Jerusalem police interrogators summoned and questioned Qassam, 7, and Nasrallah, 6, brothers from Silwan, to obtain incriminating evidence against their 16-year-old cousin in May 2013.
The consequences of child arrests in Silwan, and other Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, extend beyond the detention period. The traumatic experience of arrest and interrogation alongside the constant fear of arrest, disruption of education and the financial burden of posting bail and paying fines have taken their toll on the children, their families and the Silwan community as a whole, writes Elisa Tappeiner for DCI-Palestine.
Ramallah, February 22, 2014—Yousef seemed anxious as he recalled the night of his arrest. Just 12 years old at the time, he woke up at 4 am on December 16, 2012, to the loud knocking of Israeli border police who stormed his home in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem. They came to arrest him for throwing stones.
The border police transferred Yousef to the Mascobiyeh police station for interrogation without the presence of a parent. “The interrogator threw photographs on the table and asked me why I threw stones,” Yousef told DCI-Palestine. “I told him I didn't throw stones. The photos showed me on my way to school without stones.”
The police released him only after forcing him to sign a document written in Hebrew, a language he does not understand. This confession landed him under house arrest for three weeks.
“The armed soldiers, the interrogator, all the threats and shouting, terrified me,” said Yousef. “But the house arrest was the hardest time I ever spent. I was bored and nervous at the same time, always feeling anxious about being arrested again.”
Yousef’s father, a laborer, skipped work for several days, fearful his son would leave the house and trigger as a result a NIS 3,000 ($855) penalty.
“The problem,” Yousef’s father said, “is that we don’t know enough about our children’s rights.”
Silwan, the only home Yousef has ever known, lies on the outskirts of Jerusalem's Old City. Israeli authorities have issued many of the Palestinian families with home demolition orders to clear the area for further development of the archaeological site known as the City of David.
Israel’s Jerusalem municipality approved Town Plan Scheme 11555 for an archaeological park in the heart of Silwan, along with “roads, parking lots, paths, a promenade, open areas, a special public area, public buildings and institutions, engineering installations and housing.”
Palestinians say the plan aims to squeeze them out of Jerusalem and Judaize the city. When completed, it will occupy 70 percent of their land and displace over 1,000 Palestinian residents. Israel privatized management of the City of David to the Elad Association, an Israeli settler group.
The impending project, home demolitions orders and precarious living conditions hang over Silwan’s 55,000 Palestinian residents. Since 2010, the community has been protesting Israel’s plan, which has led to increased Israeli police patrols and rising arrest rates.
“During 2010 and 2011, our neighborhood witnessed a rapid increase in arrests, more than 1,000 people per year,” said Sheikh Musa, a Silwan community leader. Roughly half of those detained where children, some below the age of 12.
Children in Silwan
Unlike the West Bank where Israeli military law applies, East Jerusalem – annexed by Israel in 1967 – falls under Israeli civilian law. In theory, Palestinians in Jerusalem enjoy equal rights to the city’s Jewish residents. But Palestinians say Israel practices discrimination against them when applying the law.
Israel’s Youth Law, which applies inside Israel, including all of Jerusalem, sets the age of criminal responsibility at 12. DCI-Palestine, however, has documented several incidents where much younger children have been detained.
Othman, 9, and his friend, Saleh, 10, recounted their experience of being arrested to DCI-Palestine. “A black private car with four men inside stopped … one of them chased me and caught me. He carried me on his shoulder and put me in the back seat. I was crying and shouting,” said Othman.
The boys were transferred to an Israeli police station in Jerusalem for questioning. They waited two hours without access to toilets before two interrogators approached them and accused them of throwing stones. When Othman’s mother arrived at the police station, the interrogator led her and Othman to an interrogation room, and proceeded to question the boy. Othman and his mother both signed documents in Hebrew, a language they do not understand, to secure his release.
Such lax enforcement of Israel’ Youth Law has also led to violence against Palestinian children during arrest and interrogation. According to 31 testimonies of children from East Jerusalem collected by DCI-Palestine in 2012, 97 percent of them endured some form of physical abuse and 90 percent suffered humiliation and intimidation.
In May 2013, six-year-old Nasrallah and 7-year-old Qassam, brothers from Silwan, received a summons to appear for questioning at a police station in Jerusalem. Police interrogated them about their detained 16-year-old cousin. “When I told the interrogator that I did nothing with my cousin except play football, he started shouting and hitting the table,” Qassam told DCI-Palestine. The interrogator pressed his brother, Nasrallah, on whether he had ever seen his cousin prepare a Molotov cocktail. The boys remain terrified from the experience.
According to Daoud Mahmmod from the Al-Bustan Popular Committee, Israel arrests Palestinian children “to obtain information about third persons, to threaten them and to make it clear that they are under permanent surveillance by showing them pictures and video material.”
The consequences of child arrests in Silwan, and other Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, extend beyond the detention period. The traumatic experience of arrest and interrogation alongside the constant fear of arrest, disruption of education and the financial burden of posting bail and paying fines have taken their toll on the children, their families and the Silwan community as a whole.
In a neighborhood already facing a multitude of demolition orders on their homes and overcrowding, largely due to Israel’s denial of building permits for Palestinians in Jerusalem, their will to remain in Silwan embodies the saying, “Existence is Resistance.”
Elisa Tappeiner interned with the Advocacy Unit at DCI-Palestine during fall 2013.