‘How could they all be coming for a child?’
Well the part of work for EAPPI which takes place here in Israel and Palestine is now done. I didn’t intend to writeanymore articles but a few days ago I met three parents whose stories deserve to be told. For now I will tell you just one of them; the least shocking. Remember that as you read…
As Israelis and Palestinians marked Independence Day and Nakba (meaning Catastrophe) Day respectively these three people told me quietly of their children’s experiences growing up in East Jerusalem. This is Itidal’s story. She is amother of three boys and three girls. She and her parents and her children were born in the area of occupied East Jerusalem of Silwan. You may have heard a boy was shot dead in this area last Friday, reportedly by the security guard of an illegal settler. The children of Silwan, in the words of one parent, ‘are not being allowed to live lives like children. We worry about our children and about their future because they don’t have a normal childhood. We know now as adults how a bad childhood can affect a life.’
As an Ecumenical Accompanier, we listen to the stories of people who have little chance to tell them to anyone else. We met this mother in the garden of her home in Silwan. Incidentally, her home has a demolition order on it; the Israeli authorities want to destroy her family home to make way for the City of David tourist park. Her garden was akin to one we might sit in back in the UK-a garden swing, children’s bikes, pot plants, washing hanging on the line, a car parked; ‘normality.’
And then she told us this story. It’s not a short one, but please stick with it.
‘Do you remember what happened last year?’ we asked. ‘ I will never forget’ Itidal answered.
‘Last December, my son Khalil was only 11. It was 3 o’clock in the morning. We were woken by loud banging on the door, and my eldest son went to see who it was. It was the Israeli police, who shouted at us to open the door. My son came to get us, and we went to the door- “I told the children stay in bed, don’t get up, stay in your beds.” My husband went to the door. He opened it after they threatened to break it down. I saw at least 6 police jeeps parked outside. This means that there were a minimum of 24 policemen at our door, all heavily armed.
The police asked for the ID of my husband, but they didn’t say why they were at our home;I was wondering if it was the house, was it time for the bulldozer, was it the older children…?
They were reading the names of the children on the ID card of my husband and at Khalil they stopped. I took a sharp breath. I said “What could you want with him? He is a child.” It was the last thing on my mind that was possible. How could they all [the Israeli police outside her house] be coming for a child?
They said they wanted to arrest him. I asked them [the police] to tell us why. I told Khalil to say in bed, I didn’t want him to see the guns, to hear the threats.They wouldn’t tell me what he had done. I said “Khalil is sick, there is no way you are taking him”. Eventually after arguing for a long time they said we must bring him to the police station the next morning at 8 o’clock. I told them “No,he has school tomorrow.” They insisted that they either they took him now, or we took him in the morning. So at 12.30the next day after school his dad left work and took him to the police station. They were there for six hours. Those hours, my blood burnt and boiled, I was so stressed. I felt like my son had been snatched away, I felt I was losing him, I didn’t want to let him go that day, but I had no choice.
Khalil was questioned for five hours by three different interrogators. They took it in turns to question him. During this time they behaved in a way no one shouldever behave to a child. They lit cigarettes, smoked them, and blew thecigarette smoke in his face. They chewed gum and blew bubbles and popped them in his face. They asked him to stand on a stool by the door; every time anyone went in or out of the room Khalil would fall off this stool onto the floor. Khalil’s father was made to wait in the cold outside and CCTV footage of him waiting in the freezing cold was played into Room 4, the child interrogation room, to Khalil. When he saw how cold and upset his Dad was at seeing the treatment of his son, Khalil cried.
“Why are you crying?” the interrogators asked him. Khalil replied “I am not crying because of you, I’m crying about my dad, how can you leave him outside in the cold?”
They kept asking him about a specific day on 18th November, asking him where he was repeatedly. Khalil is eleven years old, he couldn’t remember! I remembered that on that day all of the children were on the roof of our housewatching a house being demolished by the Israeli army and bulldozers. Khalil was with me, watching.
I was worried they would beat him up. It’s happened to many other children. [It has also happened to the other two children of the parents I met last week; one was beaten so badly he spent three days in hospital, with a fractured skull and permanent eye-sight damage. He was 11 years old too.] We don’t use violence at home, we don’t beat our children, I was worried he would be treated in a very bad way. Before he left on that day I told him “don’t let them beat you, don’t let them hurt you. If they do, tell them you will go to court.”
The interrogators told Khalil that his friends had told them he threw stones at thepolice. Boys in Silwan do throw stones, but Khalil doesn’t. They tried to trap him, and to make him doubt his friends. This went on and on, always he said that he was innocent. Eventually, Khalil’s father was called in and told to sign a piece of paper to say his son had come and been questioned, and pay 5000NIS (approximately £100). Finally they left.
All the timeI was calling my husband to see what was happening and all the time he just said “Lisa, lisa, lisa” which means not yet not yet not yet.
Khalil came home and since that day he became more aggressive. The way he was treated, he practices it; he sits with his feet up on the tables like they did with him, he stares at his brothers and sisters the way they stared at him. He does what they did to him to younger people in our family.
Every day he is afraid, when there are problems in Silwan he comes home, he is afraid. He says to us “Oh my God I have a feeling they might come and get me tonight Mama, let me sleep at my grandparents, or at my aunts, please don’t make me sleep here.” He sleeps very little, has nightmares, and is very tired and worried all the time. He can’t concentrate at school and is always aggravated. Every day when he goes to the school now Khalil is very cautious; he’ll change is route if he even sees soldiers or police.
Khalil was not, as others have been, snatched from the street on the way to school, or photographed in the night by policemen before being dragged to the station without their parents. But all these children, 10, 11, 12, 13 year olds, are at risk of this, simply by virtue of living in Silwan. There was no warrant to enter Itidal’s house, no warrant for her son’s arrest, no evidence shown, no proof offered, no explanation given. Yet he was still subjected to this treatment, and his family still made to pay 5000 NIS for his release, despite there being no trial, no hearing, nothing.
Is this how a justice system works? Can this be right? Whatever the political context, can treating a child in this way ever be justified? Clearly, it is against international law, human rights law, and breaches the UN convention on the Rights of the Child in numerous ways.
Examples of these breaches include Israel’s failure to ‘ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict’, Israeli’s failure to ‘recognizethe right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotionof the child’s sense of dignity and worth, which takes into account the child’s age’, as well as the lack of legal representation afforded to children arrested from East Jerusalem, the failure to inform them of the charges against them,and of course, the intimidating, cruel and degrading nature of the interrogation faced by these children. [Source: UN Convention on the Rights of the Child].
As Itidal says, ‘Children are the target, the object. How will there ever be peace when children are treated like this?’
It’s a very good question.