Israeli forces’ collective punishment through children’s eyes

Jul 17, 2020
Israeli forces’ collective punishment through children’s eyes
Israeli forces detain a Palestinian woman in the village of Yabad near the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on May 12, 2020. (Photo: Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP)

PART 1 Israeli military nighttime raids amid a pandemic

Ramallah, July 17, 2020—In May, during an Israeli military incursion into a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank, southwest of Jenin, a 21-year-old Israeli soldier was killed by a heavy rock that struck him in the head. A weeks-long Israeli military campaign ensued against the village with Israeli forces detaining at least 44 Palestinians, including at least eight children.

Yabad is located west of the occupied West Bank city of Jenin near the Israeli separation barrier and Israel's Barta'a checkpoint.

During the dawn hours of May 12, 2020, heavily-armed Israeli forces raided the occupied West Bank town of Yabad, 17 kilometers (10 miles) southwest of Jenin. Wedged between the Jewish-only settlement of Dotan and Israel’s Barta’a military checkpoint, Israeli military incursions into the town are common. The military operation on May 12 was conducted under the pretext of detaining Palestinians suspected of committing offenses against Israeli forces, according to the Israeli military spokesperson.

Israel's Barta'a checkpoint, which limits freedom of movement and access to communities in the Barta'a enclave. (Photo: UN OCHA)

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency in early March 2020, and while Palestinians worked swiftly to implement preventative measures to quell the spread of the novel coronavirus, Israeli forces’ conduct threatened the safety of Palestinian families. Between March 1 and April 3, Israeli forces raided at least 100 homes in the West Bank, detaining 217 Palestinians, according to Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem

Military raids by Israeli forces are common across the occupied West Bank. Palestinian communities located near Israeli settlements and military infrastructure, like Yabad, are disproportionately targeted for military nighttime raids. 

During the military operation in Yabad, Israeli forces fired live ammunition, rubber-coated metal bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas canisters between residential homes. Several Palestinians suffered from tear gas inhalation while others were injured. Israeli forces shot and injured 15-year-old Qusai Abu Shamla in the shoulder with rubber-coated metal bullets, according to information gathered by DCIP. 

In Yabad’s Al-Salameh neighborhood, Israeli forces reportedly intensified their use of live ammunition, according to witnesses. As clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces ensued, an Israeli soldier was fatally wounded in the head by a rock thrown from a house, according to news media reports. 

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu issued an ominous statement that Israel would find and “settle the score” with those responsible, according to Israeli news media.

In the days that followed, amid an ongoing pandemic, Israeli forces initiated an unremitting campaign against Yabad’s residents that included a series of home raids and the detention of adults and children amounting to collective punishment.

Israeli forces detain 13-year-old Khaled Abu Baker (kneeling center) in the occupied West Bank town of Yabad on May 12, 2020. (Photo: Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP)

PART 2 When home becomes an interrogation center

During the holy month of Ramadan with Covid-19 lockdown measures still in effect, Islam Abu Baker, 13, remembered hearing gunshots as she was waking up to eat her predawn Suhoor meal on May 12 to prepare for a day of fasting. “We did not know what was happening until bullets hit the kitchen window,” Islam told DCIP.

Islam Abu Baker, 13, sits in her family home in occupied West Bank town of Yabad on July 11, 2020. (Photo: DCIP)

Around 4:30 a.m, Israeli forces raided Islam’s home in a three-story building owned by the Abu Baker family, according to documentation collected by DCIP. Israeli soldiers searched the third floor where Islam lives with her seven siblings, her father, Nadmi, and her mother, Suheila.

Her 13-year-old cousin, Khaled Abu Baker, remembers that day. “I was in our apartment on the second floor, and we heard people yelling that the soldiers withdrew,” Khaled told DCIP. “I went to the third floor by my uncle’s to watch the withdrawal of soldiers. We stayed for around half an hour and then I went back down to our apartment to sleep.” 

Between the time Khaled went to his uncle’s apartment and returned home to sleep, an Israeli soldier deployed in the village, 21-year-old Amit Ben Ygal, was reportedly struck in the head and killed with a heavy rock.

“Around 9:30 a.m, I woke up to banging on our apartment door,” Khaled recalled to DCIP a few days later. “My father was shouting and asking who it was, but no one was answering, so he opened the door. Around 11 soldiers stormed the apartment. I pretended I was sleeping. They were heavily armed, and some of them were covering their faces with black masks,” he reported. 

Living in a hyper-militarized context, children are not spared from the presence and violence inherent in Israeli military raids on Palestinian communities. Islam recalls a second incursion by Israeli forces. “The entire building had soldiers in it and they were interrogating everyone in the building,” she recalled. 

By midday, Israeli forces had arrested at least 16 Palestinians from Yabad and neighboring areas. 

“Soldiers were present whenever we went to the bathroom and kitchen, they would be behind us, and they were very scary,” Islam told DCIP.

Taking family members one by one, Israeli forces tried to coerce the Abu Baker children to confess. “We were all interrogated separately in one of the rooms,” Khaled explained. “When it was my turn, the officer asked me about the killing of a soldier, and I told him I did not know anything about it. He threatened to arrest me for killing the soldier with a stone,” he said, recalling that moment.

