This conflict in the Holy Land must end – for the children’s sake
The enduring fact of the failure of peace in the so-called Holy Land is a royal spring of misery from which bitter tensions flow, with mournful consequences for the entire restive middle-east region, already strained by wars and rumours of wars. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, those who are innocent, small, defenceless or vulnerable are common, even inevitable, victims of the promiscuously-brutalising nature of this clash between the claimed descendants of Abraham. On the redemptive patch of earth sought by Moses, the Prophet of Exodus, the sins of past generations are cruelly visited upon the young.
Examples of this present themselves readily. Sans peace, the occupation of the West Bank continues, with its attendant injustices. Recently, the suffering of Palestinian children there at the hands of Israeli security forces was highlighted by the publication of a report authored by a group of eminent lawyers, backed by the UK Foreign Office. The document, “Children in Military Custody” concluded that, in the face of certain “undisputed facts”, Israel is in breach of several articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)], a treaty which the state ratified in 1991. A number of articles in the convention are believed to have been contravened given that Palestinian children have been placed in leg irons, denied prompt access to lawyers and parents, in addition to being placed in premature detention, according to the report.
It also identifies two areas in which Israel is in breach of the fourth Geneva convention and addresses credible allegations of serious mistreatment of minors (underage prisoner testimonies contain allegations of the use of solitary confinement) that, if proven, could constitute violations of the prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as set out in the UNCRC. “To hold children routinely and for substantial periods in solitary confinement would, if it occurred, be capable of amounting to torture” the report states in its conclusion.
What’s particularly disturbing about claims of Israel placing children in solitary confinement is that allegations of such practices are, sadly, nothing new. Earlier this year, The Guardian ran a report that included the testimonies of minors who claimed that they had been subjected to it in Al Jalame jail, near Haifa- mentioning the infamous Cell 36, a room that appears repeatedly in former prisoners’ statements. Reportedly, one child was placed in solitary confinement for 65 days.
Hundreds of testimonies have been collected by the NGO, Defence for Children International (DCI) that contain reports of the mistreatment of children in military or police custody. According to a paper published by DCI earlier this year, 12% percent of those interviewed reported being subjected to solitary confinement, and three-quarters reported physical abuse, among other serious offences.
The latter group last year submitted a report to the UN Special Rapporteur for Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment that stated that solitary confinement in Israel’s Al Jalame and Peta Tikvah facilities is “routinely used”.
Additionally, Amnesty International’s 2012 report on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories refers to continuing allegations of “torture and other ill-treatment, including of children… the most commonly cited methods were beatings, threats to the detainee or their family, sleep deprivation, and being shackled in painful positions for long periods.” Worryingly, many of the methods listed in the Amnesty report echo claims made in 2001 when B’Tselem reported that children had been tortured in Gush Etzion police station. This, despite Israel having criminalised the practice of torture in 1999.
Other abuses committed by Israeli services have surfaced recently. An Israeli policeman was filmed kicking a nine-year old boy who already had been reduced to tears by his colleague’s rough treatment. The Israeli authorities condemned the incident, and stressed that this was aberrant behaviour. The damage, however, appears to have been done. With Palestinian dissatisfaction with the Palestinian Authority peaking, frustration at such incidents, the moribund “peace process” dead in the water, and the recent news that Yasser Arafat may have died from Polonium poisoning, some are speculating that the a third Intifada is simply inevitable.
All of which makes the prospect of a peace between Israel and Palestine seem as miserably distant as ever- a fact that virtually guarantees more suffering for both sides.
Besides alleged Israeli crimes, it is important to remember that Hamas have been credibly accused of torture, as have the Palestinian Authority. A former insider has alleged Hamas tortures minors. Individual acts of appalling slaughter, such as the sickening murders of the Fogel family were perpetrated by young Palestinian men. Hamas have fired many thousands of missiles at Israel’s southern cities, terrorising the lives of school children. So-called “martyrs”, breaching both the moral codes of classical Islam and universal decency have committed acts of suicide-murder that have claimed many Israeli lives, including those of children.
In one example of the latter, The Independent’s Robert Fisk observed the consequences of the bombing of the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem in 2001, half of the victims of which were children. It also killed a pregnant woman, “What did the child with no eyes do the Palestinians?” he would ask poignantly in his weighty tome, “The Great War For Civilisation”.
Quite. But, equally, what did the hundreds of children killed in Gaza in ‘09 or among the thousands of civilians blown to pieces in Lebanon in ‘82 have to do with either Hamas rockets or PLO violence? And what do Israeli children in Ashkelon or Sderot have to do with the cruel siege on Gaza?
Among the bloodshed of the last seven or so decades, terrible reminders of history present themselves. Some of the victims of the horrific Sbarro Pizzeria incident in 2001 were buried, with appropriately widespread public mourning, in the Har HaMenuchot cemetery near Givat Shaul, a suburb to the west of Jerusalem. A vanished Palestinian settlement called Deir Yassin once occupied that area, its buried centre now sat upon by the Israeli “Kfar Shaul Hospital for the Mentally Unfeeble.”
Deir Yassin was the site of the most infamous massacre by pro-Israeli paramilitary organisations in the war of 1948, and was as widely and ruefully mourned by Palestinians as the Sbarro incident was by Israelis. To many Palestinians it crystallized in their minds the image of Israelis as monsters hell-bent on their persecution, just as the Pizzeria bombing- and the repugnant celebrations from Palestinians in Ramallah that followed it- appeared to many Israelis.
Givat Shaul’s twin structures built just outside of Jerusalem, the “City of Peace” symbolize the recent past. A mental hospital and graveyard, refuges for the damaged or dead, built on the site of hidden atrocities. Misery built on misery.
Yet it needn’t represent the future. For the sake of the children, if not all involved, something has to change.
But when will it?Tagged in: amnesty international, child abuse, Children in Military Custody, Defence for Children International, Deir Yassin, gaza, hamas, Holy Land, human rights, israel, Palestine, Sbarro Pizzeria, slaughter, torture, west bank
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