Imagine you are a family of four: two parents and two children aged, say, 11 and 15. You are all sleeping when at 3:45 a.m., there is a loud bang at your front door. Before you’ve reached the door, four heavily-armed soldiers have broken it down and barged into your home with no warrant and no explanation.
One soldier–barely older than your children himself–grabs your 15-year-old son, binds his arms behind his back, and blindfolds him. Without a word to you, the soldiers haul the boy outside to their vehicle and throw him onto the floor at the back, pistol-whipping him before speeding away.
Hours later, your son’s blindfold is removed but his arms remain bound. From the moment he is kidnapped, he is not permitted to use the bathroom or given water or food. He is surrounded by foreigners speaking a language he cannot understand, and he is denied legal counsel. Your child is taken to an interrogation room and bullied into confessing a “crime”–insulting the honor of a soldier, for instance, or throwing stones at a wall. Like you, your son was born into a military occupation and under military law a soldier’s honor is worth 10 years of your son’s life.
This is a system of calculated dehumanization. Young people such as your son are held in detention for 24 hours before a military trial. If he were 18, he might wait up to 96 hours. At 15, your son might get a plea agreement of eight months; if he were 16 or 17, it might be a 10-20 year sentence. Fines run from $100 to a few thousand, and release on bail is rare under military law. A sentence could be “suspended” so that there is an early release with a 2 to 5-year probationary period in which, if your son were arrested again, in 5 years, the full 10-year sentence would go into effect.
The mathematical symmetry is in the fines: they cover the entire cost of this system, ensuring that the victims of these gross violations of due process, the rules of evidence, and international law pay for the kangaroo courts.
You and your family live in an area surrounded by armed checkpoints, soldiers, and hostile and aggressive settlers living on land in violation of international law. Children must be accompanied and protected by adults in your community as they make their way, on an unpaved path, to their school; settlers walk or drive on wide paved roads.
You might have guessed by now I’m describing what happens when living in the occupied Palestinian territory. Since 1967, Israel has operated separate legal systems in the same territory: in the occupied West Bank, Israeli settlers are subject to a civilian and criminal legal system; Palestinians live under military law. Israel applies criminal law to children living in East Jerusalem. No Israeli child comes into contact with military courts.
Between 50 and 60 percent of Palestinian children that have been detained in the West Bank were transferred to a prison in Israel, despite the Geneva Conventions prohibiting the transfer of an occupied civilian population.
When the occupation began in 1967, military law was instituted and applied to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians have no say in the election of lawmakers in this context; over 1800 military laws apply to those occupied.
Under Military Order 1651, the “security provisions” law, throwing a stone at the Israeli-built separation wall is a crime that carries up to a 10-year sentence. Twenty-year maximum sentences are implemented for throwing stones at cars but Order 1651 is a catch-all that justifies the arrest of anyone at any time for anything; criminal conduct is thus created, and then tried in military courts with a prosecution rate of 99.74%.
Military occupation means human rights are denied and all people must have human rights: Palestinians are denied this because of the illegal occupation. Somehow, the illegality of this occupation–not to mention the fundamentally ethnocratic nature of the Israeli state and the ethnic cleansing it has executed since 1948 including massacres, home demolitions and the imposition of military law–is not recognized by the Canadian government in practice, though on paper, Canada does not recognize the areas Israel has illegally annexed and no country in the world recognizes the sovereignty Israel tries to claim for making Jerusalem its capital city.
Through its free trade pact with Israel, alongside parliamentary denunciations of peaceful calls to boycott the country and the government’s refusal even to mark products produced on illegal settlements, the Canadian government colludes in the arrest and torture of approximately 700 Palestinian children a year, the application of military laws, a half-century of illegal occupation, the eviction of Palestinians from the homes in which their families have lived for generations, and a settler-colonial system of apartheid that underwrites these crimes.
Through its statements, political endorsements, business deals, and “motions” in Parliament, the Canadian government has made it clear that it does not believe people of my ethnicity deserve human rights.
This position is the result of a combination of bowing to intense pressure from lobbyists for Israel, geopolitical interests, propaganda from Israel appearing in the mainstream media, threats, and racism; in addition to profound ignorance of the plight of Palestinians as an indigenous population that had been terrorized for several years prior to the signing of the disastrous Balfour Declaration in 1917, of which Canada is a signatory.
According to a recently conducted poll, most Canadians do not support this.
The information I’ve narrated above of the treatment of Palestinian children comes from a briefing I attended recently in Toronto, run by Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCIP), a Ramallah-based non-governmental organization now launching its “No Way to Treat a Child” campaign in Canada. The campaign was co-founded and is co-run by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).
For 25 years, DCIP has investigated, documented, and sought accountability for grave human rights violations against children; held Israeli and Palestinian authorities accountable to universal human rights principles, and advocated at the international and national levels to advance access to justice and protection for children. Direct legal aid is provided for children in distress.
DCIP’s Ayed Abu Eqtaish presented the group’s findings last year in London, UK. Here’s an excerpt from Juliana Farha’s Mondoweiss article on that briefing, followed by “My Name is Saleh,” a 5-minute film I urge you to watch.
“The child is usually a boy. He is occasionally beaten in front of his family. He is routinely removed from the West Bank to Israel, in violation of the Geneva Conventions. He is interrogated without his parents present. He signs a confession in Hebrew, a language he doesn’t know. Sometimes he is tortured, although less often these days.
Ayed tells us that physical torture of Palestinian children was common a few years ago, but interrogators observed that those being tortured often call up reserves of strength to resist, rendering it counter-productive. Instead, they discovered, psychological terror can be more effective: threatening to arrest the child’s family members, for instance, or to revoke his father’s work permit.
We learned that depriving the child of human contact has also proved fruitful. In fact, DCI-Palestine has recorded 78 cases of Palestinian children in solitary confinement, including one kid who was held for 45 days. Afterwards, Ayed said, these children are grateful for anyone who talks to them, will make the interrogator their ‘friend’, will say whatever it takes not to be alone again, not to receive meals through a hole in the wall. For the child in solitary confinement, a voice breaching the silence transcends the human, becomes a blessing.”
My Name is Saleh (5 mins)
A month after the film was made Saleh was assaulted by a group of adult male settlers as he played in the snow with his friends. He was struck on the arm with a spiked metal object and required hospital treatment. On his release, he was arrested on a charge of throwing a snowball at a soldier. He was held for two hours without an accompanying adult. He was then released.
Hold the perpetrators accountable: ask your MP to stop endorsing this brutality and violation of international law, or tell Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland to stop Canadian complicity:
Last week, U.S. Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) and nine co-sponsors introduced the “Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children” Act, which aims to prevent U.S. tax dollars to Israel being used to abuse and imprison Palestinian children in the military court system. To encourage your Representative to support this bill, follow this link: