015, Israeli lawmakers pushed forward stricter penalties that directly targeted Palestinian children. Amendments to the Israeli penal code included “a 10-year sentence for throwing a stone, or other object, at traffic, without intent to cause injury, and 20 years for throwing a stone, or other object, at traffic with intent to cause injury.”

In the video posted by CNN of Idris’s arrest at school, you can hear one Israeli soldier saying, “The kid threw a stone. It doesn’t matter what age he is.”

Israel ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, which requires that children should only be deprived of their liberty as a measure of last resort, must not be unlawfully or arbitrarily detained, and must not be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

But, Higazi said, “the situation of the human rights of Palestinian children is only getting worse.”

“Impunity for gross violations of children’s rights is the norm in too many places, including in Israel and Palestine,” Van Esveld said. “The Israeli criminal justice system has imposed such severe restrictions on some Palestinian children — arrests, detentions, house raids, house arrests — that they attempted suicide.”

Mistreatment of Palestinian children as consequences for “rock-throwing” is becoming increasingly normalized

Brian K. Barber, a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies, a nonprofit research institute in Washington, told me rock throwing is “a display of resistance to the occupation.” “One is fed up and oppressed and humiliated, and wants to respond in some way, and that’s a natural historic form of action,” Barber said.

That holds true even when it’s done by a 9-year-old. “That’s what they know has been done by their parents and grandparents, and also it’s the only thing they have really to do to show defiance,” Barber said.

However, according to Barber, the Israeli military believes that Palestinians should not challenge them in any way. And while “rock throwing is one way that Palestinians have historically challenged the occupation and Israeli military forces,” those forces have “defined that as something unacceptable and punishable,” he said.

Israeli officials also point to numerous incidents in which Israelis have been injured or even killed by thrown rocks or car accidents caused by them to justify the harsh punishments meted out to offenders.

Rock-throwing attacks have also been carried out by ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel against the IDF, as well as by Israelis against Palestinians. However, there is a stark contrast in the treatment of those rock-throwers compared to the treatment of Palestinian rock-throwers.

While Palestinians are usually physically harmed, verbally or emotionally abused, or even killed, Israelis are typically punished in a humane way. In one example, a 20-year-old Israeli was sentenced to public service, required to pay a fine, and given eight months of probation for throwing rocks and injuring a Palestinian.

“There are other laws and practices that create a very big difference in the actual treatment by Israel of 12-year-old kids depending on whether they are Israeli or Palestinian. There is discrimination in the law, and it’s worse in practice,” Van Esveld said.

Organizations like War Child, a UK-based nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and supporting children and young people affected by war, argue that children are being detained when they should instead be receiving psychosocial support for the traumas stemming from living in conflict zones in Gaza and the West Bank.

“The need for qualified caregivers vastly outstrips the supply. Meanwhile, the reality children are living continues to create trauma,” Van Esveld said.

A study released last month by Norwegian Refugee Council on children living in the Gaza Strip found that more than two-thirds of children surveyed experience psychosocial distress because of the violent response to the Gaza protests and daily attacks they witness — or endure. Alongside this, “a worrying 54% said they had no hope for a brighter future.” The study also found that “a staggering 81% of children struggle academically due to conflict-related stress.”

According to DCI-P, 73 percent of children held in detention experienced physical violence following arrest. “These children often give ‘confessions,’ without the presence of a parent or lawyer, after being subjected by Israeli forces to verbal abuse, threats, physical and psychological violence that in some cases amounts to torture, which is absolutely prohibited under international law,” Higazi said.

The auditory and sensory violence that children are experiencing day to day, where many are harmed or detained as a form of punishment, rather than receiving psychosocial support, has led to violence becoming a normal part of the reality of their “childhoods.”

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