Photo taken from http://www.dci-palestine.org/year_in_review_2016; AFP/Hazem Bader
by Balqis Azhar
I was reading a book entitled ‘Dreaming of Freedom’ which profusely spoke about Palestinian child prisoners. To begin with, I would like to quote a paragraph from an interview of one of the child prisoners who was detained in an Israeli military prison;
“I will never forget the day when forces from the Israeli Prison Service stormed our cell. They turned it upside down and searched every single item. They stole our belongings which we used to entertain ourselves in that horrible prison. They even stole my headphones, which I used to listen to the radio in an attempt to forget my misery.”
The sentence was uttered by Ayman Abbasi, one of the child prisoners detained by Israeli soldiers when he was in his 9th grade. Soon, he was killed by Israeli soldiers during a clash at Ein al Louza.
The whole book reminded me of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in the year 1959, an expansion of Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948.
Declaration of the Rights of the Child 1959
The Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted on 20 of November 1959 when it was agreed unanimously by all 78 Member States of United Nations General Assembly in Resolution 1386 (XIV). The Declaration was further developed to address the notion that “mankind owes to the Child the best that it has to give’’. The Declaration specifically says:
“The child is recognized, universally, as a human being who must be able to develop physically, mentally, socially, morally, and spiritually, with freedom and dignity.”
We must remember that children are among the vulnerable groups of civilians that should be taken care of, for they have a bright future to become the future leaders or someone who will contribute to the society. We must also remember that they are innocent, without sin and have no power to join any political or terrorist organisations in resistance. Nonetheless, the treatment given by the Israeli forces stemmed “from the belief, which was advanced to us by a military prosecutor, that every Palestinian child is a potential terrorist”. This is obviously against the notion that ‘one is not guilty until proven’ – a presumption of innocence that derives from a Latin expression ‘el incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat’ which has become the basis of criminal law applied in current legal systems..
The book that I read contained affidavits, which also stated the personal details of the child prisoners along with their pictures that were taken by the Defence for Children International-Palestine several weeks after their interrogation. Hence, the interviews which were later turned into the affidavits were undoubtedly a primary source that provides truthful stories from the ground level. The children in the book that I have read are being detained without fair trial and experienced physical violence and abuse during their arrest or interrogation by the Israeli army simply because they were charged for throwing stones. Some of them were caught when the Israeli soldiers besieged their houses and took them from their parents without explanation. They were then taken to prison in Israel and were forced to confess after being tortured persistently. One of the children mentioned in the book, Muslim Ouda, was detained 18 times throughout his life. Most of them were prosecuted automatically through military courts where the judges ignored prior treatments that the child detainees have received and relied on documents written in Hebrew where the child detainees were forced to sign during the interrogation process. To date, more than 8000 Palestinian children have been arrested under the Israeli military detention system, with around 500-700 Palestinian children prosecuted in the Israeli military court system each year.
Abuse of Children’s Rights
Israel’s abuse on children’s rights has never been brought to the international level and the issue seems to be hidden from the public limelight. It is critical to examine the daily treatment of the children living in the Occupation territory as it reveals proof that Israel has been neglecting international law by denying Palestinian children their rights. The West Bank area is among one of the many areas of Occupied territory where the authorities continue to set up illegal settlements while treating the original civilians, who are not affiliated with any armed groups, with violence.
In 2016, MP Sarah Champion outspokenly addressed the issue of detainment and ill-treatment of Palestinian children by Israeli military, by further reiterating that Israel was in breach of its legal obligations under Convention of the Rights of Child and Fourth Geneva Convention. The issue was further supported by UNICEF after assessing 400 sworn affidavits by the children and concluded that “the ill-treatment of children who came into contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised throughout the process, from the moment of the arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.”
Not only has Israel breached the Convention Rights Of Child 1989, but also the Fourth Geneva Convention pertaining to Protection to Civilians in Occupied Land – the preamble of which expressly remarks that,
“Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding”
the truth is the children in the Occupation land are denied and ignored of such promises consisted in the declaration. Clearly, Israel has breached the Convention that they themselves have signed and therefore should be called accountable for that. Remember, allowing Israel to breach the Convention would also mean giving a higher possibility and more opportunities for other countries to breach the Convention as well. The Geneva Convention is the most imperative international protection that could be used to protect the children in Palestine, however, there is nothing that we can do to bring them into account to This is because only individuals can be brought to the court, not the states.
Nonetheless, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad did make an effort through the Kuala Lumpur War Crime Tribunal in bringing the Israel to account for the massacre and violence that they have done. The tribunal was separate from International Criminal Court, however we must commend his effort to condemn such violations of international law. The tribunal does not give mandate at all to persecute Israel at the international level, as it was established to investigate war crimes through academicians, retired judges as an alternative to International Criminal Court in The Hague which the founder, Tun Dr. Mahathir, deemed to be biased.
In conclusion, it is pertinent for us today to be aware of the rights of the children across the world. The rights should include basic education, security, healthcare and the rights to live in peace. If we do not uphold the rights of the children, then do not expect for them to one day stand up for the future generations living in this world. That being said, an awareness of condemning Israel’s acts against child prisoners should be widely spread all over the world as a beginning to reclaiming the basic rights of the children living in Palestine.
Balqis Azhar is a first year Law student at Queen Mary University of London. She is a wanderer, traveller, volunteer, writer, enthusiastic knowledge-seeker, and needs to get her coffee fix to remain sane. She could be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org