Photo courtesy of AFP Photo courtesy of AFP

OPINION: Why is Israel still trying children in military courts?

Tue, Feb. 13, 2018
CAIRO - 13 February 2018: Ahed Al-Tamimi’s trial is set to start today in front of an Israeli military court. The girl who has become an icon of protest against the Occupation has just turned 17, while in police detention. She is still a child—why, then, is she being prosecuted in a military court?

Israel is the only country in the world that automatically prosecutes children in military courts. Two generations of Palestinian children are victims of violence and mistreatment. Hopefully, a third generation would have a brighter future.

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Of Power and Powerlessness
“Ahed Al-Tamimi is a victim of her family and community. Palestinian men should man up and stop sending their children to clash with the army instead of going themselves. They know very well that the Israeli judicial authorities do not impose severe penalties on minors.”

Those were the words of Edy Cohen, an Israeli writer and research fellow at Bar-Ilan University, during a televised interview with the BBC discussing the arrest of Palestinian Ahed Al-Tamimi, for slapping an Israeli occupation soldier in December. She was 16 at the time.

Cohen’s accusations did not stop at Ahed’s family; he also claimed the whole incident was fabricated by the Palestinian authorities to incite sentiment. Not only were his comments audacious, but he even went on to salute the Israeli soldier for practicing the maximum degree of self-control.

Israeli media carried the same accusations, with one journalist, Ben Caspit, publishing an article in Maariv newspaper arguing that the soldier should have shot Ahed for threatening Israel’s image and defying military authority. On January 5, Haaretz accused Tamimi and her family of fighting to destroy Israel, adding that the Tamimi fight is seasoned with Jew-hatred.

The incident, and specifically Cohen’s comments, brought to my mind the repeated claims by the Israeli occupation that Palestinians were to blame for the killing of their children and of Palestinian women during the three assaults on the Gaza Strip between 2009 and 2014. Israel accused Palestinians of using women and children as human shields, and efficiently worked toward spreading these allegations as facts using biased media platforms.

But what about statistics? Statistics from various agencies, including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) show that about 495 children and 253 women were killed during the last Israeli assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014 alone. These children and women were either in their homes or on their way to shelters, as homes were not safe anymore due to Israeli shelling and bombing of one of the most densely-populated areas on earth—the Gaza Strip. And the situation is echoed in the West Bank.

Among these civilian victims, there was a number of pregnant women. Did any of these unborn Palestinian children plan or conduct any acts of hate or incitement against Israel?

Let’s go back to the year 2000 and Muhammed al-Durrah, the 12-year-old child who was shot dead in cold blood by Israeli occupation soldiers while his father was desperately trying to shield him with his body. The incident was filmed and played out across the world. Israel claimed that] the footage was staged and was part of a campaign to delegitimize Israel.

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In 2006, footage of 10-year-old Huda Ghalia running down a Gaza beach, after her father, stepmother and five of her siblings had been blown up in front of her eyes, made international headlines. The media called it “The Gaza Beach Massacre,” but again Israel argued the army was not to be blamed. The incident was a cover-up as Hamas was responsible. Huda was acting, they argued.

Later, in 2014, four children aged between 7 and 11 from the Bakr family were killed on a Gaza beach while they were playing hide and seek among fishermen’s shacks close to Al-Deira hotel, the base for many international journalists covering the Gaza conflict. Israel announced that the target of the strike was Hamas terrorist operatives and that civilian casualties from the strike are a tragic outcome.

Palestinian civilians are affected by the armed conflict and occupation policies and practices that increase their vulnerability to violence, neglect and exploitation.

There is plenty of evidence, some recorded on camera documenting these violations committed by the Israeli occupation forces or settlers against civilians, including children and women over the 60-year conflict.

In his statement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the Jewish nation, US President Donald Trump described Israel as one of the most successful democracies in the world. Cohen also said that Palestinians know very well that the Israeli judicial authorities do not impose severe penalties on minors—but is that true?

Aside from the fact that Trump’s statement is a politically incorrect analogy that defines Judaism as a nationality rather than a religion—religions do not have capitals—the so-called “most successful democracy in the world” ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, yet did not make it part of the Israeli law, despite the obligation to obey the convention’s directives, including making the laws of the state compatible with them.

