2014 was a harrowing and devastating year for many people living in Israel and Palestine. Violations of human rights, racism, and hatred did not stop after the 2014 Gaza war and today are commonplace. Presently, there is imminent concern for the increasing numbers of wrongfully detained Palestinian children from East Jerusalem and the West Bank who are subject to ongoing state violence, severe psychological trauma, and denied the basic human right to education.
Throughout 2014, increasing numbers of Palestinian youth were targets of Israeli authorities’ systematic raids, arrests, and violence. According to DCI-Palestine, an average of 192.8 Palestinian children per month were placed in Israeli military detention facilities from January through November 2014. However, there are likely several hundred more Palestinian minors (under age 18) from East Jerusalem under house arrest or in detention. Many of these children have been arrested during night raids by armed Israeli forces that remove them from their homes in a terrifying and often violent manner. They are frequently handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten, and heavily disoriented when transferred to interrogation. In most cases, the children’s parents have no knowledge of their whereabouts, and the detainees receive no legal counsel. Minor detainees are often coerced into submitting a confession for a crime they did not commit. Some children are placed into solitary confinement, which is not only a breach of international law, but also considered a form of torture for minors.
A 2013 UNICEF report identified the maltreatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention as “widespread, systematic, and institutionalized.” Sadly few reforms have been made since then. Laws continue to be violated and more children suffer. The Israeli Military Order 1651 defines a child as a person under age 12. Palestinian detainees ages 12 and above can be sentenced in Israeli military courts, which violate international law and Israeli juvenile law. The sentence for stone throwing and other offenses committed by Palestinian minors can result in a maximum of 20 years. These sentencing periods do not include jail time or house arrest prior to the trial. Furthermore, detainees are not permitted to attend school during pre-trial detention.
Social workers providing services to detained Palestinian minors and their families following release from prison have identified widespread and pervasive trauma. The children often suffer from separation from their families and are subject to physical and psychological violence while detained. Children and parents alike often believe that the parents failed to protect their children. The imprisonment of these children has harmful psychological effects which severely impair a child’s functioning after returning home as well as that of the family unit. Parents and children alike are subject to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
When a child is placed under house arrest by Israeli authorities, parents are required to provide supervision and act as policemen. This shift in dynamics has a marked negative effect on the child-parent relationship. The family frequently suffers significant financial losses because at least one parent is forced to quit their job to supervise the house arrest. This adds to household stress, decreases parents’ abilities to parent other children in the home, increases discord and strain on the marital relationship, and can lead to domestic violence. As for education, many children are concerned that they missed a great deal of school and can quickly fall behind. Due to increasing academic anxieties and untreated mental health issues, many end up permanently dropping out of school.
It is important to highlight that there is concurrently an educational crisis for Palestinian children in East Jerusalem due to Israeli legislation and massive budget cuts to the local education system. According to Ir Amim, there are over 8,100 Palestinian children in East Jerusalem not attending school because of enormous classroom shortages. With so many Palestinian children lacking the basic human right to receive an education and/or being psychologically and emotionally traumatized in the Israeli detention system, what will become of them in adulthood?
In contrast to Palestinian minors, Israeli youth from settlements who have been arrested are given the option to attend alternative-to-prison programs. These programs provide them with continued education, mental health treatment, and psycho-education aimed at detention prevention.
We call for the Israeli state to offer detained Palestinian youth the same protection and services given to detained Israeli minors. This form of blatant discrimination has already proven to be devastating to Palestinians with widespread and long-term damages and violation of human rights.
We at Ossim Shalom-Social Workers for Peace and Social Welfare demand that urgent changes be made to put an end to this inhumane treatment and create alternative-to-prison-programs for detained Palestinian minors. We call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Education to assume immediate responsibility for this rapidly growing social crisis. We request that a partnership be established with the aforementioned officials and ministries to create effective and preventative alternative-to-prison programs with education and mental health treatment. As an organization, we offer our 1,400 members to volunteer their social work expertise in designing future alternative-to-prison programs for detained Palestinian youth and providing direct services.