Osama K., arrested by Israeli forces in 2015, sits at home with his mother, Najwa. (Photo: DCIP / Cody O'Rourke)
Ramallah, November 7, 2016—This year, Defense for Children International - Palestine marks its 25th anniversary. Since 1991, DCIP has provided free legal services to thousands of Palestinian children like Osama K. and Mohammad S., arrested in an Israeli military detention system notorious for its ill-treatment of Palestinian minors.
Last October, Mohammad S., 15, was arrested by Israeli soldiers in his hometown of Qalqiliya, on the western edge of the occupied West Bank. Mohammad was watching clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli soldiers when three soldiers approached him, grabbed him by the neck and knocked him to the ground. The soldiers kicked Mohammad for several minutes before blindfolding him, tying his hands behind his back, and arresting him. He was not informed of the charges against him at the time of his arrest.
This kind of excessive force during arrest — pushing, slapping, punching, and kicking — is frequent, affecting 66.7 percent of DCIP documented child detention cases between 2012 and 2015. According to the UN Committee against Torture, the use of excessive force by law enforcement or military personnel may, in some instances, amount to torture.
After his arrest, Mohammad was brought to a police station in a nearby Jewish-only settlement where he was interrogated without a lawyer or parent present and coerced into signing a confession to throwing stones. The confession was written by an interrogator in Hebrew, a language he does not speak or understand.
Mohammad was sentenced to six months in an Israeli prison with a fine of 1,000 NIS. Following his release, Mohammad spoke with DCIP about the ill-treatment he suffered during arrest and interrogation, and the experience of being separated from his family.
In October 2015, Israeli forces arrested Osama K., 14, from his home in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank at 3 a.m. He was bound, blindfolded, and taken to a police station in a nearby Jewish-only settlement. Osama was strip-searched and coerced into signing a confession in Hebrew, a language he does not speak or understand.
For many children like Osama, ill-treatment and torture at the hands of Israeli forces begins when they are arrested from their home between midnight and 5 a.m. The impact of night arrests can be great, and endure long after the arrest itself. The process can traumatize children and distort feelings of personal security at home.
Osama was charged with throwing stones and sentenced to four months in an Israeli prison. In the months following his release, DCIP spoke with Osama and his family about their experience during his arrest, detention, and separation from his home and community.
Children like Mohammad and Osama pay the highest price for Israel's brutal military occupation. Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes children in a military court system. According to a DCIP report released in April 2016 examining affidavits from 429 West Bank children detained between 2012 and 2015, three out of four children experience physical violence following arrest. In 97 percent of cases, children are interrogated without a parent present or access to legal counsel.
Over the last two and a half decades, DCIP attorneys have stood beside Palestinian children trapped in a detention system that sees them not as a vulnerable population deserving of special protections, but as militants and terrorists. There have been countless moments of both hope and despair along the way, but the driving force pushing DCIP’s work forward is the look of relief on a child’s face when they realize that there is someone fighting on their side.
The nature of human rights work is long, and too often it is heartbreaking. Every aspect of DCIP’s programming is vital to each child we serve and they cannot afford for us to feel hopeless.
For the last 25 years, we have supported Palestinian children in their greatest moment of need. Over the next 25 years, we are building them a safe and just future.
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