This fact makes it impossible to enforce most of the convention’s directives directly in courts. Israel also implements dual standards in dealing with Palestinian children who are prosecuted each year.

According to Defence for Children International, which provides legal assistance to children held in Israeli military detention, each year, approximately 500 to 700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12, are detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military courts system, the most common charge being stone throwing.

An example of the Israeli occupation legal system bias is Yifat Alkobi, an Israeli teenage settler in Hebron who slapped an Israeli soldier in 2010 for trying to stop her from throwing stones. She was taken for questioning but released on bail the same day and returned home. Alkobi was previously convicted five times for throwing rocks, assaulting police officers and disorderly conduct, but was never jailed.

And she is not an exception. Tamimi, on the other hand, was arrested in the middle of the night from her home. The soldier she slapped was trying to take position from her house to shoot at Palestinian demonstrations in the village—the Tamimi family were attempting to prevent him and to protect their relatives, neighbors and friends. Tamimi, her mother and cousin were arrested, and the 16-year-old teenager remains behind bars rather than studying at school like other children of her age. Her cousin, Nour, was freed on bail.

Tamimi, who belongs to the second generation of Palestinians growing up under occupation (her mother is also being tried today, is being tried in a military court and faces up to 14 years in prison, after being charged with 12 counts of attacking and threatening soldiers, aggravated assault, stone-throwing, preventing soldiers from carrying out their duties, incitement, including online calls for more action to support the Palestinian cause, and disturbing public peace. Some of these charges go back to April 2016.

Polarized opinions on Tamimi’s case were discussed on social media platforms; some saw her as a symbol of resistance and a freedom fighter and compared her to Malala Yousafzai. Others, however, said that she is being used by her parents, schooled in violence and that she deserves punishment.

Over the past years; Tamimi’s father (born in 1967; the year when Israel seized most of the Palestinian lands in the six-day war), mother, uncles, aunts, brothers and cousins have been arrested by occupation forces many times. Their houses were targeted by tear gas and night raids.

The occupation also issued an illegal demolition order of Tamimi’s home and some dozen others in the village; promising to turn all these children’s memories into dust.

The teenager’s aunt, cousin and uncle were killed by the Israeli occupation forces, and her mother was shot in the leg by a sniper and could not move for a long time. On the same day of the incident, Tamimi’s 15-year-old cousin Mohammed was shot in the head by a rubber-coated steel pellet and part of his left skull had to be removed, with the bone to be replaced upon recovery.

Tamimi’s family said that Mohammed’s grave injury helped set her off against the soldiers that day. Also, in the same month, in the neighboring village of Deir Nidham, the Tamimi clan mourned the 17-year-old Musab Tamimi, who was killed by Israeli occupation fire during clashes with stone throwers.

Ahed’s incident is not the first in Nabi Saleh village, a small village of approximately
600 members of the Tamimi clan near Ramallah city in the West Bank of Palestine, and surely will not be the last. For many years, the Israelis have been seizing the Palestinians’ lands to build and expand their internationally condemned settlements; specifically the settlement of Halamish, an Israeli army base is situated next to the settlement to protect the settlers while they provoke the Palestinians. In 2005, the settlers of Halamish appropriated the village’s spring and prevented the Palestinians from using it, even though the majority of them are farmers.

Palestinians of this small village decided to start a popular resistance movement against Israel’s attempts to take over their lands. They hold near-weekly protests against the Israeli occupation in conjunction with protests in other villages in the West Bank. They march towards lands taken to build or expand the settlements. And often, these demonstrations lead to clashes with the Israeli occupation soldiers who use excessive violence including tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannon and live ammunition and break into Palestinians’ homes to arrest ‘wanted’ troublemakers, including children.

Ahed’s story is the story of generations. Her case is not the first and definitely will not be the last until a just and sustainable solution emerges. As long as injustice is long running in Palestine, and the Palestinian people are not granted their full right to live freely and with dignity, there will be thousands of children caught in the middle of the politicized conflict. Palestinian children are growing up in an environment where normality is dominated by checkpoints, detentions, house demolitions, night raids and violence—and the conflict is damaging them on a long-term basis while shaping their lifetime attitudes.

These children will grow up to realize how the international community has failed to protect them and how it is turning a blind eye to the ongoing suffering of Palestinian women, men, girls and boys.

Hopefully, it will not fail a third.



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