Get Palestinian children out of military detention

“I had barely fallen asleep when I woke to find an armed Israeli soldier hovering over my bed. He told me to get up quickly and put on a jacket. Half asleep, I was handcuffed, thrown into an army jeep, and taken to be interrogated. They had already taken my 16-year-old cousin, Ahed, the night before, and now it was my turn.”

This is how Palestinian journalism student Nour Tamimi, writing in the Washington Post on 13 February, described her arrest by Israeli soldiers in her home village of Nabi Saleh in a night raid on 20 December.

Nour was released on bail two weeks later. Her cousin Ahed and aunt Nariman Tamimi were not so lucky. Nariman was detained just hours after her daughter Ahed, when she travelled to Binyamin detention centre to check on Ahed’s condition. Both remain in Israeli custody.

Ahed’s crime was to slap and kick two Israeli soldiers attempting to invade her home. Her mother’s crime was to film the incident and circulate her video on social media. The Tamimi family is being targeted because of their role in resisting Israeli settlers’ theft of land and water in their occupied West Bank village.

Since her arrest on 19 December, after the video of her slapping a soldier went viral, Ahed has become the public face of an international campaign to end apartheid Israel’s cruel and barbaric incarceration of Palestinians who resist its occupation, especially children.

According to prisoner support and human rights association Addameer, there are 6,119 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons; 450 are administrative detainees, held indefinitely without charge or trial (including seven members of the Palestinian Legislative Assembly). Three hundred and fifty-two Palestinian children are held in Israeli prisons, according to Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem.

Since Israel began its military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, the colonial settler state has arrested more than 800,000 Palestinians, a fifth of the population of the occupied Palestinian territories. In almost all cases, Palestinian prisoners are jailed in Israel, in what Amnesty International has described as “a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention”.

Since 2000, more than 12,000 Palestinian children have been detained. Israeli military courts prosecute 700 children every year; more than 99 percent are convicted. In 590 cases documented by Defense for Children International - Palestine (DCIP) between 2012 and 2016, 72 percent of Palestinian child detainees reported physical violence and 66 percent faced verbal abuse and humiliation.

According to Nour Tamimi, she and her cousin Ahed were treated badly in prison:

“After being arrested, Ahed was taken into a basement cell and interrogated without a parent or lawyer present. She and I were repeatedly moved from one prison to another, held with regular Israeli criminals, and subjected to sexist and degrading verbal harassment. The army knows how to place psychological pressure to break you. They deprived us of sleep and food, and I was forced to remain seated in a chair unable to move for long hours at a time.”

Physical abuse and sexual violence are routinely used to coerce children into making confessions, according to Addameer. Israeli military law does not require a family member or lawyer to be present.

International campaign

On 13 February, Ahed was brought before an Israeli military court at the Ofer base on the outskirts of Jerusalem for a pre-trial hearing. The judge, lieutenant colonel Menachem Lieberman, told the court it “would not be in her interest” for Ahed to have the media present in the courtroom.

In a video posted on Facebook, Ahed’s father Bassem Tamimi declared the judge’s decision to expel media and diplomats amounted to a “fascist” state seeking to cover up the “farce and racism of its courts and laws”. Bassem has himself been imprisoned multiple times and was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty in 2012.

Lieberman now faces a dilemma. On the one hand, Israel’s military generals are determined to exact revenge on Ahed because they perceive that she has humiliated Israeli occupation forces. A public trial would expose to the world the barbarism and nefarious character of the Israeli occupation and its military courts.

“The military courts themselves are one of the most injurious mechanisms of the occupation and are not designed to seek justice or truth, but to maintain the occupation”, B’Tselem spokesperson Amit Gilutz told Al-Jazeera after Ahed’s 13 February court appearance.

Ahed Tamimi’s case has prompted Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and the UN to call for her immediate release. On 31 January, Ahed’s 17th birthday, Palestine solidarity and prisoners’ rights groups held protests around the world, demanding the release of Ahed and all other Palestinian political prisoners.

Protests took place in cities across France, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Slovakia, Greece, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, the UK, the US, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, South Africa and Australia, according to reports on the website of Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network.

On 12 February, the Florida-based Dream Defenders Network issued a statement, signed by 27 prominent US citizens, calling for the prohibition of US aid to Israel being used for the military detention, torture and abuse of Palestinian children. Signatories included actor Danny Glover, and authors and activists Michelle Alexander, Alice Walker, Angela Davis and Cornel West.

Comparing the repression of Palestinian youth to Black Americans, the statement declared: “From Trayvon Martin to Muhammad Abu Khudair and Kalief Browder to Ahed Tamimi – racism, state violence and mass incarceration have robbed our people of their childhoods and their futures.

“The Tamimi family stands up to Israel’s brutality because they believe Palestinians, like ALL people, should be free. Dream Defenders stands with them and all Palestinians in their righteous struggle.”

As Nour Tamimi states: “We cannot stand up to Israel alone. The international community and all people of conscience must also stand for justice and not tolerate Israel’s abuses of our rights, especially against children.”

Ahed Tamimi will face the Ofer military court again on 11 March, while her mother Nariman and cousin Nour will face court on 6 March. The whole world will be watching.

Nick Everett is co-convener of Friends of Palestine WA