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Caged and dismembered: Israel’s “Unchilding” policy for Palestinian children

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23 December 2023, Pearls and Irritations, by Helen McCue

The victimisation by Israel of Palestinian children is so profound that Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkain, a Hebrew University of Jerusalem law professor, has described it as “Unchilding,” that is, in order to “eliminate the next generation of Palestinians, Israel treats Palestinian children as both nobodies who are unworthy of global children’s rights and as dangerous and killable bodies needing to be caged and dismembered, physically and mentally”.

The object is to indoctrinate these children with learned helplessness. The military arrest and detention experience suffocates a child’s sense of agency. They can miss a school year, end up being in classes one year younger than their friends, and often have unhealed trauma.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have described this abuse of children as pursuing an “intent to dominate” and “systematic oppression” to maintain the system of Israels apartheid.

Save the Children Report 2023 noted that in the last 20 years, an estimated 10,000 Palestinian children have been held in the Israeli military detention system. And that approximately 500-700 Palestinian children experience military detention each year.

The Israeli occupying forces are working hard to ‘unchild’ Palestinian children.

From October 7th this year some 200 children have been taken mostly for alleged stone throwing, which is classed as a security threat and can carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. In detention the guards beat them, torture them and terrify them, working to “unchild” them. With a 94% conviction rate lawyers and children know that it is better to “confess” even if they are innocent. Military Court Watch has graphic videos showing Israeli soldiers beating, abusing, and tormenting children much of it going back for decades.

Human Rights Watch reports that very often Palestinian children in the West Bank are abducted in the middle of night, mostly between midnight and dawn, thrown into an Israeli van, and taken to a terrifying interrogation centre where they are often beaten and questioned in an aggressive manner without a parent or guardian present. Save the Children 2023 report notes that during an arrest some 42% of children suffered injuries, including gunshot wounds and broken bones.

Children are then held for very long periods. The time that children spend in detention varies from one month to 18 months. We know from Military Court Watch that 72% of Palestinian children who are arrested in the West Bank are held in custody until the conclusion of legal proceedings that are often lengthy. This is in stark contrast to the 17.9% of Israeli children subjected to detention.

But none of this is new. It has been going on for years and years.

Between 2016 and 2022, Defence for Children International (DCIP) collected sworn affidavits from 766 children detained by the Israeli military and prosecuted in Israeli military courts to track their experiences of ill-treatment and torture at the hands of Israeli forces. The brutality of the Israeli Prison Officers (IPO) include also shoulder dislocation, bruising and suffocation. During an arrest the majority of children are blindfolded and handcuffed mostly using a single plastic tie. The levels of physical, sexual and emotional abuse certainly sustain the policy of ‘unchilding’ with the majority also being beaten and threatened with harm including being hit with sticks or guns. Other terrifying means of achieving forced submission of children include solidarity confinement sometimes up to 48 days. Such torture also includes adequate food or healthcare and being denied visits or communication with their family while detained. Alarmingly also is the high rate of sexual abuse of children including being hit or touched on the genitals and with nearly three quarters of the children reported being strip searched during interrogation.

As Palestinian women and teens were released from Israeli detention following a historic exchange between Israel and Hamas in November, the UN Human Rights Office in Palestine received testimonies of “male and female detainees” being “threatened with rape in retaliation for the attacks of 7 October.” Freed prisoner Ramzi al-Absi vividly recounted the harrowing conditions endured by Palestinians at the Naqab prison in southern Israel, saying prisoners were getting beaten and sexually assaulted by Israeli authorities. “The detainees are being sexually assaulted, to the extent of rape. I’m not exaggerating. To the extent of rape,” he said.

Around two thirds of Palestinian child detainees are also transferred out of the West Bank to prisons inside Israel. Such transfers are a violation of Article 49 and Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Parents and family members are unable or prevented from visiting the children in prison, leaving them completely isolated from their loved ones.

The effects of all of this mistreatment and violations impacted long after the children are released with the majority reported suffering from insomnia or having difficulty sleeping and experiencing nightmares. Children reacted differently but nearly three quarters frequently were feeling angry while others were obviously depressed, wanting to be alone.

Among the many violations of humanitarian law, Israel also violates the UN Rights of the Child Convention, which the Government of Israel ratified in 1991, obliging it to meet those obligations under the Convention. Palestinian children are the only children in the world to experience systematic prosecution in military courts. In comparison no Israeli child has ever been in contact with an Israeli military court, as they have their own civil courts.

Since October 7th thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank have been arrested including children. The number of detainees from the West Bank and Jerusalem since the 7th of October until the 18 of December this year has reached 4,575 new detainees. As of early December Israel was holding 7,000 prisoners of whom 62 were female, 200 were children and there were 2070 people being held in administrative detention.