Israeli forces detained and interrogated Khaled Abu Baker, 13, multiple times as part of an Israeli military campaign in the occupied West Bank town of Yabad amounting to collective punishment. (Photo: DCIP / Ahmad Al-Bazz)

“I was very scared of him,” Khaled, barely a teenager, admitted. 

Israeli forces also threatened Khaled’s older brother, Mohammad Abu Baker, 15. “A blue-eyed officer questioned me for almost 15 minutes before detaining me in the bathroom. He shouted at me and threatened to arrest me for the killing outside the house,” Mohammad recalled.

Israeli soldiers eventually withdrew, but not before detaining Khaled, Mohammad, and their parents, leaving 12-year-old Amal at her uncle’s home on the third floor. 

Islam remembers Israeli soldiers interrogating her mother, Suheila, and her 19-year-old sister, Iman, in their home. Realizing that her mother and sister would be detained, Islam collapsed to the floor as Suheila refused to leave her children. “She sat on the ground demanding that my [older] cousin come to [watch] us because we are children,” Islam told DCIP. 

“We are overcome with constant panic and nervousness. Afraid of any new invasion by soldiers.”

–Islam Abu Baker, 13

Among Suheila’s children present during the Israeli military raid on their home was 18-month-old Noor, who suffered from a fever due to vaccinations he received the day prior. 

In a military vehicle with his brother Mohammad, his uncle Nadmi, and an 18-year-old named Haitham, 13-year-old Khaled recalled his experience being transferred to the illegal Israeli settlement of Dotan. 

“I was sitting on the metal floor [of the jeep], and stun grenades that were in a box fell on me. One of the soldiers spat on me and insulted me,” says Khaled. “I was very scared of them.”

DCIP and United Nations officials have warned about the public health risks faced by children in Israeli prisons and called for all child detainees to be released. However, despite this, Israeli forces continue detaining Palestinians, including children, in military operations similar to those experienced by children in Yabad.

Israeli forces detain a Palestinian man in the village of Yabad near the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on May 12, 2020. (Photo: Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP)

PART 3 Not even a day’s work

Before the Abu Baker family had come to grips with the day’s events, Israeli forces stormed the shared residential building for the third time that day, firing tear gas throughout the yard. 

While their family members experienced a third military raid, Khaled, Mohammad, their parents, uncles, aunt, and cousins were each taken to the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Dotan for interrogation. 

“Interrogation started around noon and ended at around 7:30 p.m. It was continuous, as several interrogators took turns,” Khaled told DCIP. “They were using a ‘good cop, bad cop’ approach.” 

“I was crying and begging them to stop.”

–Khaled Abu Baker, 13

Fasting for the holy month of Ramadan, Khaled, crying, asked if he could take his mother some food after he learned that she was being interrogated in the neighboring room. “They allowed me to take food to her, and she cried when she saw me.” After glimpsing his mother, Khaled was taken for interrogation, blindfolded and with his hands bound together with plastic cords.

Mohammad, who was not able to see or speak with his mother or father, recounted that “[the officer] threatened to put me in prison and demolish my family’s home.”

According to documentation from DCIP, verbal abuse and threats are common practices by Israeli forces, including during interrogation. Between 2015 and 2019, DCIP found that 61 percent of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention faced verbal abuse, humiliation, or intimidation and 97 percent were interrogated without the presence of a family member. 

Mohammad’s interrogation continued for two more hours before he was taken to another room where five interrogators violently assaulted him. “One of them was holding my hands behind my back while the others beat me up,” Mohammad told DCIP.

Khaled, his mother, as well as Suheila and her daughter, Iman, were released around 3 a.m. on May 13.

“I breathed freedom after a night of pain and intense fear,” Khaled remembers.

For Mohammad, however, his home was becoming even more distant. Despite being severely beaten, around 1 a.m., Israeli forces transferred Mohammad to Al Jalame interrogation and detention center located inside Israel near the northern city of Haifa.

“My legs bled because of the shackles during my transfer,” Mohammad recalled.

The transfer of Palestinian detainees from occupied territory into Israel is considered an unlawful transfer prohibited by international humanitarian law and amounts to a war crime. However, it remains common practice for Israeli forces to unlawfully transfer Palestinian child detainees to detention facilities inside Israel.

As of April 30, 2020, 71 percent of child detainees were unlawfully transferred from the occupied West Bank to places of detention inside Israel, according to monthly data released by the Israel Prison Service.

Khaled Abu Baker, 13, sits with his father outside their home in the occupied West Bank town of Yabad. (Photo: DCIP / Ahmad Al-Bazz)

PART 4 Still settling the score

Israeli forces continued to raid the Yabad neighborhood through the day on May 12, so with her mother, Suheila, and older sister, Iman, detained by Israeli forces that morning, Islam and her siblings were taken to her grandfather’s house in another part of town.

Suheila and Iman were released around 3 a.m. on May 13 along with 13-year-old Khaled B. and his mother.

“We were so happy when we saw them,” Islam said of the release of her mother and sister on May 13. But the reunion was short-lived.

Khaled’s home was sanitized after the raids due to Covid-19 concerns so upon release from Israeli detention early on May 13 he recovered from the previous night’s events at a neighbor’s home. Barely able to rest and recover, he was detained again on the morning of May 14.

“I asked [the soldier] why they were taking me, and he told me to shut up and took me into the jeep,” said Khaled.

It was in the military vehicle, blindfolded and hands bound together, that Khaled found his 18-year-old brother, Moatasem. “From under the blindfolds, I saw [him] being aggressively kicked by the soldiers,” recalled Khaled. “I also saw them hitting him with their rifles. I was shaking from the fear.”

This time, Khaled was taken to Al Jalame interrogation and detention center inside Israel, where his brother Mohammad was still being held from the day before.

“I would put the blanket on my face so I could lose consciousness, and they would send me home.”

–Khaled Abu Baker, 13

Suheila and her daughter Iman were also detained again on the evening of May 15 causing Islam and her siblings to again cry in a panic. Suheila and Iman were released the following evening, but Israeli forces detained Suheila a third time just an hour after her release.

Suheila was eventually released, but the anxiety, fear, and panic remain with the family and, especially, the children.

“We are in a state of anxiety, afraid that at any moment they will arrest my mother or sister,” said Islam, as she was still recovering from the week’s events.

“I spent three consecutive days in the cell,” Khaled told DCIP as he recalled his days in solitary confinement. “[Israeli forces] would shout from behind the door to check if I wanted something, and I would cry and beg them to return me to my family, but they always refused.” 

While Khaled was pleading to see his family, Israeli interrogators were threatening his brother, Mohammad.

“Four interrogators were threatening to put me in prison,” Mohammad told DCIP. “It was really scary. I could not tell day from night.” 

In isolation, desperate and afraid, Khaled searched for any means to force his release, even if it meant asphyxiation.

“I would put the blanket on my face so I could lose consciousness, and they would send me home. I tried that every day, but it did not work out.” 

Without any consultation with a lawyer or the presence of a family member, Khaled and Mohammad were forced to sign papers in Hebrew, a language neither of them understands.

On May 16, after endless pleas for release, Khaled was informed that he would be released. “I was so excited that I hugged all the prison guards,” he told DCIP, just a day later. “I’m terribly afraid to be arrested again,” Khaled explained. “Whenever anyone visits, I’m afraid it’s soldiers knocking on the door.” 

Mohammad was released a few days later on May 20. “I was very happy I got out of the cells because it meant no more interrogation,” he said. 

Israeli forces map the Abu Baker building in early June in preparation to carry out a punitive home demolition. (Photo: Israeli military)

PART 5 Collective punishment continues

Israeli military authorities filed charges against Nadmi Abu Baker, Islam’s father, on June 25 in Israel’s Salem military court alleging he was responsible for the Israeli soldier’s death on May 12 in Yabad, according to Ha’aretz. Weeks earlier, the Israeli military had already begun planning to demolish the Abu Baker home as part of Israel’s punitive home demolition policy. 

“I am very scared that our family home will be demolished,” Islam told DCIP in early July. “I have memories in every corner of the house. The home reminds me of my family memories and gatherings.”

Israeli forces plan to demolish part of the Abu Baker family's three-storey residential building located in the occupied West Bank town of Yabad. (Photo: DCIP)

Israeli authorities have implemented a punitive home demolition policy against Palestinians alleged to have committed or attempted an attack against Israeli civilians or soldiers, destroying more than 2,000 Palestinian homes since 1967. While Israeli authorities ceased punitive home demolitions in 2005, the policy was renewed in mid-2014, according to B’Tselem. Punitive home demolitions against Palestinians amount to collective punishment in violation of international law. 

“We feel anxious, tense, and uncertain because we heard that the Israeli army will demolish our home.”

–Islam Abu Baker, 13

Collective punishment is prohibited by international humanitarian law, recognizing responsibility is individual and an individual may only be punished where it can be proven they have personally committed the offense. Israel’s punitive home demolition policy punishes individuals that are not individually responsible for an offense but are family members of an alleged attacker, according to B’Tselem.

On July 17, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, released a report and called on Israel to immediately stop all actions amounting to collective punishment of the Palestinian people.

"It is an affront to justice and the rule of law to see that such methods continue to be used in the 21st century and that Palestinians collectively continue to be punished for the actions of a few," said Lynk. "These practices entail serious violations against Palestinians including the right to life, freedom of movement, health, adequate shelter and adequate standard of living."

The Special Rapporteur's specifically criticized Israel's continued policy to punitively demolish Palestinian homes, a practice in clear violation of Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

In early June, Israeli forces mapped the Abu Baker building to plan the demolition, according to news media reports. This was about two weeks prior to Nadmi Abu Baker’s indictment in Salem military court on June 25. Following the indictment, Israeli forces informed his family they plan to carry out the demolition of the family home.

“I am scared that if the house is demolished, I do not know where we will go,” Islam told DCIP after the family was notified of plans to destroy their home. “We have no other alternative. We may move to my mother's family home which is very small.”

“We do not know when this may happen. We emptied our home of the furniture,” said Islam.

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