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Archive for September, 2008

Children in Chains

On Monday 15th September, Mohammad Saleh Khawaje, aged 12 years and two months, from the village of Ni’lin was released on bail after spending four nights in Ofer prison near Ramallah, charged with stone-throwing and disturbance of public order. His co-defendant, 13 year old Abdul Ahman is not so lucky; he will be kept in jail until his indictment on Tuesday 16th September, when military prosecutors will request that the judge refuse bail, forcing the child to remain incarcerated for the period of his trial – a process that takes up to six months. The difference in their treatment, according to their lawyer, is based on the slight age difference.

Acts like throwing stones are judged by the Israeli courts according to the level of public danger they present.  Throwing stones is considered “very dangerous” behaviour.  The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison.  Although apparently no one ever gets that.  If convicted both children face approximately ten to twelve months in jail, advised their lawyer.

A clear indication of the apartheid nature of the Israeli legal system, Mohammad and Abdul will be tried and punished as adults, despite their young ages because Palestinian children are defined as adults at 12 years old; while Israeli children are treated as such until they reach 18 years of age.

Sitting shackled in the dock of the military court, their heads barely reaching above the railing, the boys wore brave faces, chatting excitedly when Mohammad’s father entered belatedly after being held-up pointlessly at the Ofer checkpoint – Mohammad showing his father his bandaged wound, sustained when Israeli soldiers dragged him from his family home at 2:30am on Thursday 11th September.

Mohammad’s father, Abd Saleh, believes his son has been arrested as an act of revenge visited upon him and his family by Israeli soldiers, following Abd Saleh’s complaints to both Israeli police and military about attacks on him at the behest of Israeli military Lt. Col. Omri Burberg – now notorious as the commander who ordered Israeli soldiers to shoot the bound and blindfolded Palestinian arrestee Ashraf Abu Rama in the foot after a demonstration in Ni’lin.

In a testimony given to the human rights group B’tselem, Abd Saleh detailed the abuse he suffered on 13th July 2008, when, as a volunteer paramedic for Medical Relief, he was present at a demonstration in Ni’lin. Abd Saleh has testified that at this demonstration Omri ordered another commander “Miki” to shoot tear gas directly at him. The gas landed between his feet, quickly overwhelming him. Abd Saleh was then violently arrested, and dragged along the ground, despite protests from witnesses that he needed medical attention. After two hours Abd Saleh was taken by military ambulance to Makabeem military camp where Omri refused to allow hospital transfer for Abd Saleh, despite a military doctor insisting it was imperative, and then proceeded, with other soldiers, to beat Abu Saleh severely for ten minutes, kicking and punching his entire body until he was unconscious. Upon awakening, Abu Saleh was taken to a military ambulance and tied to the bed, whereupon he saw and heard commanders Omri and Miki order a female soldier to take photos of him, in a practice eerily echoing torture photos of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Grahib. In the following hours Abd Saleh was again punched in the face; refused water; left for two hours; and then put back in an ambulance only to be violently picked up and thrown on to the ground.

Abed Saleh wasn’t home when Israeli soldiers invaded the village of Ni’lin on Thursday night and raided his house. “The soldiers came to the house to take me again,” he explained. “They asked where I was. When they found out I wasn’t there they took my son instead.”

I don’t know where Abed Saleh was at 2:30 in the morning when his son was arrested. There have been suggestions that he did as many in Ni’lin do when they suspect they are wanted by the Israeli military, and been staying somewhere else. After all, he has been threatened with arrest again if he continues to go to demonstrations. But as a paramedic he goes anyway, in the thick of the action in case people are shot or beaten or overcome with tear gas.

This is the second time in recent history that such allegations have been laid against Israeli soldiers under Lt. Col. Omri’s command. One month ago Jamal Amira, father of Salam Amira, the teenager who shot the infamous video in which Omri ordered the aforementioned shooting of Ashraf Abu Rama, was arrested as “Salam’s father” by self-proclaimed “friends of Omri”, and subjected to abuse strikingly similar to that Abd Saleh describes in his testimony.

This ethos of revenge is not however, limited just to soldiers under Lt. Col. Omri’s command, rather, it goes right to the heart of Israeli military policy, where it is standard practice to demolish the house of the family of any Palestinian who commits an attack on Israeli citizens. More than 628 houses have been demolished in accordance with this policy since the beginning of the second intifada.

Indeed, actions such as the arrest of Mohammad would also not be possible without a legal system that can try a 12 year old child as an adult.

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