A Child's LifePublished at http://www.palestinereport.org on February 19, 2003.
Permission granted by Palestine Report to reprint.
by Muthanna Al Qadi
TWO DAYS before his birthday, Adel Abu 'Alfeh asked his mother to prepare some special sweets to celebrate his turning 16. Adel placed his head on his pillow on the night of January 29, already dreaming of the festivities the following day.
His awakening was abrupt and frightening. That same evening, he opened his eyes to discover a large group of Israeli soldiers in his Nablus home ordering everyone outside into the courtyard area. The soldiers then took Adel to the Hawareh military camp, just east of the city, to spend the rest of the night there.
Adel's family was unable to return to sleep. They stayed up until the sun dawned on Adel's birthday. All were present except him.
Oddly, this same story was repeated with Muhammad Ali Shahruri, 17, also from Nablus. Israeli troops arrested him one day before his birthday, in the evening of November 22, 2002. The next day, instead of celebrating Muhammad's life, the Shahruri family's joy was eclipsed by the intense pain and sadness of his arrest.
The only way they were able to receive news of his well-being was through the mother of Khalid Abu Khalid from Jerusalem, who is detained in Muhammad's cell. As West Bankers unable to travel in Israel, the Shahruris have no other way to stay in touch with their young son.
Khalid Abu Khalid has been detained in Israeli prisons for seven months on the charge of throwing a Molotov cocktail at an Israeli military patrol. He will turn 16 within prison walls during the next few weeks. 'Itimad, his mother, 33, has visited her son in jail five times. She describes the living conditions of the tens of children in Israeli prisons as extremely difficult.
"The prison administration is entirely uncooperative and doesn't meet the children's needs. This has led them to hold a hunger strike more than once," 'Itimad says. "If the children didn't challenge them [the authorities] and cooperate together, the conditions would be even worse. They treat the children very harshly and deprive them of visits," she adds, speaking of the various punishments doled out by the prison administration.
Amnesty International is only one of the many human rights organizations that have criticized the Israeli prison system for arbitrarily arresting thousands of Palestinians and hundreds of children in mass arrests. "Most have been released without charge and often without having been questioned," Amnesty points out. The organization cites cases of torture, the use of secret evidence in trials, and restrictions on family visits.
Last Sunday, Muhammad's mother prepared some clothes and personal items for her son to be sent with 'Itimad to the HaSharon juvenile detention center of Talmund prison. But the curfew and tight siege placed on Nablus prevented the family from delivering these items to Ramallah, where they could be picked up. Disappointed, Muhammad's mother called 'Itimad in Jerusalem to offer her apologies.
That didn't stop Khalid's mother, however. She decided to use her own personal savings and items she had on hand to put together shoes, clothing, winter blankets, and some olive oil and thyme. She bought what Muhammad had requested, and on February 18 delivered the items during the prison's visiting hours. "Tell Muhammad Shahruri that his family is fine and that they send their greetings," she informed Khalid. She brought nothing for her own son.
Muhammad had heard that Khalid's mother was coming to visit and wrote a letter to his family describing how he and his fellow inmates spend their time in prison. But when Khalid was passing the letter to his mother, a soldier spotted the transfer and confiscated it immediately.
Adel, Muhammad, and Khalid are among the more than 80 Palestinian children subjected to such isolation and demoralization. Their living conditions are extremely difficult, and the children are under immense emotional and physical pressure. At least one has found the situation so difficult that he attempted to commit suicide. These details are closely guarded because of the sensitivity of the case.
The Palestinian Prisoner's Club issued a paper in August of 2001 on the "Israeli Authorities' War on Children," during the first year of the Al Aqsa Intifada. The paper describes how the Israeli authorities place children into detention centers and illegal detention areas that fail to meet the minimal requirements of humane conditions. It also paints a picture of the Israeli authorities' methods of detention, the meting out of harsh punishment and in some cases, the torture of child detainees.
