|Posted on February 17, 2011 at 10:05 PM|
A cultures greatest asset is also its greatest weakness – children. They invoke our greatest sense of hope and our greatest fears. Who will they become – where will they go – what will happen to them along the way? For most of us, protecting children, all children, is a high calling. The awful reality though is that for many children there are no protectors; or at least none strong enough to hold back the evil that lurks in some of us. And evil is the only word that can describe a system that uses our love for children to exert control and domination of people whose only real crime is to be born to a land coveted by another. That is the reality for children and their families in the occupied territories of Palestine.
There have been increasing reports of children taken in night raids in the villages most active in the struggle against the apartheid wall. Most are taken on the thinnest of reasons based on unsubstantiated statements by other children, also taken from their beds in the middle of the night. They are promised that if they give names they will be able to go home. There are no parents or other advocate present while they are questioned. No standard rules of evidence are required. In fact, many are never actually charged with a crime, but are held in what is called administrative detention as “security risks”. I cannot think of a better way to pressure a family than to take advantage of the most vulnerable members.
Contrary to the International Convention on the rights of the Child, which Israel signed in 1991, Palestinian children are considered as adults at age 16. This results in the criminalization of a large portion of the Palestinian population where youth are nearly 50%, creating a large pool of potential collaborators. And those that don’t collaborate, their scars provide a fertile landscape for radicalization. I find hope, however in words spoken by a friend recently – “You will be surprised by the strength of the Palestinian heart.”
As I seek to know that strength, I have recently had the privilege of getting to know three Palestinian youth, who each come from very different places, literally and figuratively. One, a beautiful, energetic, 15 year old girl from Beit Sahour, is studying as an exchange student at a high school near me. I met her father while in Beit Sahour for the olive harvest. The other two are boys living very different lives. The first is currently in an Israeli prison, I have come to “know” him through the words of another olive harvest volunteer. My friend met and interviewed him while there for the harvest – he chose the name “Safi” (which is Arabic for clear or pure) for her to use in the book she is writing. The second is the son of a friend, a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship. My friend moved his family to the United States and they became citizens, in order to provide a better life for his sons - a life without the discrimination that he knew too well in Israel.
I want to tell their stories over the next couple of weeks so that others can know them, and learn, as I have, that the strength “of the Palestinian heart” is beating in its children. It is Safi’s story that I will share now.
Photo by: C.T.Jarrah 2010
Safi was arrested on November 19, 2008 – he was 16. Soldiers came and took him from his home at 2:00am. He was accused of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. He told my friend that he had not thrown the stones, that he was not even involved in politics, that he only wanted to finish school so that he could become a doctor.
He told her [C.T. Jarrah 2011], “One soldier yanked me out of bed demanding to see my ID. They shackled and blindfolded me and threw me outside—dragging me across the ground like an animal.”
“I didn’t know where they were taking me, I was wearing only pajamas. It was cold. My wrists were bleeding because the plastic shackles were squeezed too tight. They took me to a compound where I was interrogated and beaten. I told them I never threw stones at Israeli soldiers. I never once thought of throwing stones at anyone. One of the soldiers recorded my statement in Hebrew. I didn’t have much to say, a few sentences, but the statement he later wanted me to sign was pages long. I wouldn’t sign it so they beat me and threatened to arrest my older brother who was about to travel to Jordan to get married if I didn’t admit to throwing stones. I refused to admit to something I didn’t do. They beat me some more.”
“Two months later I was taken to a prison in the Negev. Ashkenon. It had eight large tents surrounded by a twelve meter electrified fence. It was near a cattle farm and the smell was unbearable. Each tent had 22 prisoners; beds were stacked above each other. We were treated worse than animals. Winter nights in the Negev are cold. We were often shackled in contorted positions for long periods, often deprived of food. Or they put worms and cockroaches in our food. Or they would put something in our food to keep us awake. Or something to put us to sleep. I never knew what I was eating exactly or what I was drinking. I got a bad skin infection and allergies”
“Others had it much worse. You could cry for them, some were serving life sentences, old men. Some died there without their families even knowing of their whereabouts. And there were boys younger than me. Israel prefers twelve and thirteen-year-olds. They scare easier. There was sexual abuse. The older prisoners took care of me.”
He was in prison for 14 months and released just before the olive harvest. Because he missed two years of school, his dream of becoming a doctor has been left behind. Safi now has set his mind to becoming an engineer. However, on December 31, 2010 my friend received word that Safi was arrested again. Her understanding is that he is expected to be released after four months, but his mother does not know where he is held.
I am not sharing this story to make you feel sad, to cry silent tears; but to hopefully inspire you to action. According to the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur each year around 700 youth as young as 12 years of age, are arrested and detained in the Israeli Military Court System. It is my hope that you will be moved to call on the State Department or Foreign Ministry in your country to pressure Israel to abide by the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Safi, and too many more, need you to do it today.
Matthew 25:40, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”