NEWSOur StoriesProgramswake up palestine

Barefoot, sleep-deprived, and traumatized: Israel’s policy of arresting Palestinian children at night

Jerusalem24 – Hundreds of Palestinian children are arrested every year by the Israeli army and Israeli police in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem in the middle of the night without any warning, despite a 2021 Israeli army procedure that was supposed to put an end to the practice.

Large numbers of either Israeli soldiers or Israeli police officers (depending on whether the children are from the West Bank or East Jerusalem) pound on the doors of family homes in the early hours of the morning, waking up entire families who witness the arrests.

In many cases, these arrests are accompanied by home searches and vandalizing of property and personal possessions, compounding the families’ trauma.

“A last resort”

Jessica Montell, Director General of HaMoked–Center for the Defense of the Individual, tells Jerusalem24 that they have been fielding calls for years from Palestinian parents whose children were taken away in the middle of the night.

The NGO has been trying to put an end to the practice, which Montell says should always be “a last resort”, suggesting instead Israel allow the children accompanied by their parents to present themselves to authorities for interrogation.

“You should burst into family’s homes when you’ve exhausted other less harmful measures,” says Montell. “If you need to bring a child in for confession, of course, you should be giving them a summon for their parents to bring them in.”

In 2021 HaMoked filed a first petition with the Israeli High Court, and in August 2021 the Israeli Army said that it would avoid night arrests and instead summon children for questioning during the day time.

However, a new report by HaMoked finds that nothing has changed since then.

A Palestinian child examines the damage in his house after an Israeli night raid, Balata refugee camp in Nablus, 3 January 2017. [Credit: Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills]

“Not interested in reducing harm to children”

In response to HaMoked’s petition, Israel announced that the both military and the police had introduced a classified procedure regarding “the summoning of suspected minors before a pre-planned arrest”, which in theory was meant to put an end to night arrests by instead calling for children to appear in front of authorities during the daytime.

“What we have seen is that procedure is either not being implemented at all,” affirms Montell. “The military is not interested in reducing harm to Palestinian children.”

Montell adds that HaMoked did not record a single case of a child actually receiving a summon last year. Parents have been finding out that their child is wanted for questioning only when they are taken away in the middle of the night.

HaMoked documented, at their parents’ request, 58 cases of children who underwent pre-planned night arrests from their homes between May and October 2022.

Montell explains that the children arrive at the interrogation center exhausted, sleep-deprived, sometimes in their pajamas or barefoot, after having experienced physical and verbal violence.

The periods these children spent in interrogation centers varied from a few hours to four months.

“This is a violation of the children’s rights,” affirms Montell.” And what we have found is that it causes long-term trauma for the whole family, and of course for the little children who see this experience – and I also think as a mother, that you cannot keep your own children safe in your own home.”

HaMoked filed a second petition to the High Court in 2022, a hearing for which is scheduled for this upcoming March.

More exceptions than rules

In early 2022, Israel provided official data regarding the first few months following the entry into effect of their new classified procedure for summoning. The data indicated no changes on the ground for Palestinian children.

In addition to the Israeli army essentially disregarding their own August 2021 procedure, it is difficult to fight the procedure because it is a classified document, and HaMoked are only familiar with the contents of an unclassified summary that was shared with them in response to their petition. “We don’t know what actually is in it,” says Montell.

The summary, however, does list a large number of “exceptions” where preference will be given to night arrest rather than daytime summoning.

“If a child is wanted for questioning by the Shabak, they will not issue a summon. If they need to search the house; if there’s more than one suspect; if the child has been convicted in the past; if the child is suspected of a severe offense…” lists Montell. She also explains that what constitutes a “severe offense” is not defined, and many of the justifications invoked for arrest could fall under this very broad category.

“So it seems like in the procedure there are more exceptions than the rule.”

The data provided by the Israeli army at the beginning of 2022 shows that of the 34 children arrested under the procedure, 28 were arrested at night, while only six were issued daytime summons.

HaMoked documented zero cases in which children were summoned for interrogation in 2022.

Night raid in Nabi Saleh 24 November 2011. [Source: +972 Magazine]

Military law vs. civil law

Officially Israeli law applies in occupied East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967 and officially annexed in 1980 in a move not recognized by the international community. Palestinian Jerusalemite children are therefore protected by the Israeli youth law that should prevent night arrests. “But the youth law has an exception for security offenses,” Montell reiterates, “and here exceptions become the rule.”

The occupied West Bank, on the other hand, is governed by Israeli military law which provides very few protections for Palestinian children’s rights. Israel is also the only state in the world that systematically prosecutes these children in military courts.

This is in contrast to Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, which benefit from Israeli civil law.

“So, you have two different legal systems: Palestinians under military law, and settlers under Israeli civil law,” says Montell. “In East Jerusalem, theoretically, Palestinians are under Israeli law – but there is an unequal application of Israeli law, so Jewish children from East Jerusalem wouldn’t be arrested in the middle of the night.”

A life-threatening experience

Hunaida Iseed, a psychologist at Médecins du Monde Suisse–Palestine, tells Jerusalem24 that night arrests can be described as “a life-threatening experience for each member of the family”.

Night arrests: What psychological impact on children and family members?

The Psychological reaction of the family members depends on the aggressiveness of the arrest and the age of each family member. From our experience, we have found that children’s reaction can be classified in two main categories. The first ones are internal reactions such as fear of darkness, anxiety, insecurity, sleeping problems, inattention, and other emotional problems.

The second type of reactions are external, such as enuresis, hyperactivity, clinging to mother, and other behavioral problems. As for the teenagers, they might become more nervous and angrier, and it might affect their appetite and sleep.

In addition, we cannot neglect that they might develop emotional and behavioral problems too, but they are more internally directed. While they should be the source of safety and security, the parents also are affected. They might feel helpless at that moment and become more anxious and overprotective, specifically the mothers.

However it is good to keep in mind, some symptoms arouse immediately and others appear after weeks or months of the incident. The whole family might develop negative coping strategies, but family support and cohesion help to better cope with such incidents.

Source: Médecins du Monde Suisse–Palestine to Jerusalem24, 29 January 2023

Uncharted waters

The fact that the army essentially disregarded its own procedure may have more sinister motives than purely logistical or security considerations, ventures Montell.

“We are forced to make very hand conclusions about this,” says Montell, “because also from the military perspective, to send a huge group of soldiers in the middle of a Palestinian town or a refugee camp, you would think they would want to find ways to avoid this.”

“The fact that they’re insisting on these night arrests, leads us to believe that this traumatizing of communities is part of [the process].”

And with Netanyahu’s new extreme right-wing government at the helm, Montell is not sure what the future holds in store, particularly where HaMoked’s petition is concerned.

“We are in uncharted waters these days,” she says. “These days, you have to think, even if [HaMoked] wins in the High Court, will the judgment be accepted? Because we are now in the middle of a battle of a government that is very hostile to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.”

“So we don’t know what to predict, what the judges will rule in our case. Our case is very strong but still, we have seen that the judges are not always receptive to Palestinian human rights concerns, and [we don’t know] whether the Minister of Defense [will] accept the ruling of the judge or court.”

Find out more by listening to the full interview on Wake Up Palestine.

 

Nadeen Alshaer

Alshaer is a Palestinian journalist, a Birzeit University graduate with a B.A. in TV and Radio Broadcasting Journalism. Alshaer has 6 years of experience in journalism. She currently works as a reporter, editor and presenter/producer for PBC-Palestine TV and Jerusalem24 radio. She’s a UN and Kelley School of Business alumna.

Related Articles

Back to top button