The case of Rami Za'ul, 16, from Hasun village in the Nablus district, is particularly striking. Rami was arrested by Israeli soldiers on November 14, 2000 and charged with throwing stones. Soldiers beat him severely during his transfer to the Etzion detention center. There he was tortured by having cold and hot water poured over his head and then being placed in a barrel of frigid water. As a result, Rami went into convulsions and had to be immediately transferred to the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Prisoner's Club does its best to represent the interests of prisoners and child detainees, says the club's public relations officer Raid 'Amer, 36. "We hire lawyers to defend prisoners, when possible, and closely follow their cases," he says. "During the duration of their sentence, we try to deliver aid and whatever else they request. For the child detainees, $25 is allocated to each prisoner every month [for personal expenses]."
But the club's activities are not limited to the detainees' prison terms. The club also sponsors social activities and educational events in coordination with the Ministry of Detainees and Freed Detainees Affairs as part of a family rehabilitation program supported by UNICEF. The program offers psychological counseling to all minors, who can call a hotline available 24 hours a day.
Amer, who is also the director of the club's Nablus office, tells the story of Rabi'a Muhammad Humail from Beita village. Israeli occupation forces arrested her in 2001, when she was 14 years old. She remained in a detention camp until she reached the age of 16 and was then brought before an Israeli military court. At age 16, children can be tried as adults by the military courts, even if they were underage when charged.
Rabi'a's story is similar to that of Suad Ghazzal, who was also 14 when she was arrested. She spent two years in Israeli prisons without trial, and once she turned 16 was sentenced to six and a half years in jail for allegedly attacking a female Israeli settler.
The youngest of the female prisoners is Sina' Issa Amru, from Dura in the Hebron district, who was arrested on February 28, 2001 at the age of 13. She was detained on the charge of participating in an attempt to stab a settler.
While Palestine Report attempted to interview children who have been detained and released, their families refused. The trauma of imprisonment need not be compounded by journalists' questions, they said.
"Child detainees leave prisons completely withdrawn into themselves, isolated, and lacking confidence in anyone around them," explains Samer Samaru, a counselor in the detainees' affairs ministry and supervisor of the prisoners' hotline. "They feel insecure and bottle things up inside. They speak very little," he says. With family support, Samaru is able to sit with those that contact him or those the ministry seeks out to offer assistance. "But it's not as easy as one might think, the healing process can take years," he says.
Some of what the children experience is described in local human rights reports. "The occupation authorities continue to take severely oppressive measures against approximately 65 to 70 detainees in the Sharon juvenile department of Talmund prison," writes attorney Hanan Al Khatib in a report issued by LAW. The paper describes how the prison administration uses police dogs in their searches and has attacked detainees with electric poles and wooden clubs. The Israeli prison authorities have also torn up the children's Qur'ans, confiscated their prayer rugs and made them strip when conducting head counts.
"The children suffer extremely serious medical neglect, and treatment is limited to providing aspirin pills, irregardless of the patient's state," says Al Khatib. Child detainees also are often given extremely long sentences, she reports. For example, Ahmed Shweiki was sentenced to twenty years and another child from the Juweihan family was sentenced to twenty-five years. Both were 14 at the time of their arrest.
With few able to speak on their behalf, the children have expressed their needs to legal advocates. Al Khatib lists the demands of children detained in Talmund prison: an end to long sentences and the policy of monetary fines; provision of cleaning materials, personal hygiene supplies and needed medicine; a solution for open sewage and the shortage of clothing and bedding; abolishment of overcrowding; the permitting of family visits; and the right to worship, education and keep track of news of the outside world.-Published 19/2/03(c)Palestine Report
©Palestine Report. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Palestine Report or Palestine Report Online content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Palestine Report.
To subscribe to the full weekly email edition of Palestine Report, see http://www.palestinereport.org for check and credit card subscription.
Palestine Report - Telling the story of one nation's search for independence and justice.