When Israel finally agreed to a hostage exchange, 240 of these Palestinian detainees and prisoners, which included 71 female prisoners and 169 child-prisoners were released, but Israel arrested more than 260 Palestinians in the West Bank during the week-long truce, exceeding the number of Palestinians that it was forced to release.

Also, since October 7th the living condition in the prisons are severe. Ten people are forced to share a cell designed for six. Prisoners are denied family visits, lawyer visits are severely restricted, and there is limited access to water and electricity inside prison cells. The guards have also confiscated all the prisoners’ belongings including radios, books, pens, and photos and withdrew food items from the prisons and closed the canteen.

The Israeli Prison Service has also intensified its medical negligence policy through depriving prisoners of their right to treatment by closing the prison clinics and preventing prisoners from going to external clinics and hospitals. They were deprived of buying hygiene supplies, including laundry detergent, and barred from using the washing machines to wash their clothes. Prison authorities also kept the prisoners away from their only outlet to let off some steam – the “fora”, or prison yard, and prevented them from making any noise. Palestinian detainees and prisoners have also been subjected to brutal beatings and torture campaigns inside prisons and interrogation centres. At least six Palestinian detainees and prisoners have been killed since 7 October, and the bodies continue to be held hostage.

Israel is also arresting its own Palestinian citizens as well, including activists, lawyers, nurses, doctors and artists, including renowned Palestinian singer Dalal Abu Amneh. The exact number of detainees of Palestinian citizens of Israel is not known, but they are being held “on charges of incitement and assisting the enemy during the war.”

But these violations do not only occur in the West Bank. There is unparalleled ‘unchilding’ in Gaza right now. Israel does this by killing children along with their mothers in horrific numbers in Gaza. As of the 15th of December, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that 18,787 Palestinians have been killed, 8,000 of these children and it is estimated that there are at least 8,000 people buried under rubble. About 50,897 Palestinians have reportedly been injured.

Since October 7th so far there are hundreds if not thousands of orphan children. There is a term used by medical staff treating wounded children: WCFD (“Wounded child family deceased”). It is used far too often. Like all Gazans, children are starving but now due to the catastrophic situation many have diarrhoea illness, respiratory illness, hepatitis and other illness making their already tenuous hold on life even more so. Also a total of 342 school buildings have sustained damage (about 70 per cent of all school buildings in Gaza). Several schools, including UNRWA schools, many providing shelter for displaced people, have been directly hit by Israeli airstrikes or tank shells. Unchilding indeed to deprive children of life, shelter, water, food and schools.

Inside Gaza there has also been hundreds of arrests with videoed prisoner humiliation of prisoners stripped to their underwear and forced to kneel in the dirt. This is a violation of the rules of war and humanitarian law, as is enforced disappearance that is considered a crime against humanity according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and prisoner lawyers are being denied visiting detainees from Gaza, but they have learnt from the Israeli newspaper “Haaretz” that heinous crimes are being committed against male and female detainees in the “Sdeh Teiman” and “Anatot” army camps. In addition a number of detainees have been killed, their identity not yet known. The detainees endure extremely harsh conditions, being handcuffed and blindfolded most of the time. These two army camps also detain children, wounded, sick and elderly prisoners where they are held in very harsh conditions with inadequate food and medical assistance. The eldest among them is an 82-year-old suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Addameer (a Palestinian Prisoner Support Organisation) also reports that the law is manipulated to hide detainees. Since the aggression in Gaza began, the occupying authorities have amended military orders and laws to facilitate the prolonged detention of Palestinians without due legal process. They amended the Unlawful Combatant Law multiple times so that detainees can be prevented from meeting their lawyer for 80 days. Lawyers are unaware of the detainee’s whereabouts or the conditions they face. These amendments aim to prevent lawyers from monitoring and documenting the crimes and violations against Palestinian detainees.

As can be seen so obviously, the most extreme ‘unchilding’ of Palestinian children is taking place in Gaza right now. Thousands killed, many thousand injured, physically and psychologically scarred for life. The majority (90%) of Gazans, of which half at least are children, are displaced – living in atrocious and catastrophic conditions, starving, little or no shelter, wet, freezing as winter sets in, exposed to diseases that can easily kill them. Hospitals bombed and inpatients killed. Journalists killed in large numbers. 90 percent of the people displaced and 60 percent at least of homes, and civic infrastructure destroyed.

Truly a genocide.

Meanwhile the US holds the world to ransom, denying the will of the majority of the world’s peoples represented through the UN General Assembly for a permanent ceasefire.

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Article source: Pearls and Irritations | Helen McCue | 23.12.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000