Recently, the U.S. approved a $38 billion military aid package to Israel over the next decade. Hearing this news, my thoughts turned to what this funding commitment means to mothers in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Imagine telling your child that he should go to sleep in his clothes, just in case the army comes in the middle of the night and takes him away to prison. Imagine trying to stay awake all night, sitting by your front door in case soldiers break in and demand to search your house, wake your children, and take your son in the middle of the night for interrogation at a destination that you cannot access. Imagine trying to protect your children from soldiers when no protections exist. That is the experience of many Palestinian mothers who live under Israeli occupation.
Israeli army night and arrest raids into towns and villages across the West Bank, army interrogations without parental or legal counsel, and sentencing in military courts is the experience of many Palestinian children, some as young as 12 years old.
This experience is highlighted in the photography exhibit “Night Raid,” opening at Gallery Al-Quds in Washington, DC on September 30. Photojournalist Richard Cahan knocked on doors in the occupied West Bank late at night and asked residents to stand for pictures in their doorways. The results are a striking image of life under occupation: learn more about the exhibit and the September 30 opening here.
An army night raid is terrifying for all those involved – the child awakened in the middle of the night, the parent who cannot respond, and the neighbors who fear they may be next. The constant fear of arrest, detention, and violence from soldiers ensures the perpetuation of a conflict that all people of goodwill want to see end peacefully.
I documented the impact of military occupation on kids while working at a West Bank NGO in the 1980s. Children living under prolonged military occupation face immense pressures that negatively impact their health, education, and future livelihood. Israeli military checkpoints, noted for intimidation, assault or arbitrary arrest, have become part of the landscape of the West Bank, creating hardships for children traveling even short distances to school or medical clinics. An estimated 24,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished by the Israeli authorities since 1967, creating lasting psychological trauma for children and their families. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank is on the rise, with 117 Palestinian-owned structures demolished in the last two months.
Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank are under Israel’s civil and criminal legal system, but Palestinian children in the same territory live under military law. At least 500-700 Palestinian children are held in Israeli military detention in the West Bank every year. These children often experience abuse, especially immediately following arrest.
These violations of children’s basic rights should enrage us all, and call us to action.
The “Israeli Military Detention: No Way to Treat a Child” campaign, coordinated by the American Friends Service Committee and Defense for Children International – Palestine, is calling on the US Congress to pressure Israeli authorities to end the detention and ill treatment of Palestinian children by Israeli forces. This campaign, which I co-lead, also produced the Night Raid exhibit.
The U.S. supports the occupation of Palestine with billions of dollars in military aid. So we in the U.S. have a responsibility to call for accountability and change when it comes to the mistreatment of Palestinian Children. This summer twenty members of Congress signed a letter to President Barack Obama urging the appointment of a Special Envoy for Palestinian Children to ensure the US government prioritizes Palestinian children’s rights. We need to continue pressuring Congress and the White House to take action.
I want a world where no mother has to wait up all night in an attempt to keep her children safe, and where no child faces the violence of military occupation. That’s why I’m committed to working for Palestinian children’s rights, because this is no way to treat a child.