I have a 10-year old son. He is big for his age but his soft eyes and his sweet smile betray his tender years. He is a child regardless of his shoe size. This morning, he was practically in tears when he found a cockroach hanging out in his sneaker, to which he ran across the room at a speed that surprised even me. While it’s true, finding a roach in your shoe is quite disgusting, I couldn’t help but notice how childlike his reaction had been. I calmly reassured him that although cockroaches are "gross", they are otherwise innocuous.
My point for sharing this anecdote is, obviously, not about the roach. If a 10-year old "tough guy" like my son was so freaked out from a small (albeit repulsive) bug, what would happen if our home was broken into and he was handcuffed, blindfolded and dragged away by Israeli soldiers? Don’t say it doesn’t happen, because in this place, to this people, it does.
On Thursday April 22, two 14 and 15 year old brothers were forcefully taken from their homes in a Bethlehem-area village at 3 a.m. The boys, the Israeli soldiers who came to arrest them claimed, were accused of throwing stones at Israeli troops in the area. The boys are now standing trial for their "crime."
Last Thursday was apparently the "Arrest Palestinian Children Day" for Israel’s army. Ahmad Sabbah, a 13-year old boy from Tuqu’ south of Bethlehem was also handcuffed and blindfolded before being carted off to an Israeli detention camp. As I read about Ahmad’s story, told by his distressed mother, all I could think about was my own son and how this could be him one day.
"He was shivering and crying hard, he grabbed onto my nightgown," Ahmad’s mother recalls. Ahmad’s older brother, 17-year old Mohammed, was also arrested, both for alleged stone throwing. When Ahmad’s mother pleaded with the Israeli officer to let her terrified and sobbing son go, asking him if he had children of his own and if he would like to see his child in a similar situation, she received this cold answer. "My child does not throw stones."
Currently, there are over 300 Palestinian children in Israeli jails, some as young as 12. Israeli military law allows for the prosecution of Palestinians as adults once they turn 16 while Israeli children can only be put on trial as adults when they are 18. However, the treatment these children receive, regardless of whether they are tried as adults or not, is certainly not proportional to their age and often causes long-term trauma for these children. In February, another 13-year old boy, Hasan Al Muhtasib was arrested along with his 10-year old brother while walking home from a family visit in Hebron. After the two boys were summoned by patrolling Israeli soldiers, they were taken to separate detention centers. Hasan was interrogated, made to sign a document in Hebrew and brought before a court a few days later, all on charges of throwing stones. His little brother, Amir, was released later that night Traumatized and frightened, Amir started wetting his bed.
In my own neighborhood, another 13-year old boy was dragged from his house during the most recent clashes near Al Aqsa, without even a pair of slippers on. The boy was so scared, he wet his pants. He was also released that night, sent home after police realized he was epileptic and did not have his medicine. Fortunately, someone had brought him a pair of shoes to walk home in.
The stories of course, are endless. Palestinian children are constantly exposed to Israeli violence, whether in the form of direct contact (arrest, beatings and even death) or as witnesses to violence perpetrated against family or neighbors. My mind constantly wanders back to Ahmad’s poor mother. What kind of raging emotions must have gone through her as she watched Israeli soldiers brutally dragging her little boy away? One feeling for sure would have been a feeling of helplessness and failure as a mother to protect her child. That, I can tell you, is probably one of the worst feelings a parent can experience because it is instinctive that you protect your child at all costs.
Israel has stripped us even of that. When an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint turns me away because my papers are not in order, which leaves me and my children on opposite sides of the barrier, I am also overwhelmed with helplessness. This occupation has the power to separate me from my children, not only at a checkpoint but by way of transporting me back to the West Bank if ever they deem me unworthy of a residency permit for Jerusalem.
Still, I consider myself lucky. Yes, my 10-year old has seen the occupation up close in the form of checkpoints, the separation wall and even demonstrations outside of Al Aqsa. He has inhaled the suffocating odor of teargas wafting into our windows during the most violent clashes in our quarter. But thankfully, he has not been so unlucky as to have been hurt or scarred by seeing some of the awful violence Israel’s army perpetrates against Palestinians every day.
He is only 10. In any other corner of the civilized world (of which Israel claims to be part), he is a child. He should be preoccupied with school, playing soccer and learning the newest car game on his computer. As his mother, these (especially the first) should be my concerns as well, along with keeping him healthy and happy. But like every other Palestinian mother living in the occupied territories, one nagging and omnipresent fear is not be able to protect them. Israel has no right to strip our children of their childhood. Arresting and beating children does not contribute to the security of Israel. This is the behavior of cowards.