How do children fare under occupation? From the children in Yanoun and the surrounding villages we can see there are restrictions here which children in the UK don’t face – lack of facilities such as play areas and swimming pools which we take for granted. Children’s drawings portray guns and tanks, showing the underlying fear and trauma which comes from witnessing armed settlers and army incursions. One of the testimonies to the success of EAPPI’s protective presence in the village is the fact that the children feel safe to play in front of the International House.
What about the treatment of minors by the occupying power? We had a glimpse of what this can mean when we visited Bassam Nadar and his son Muhammed in the village of Madama, west of Yanoun, and listened to their story. Recently, as the villagers’ wheat was getting ready for harvest, settlers came down from the mountain and set fire to the fields. The villagers went to try to extinguish the flames, including Bassam’s two sons, Mohammed (17 years) and Ahmed (15 years). They had succeeded in doing so when an army jeep turned up and arrested the two boys, accusing them of starting the fire. They were taken to Huwara military camp, then to the settlement of Ariel’s police station, then back to Huwara and eventually to Majidu prison in Israel.
Bassam heard of the boys’ arrest through a journalist from Nablus, who had been with them, had photographs to prove their innocence, and intervened on their behalf. After numerous phone calls, Bassam found out where his sons were and eventually – on the third day – they were released – but on the condition that he went to Ariel police station and paid 2,500 Shekels for each son. He was advised by a lawyer not to pay, so Bassam went to Ariel police station and told the Israeli police he was unable to do so. His phone number was taken but – up until the present time, nothing further has happened.
In quiet measured tones Bassam’s eldest son, Mohammed, told us his story in his own words. He and his brother had been blindfolded and handcuffed whilst being transported between the different sites for interrogation, and nobody informed them – or their family – where they were. The soldiers had put their feet on his head and joked as he lay on the floor of the jeep. In Ariel police station his picture and finger prints were taken. Only on the third day was he able to speak to his father. When the two brothers were eventually released, this was at the border miles away from their village. It was with the help of a taxi driver that they were eventually able to make their way home.
This story illustrates a disregard by the Israeli army and police for human rights, even in the case of minors. Palestinian minors are dealt with under military rather than civilian law. This two-track system of justice which supports discrimination and undermines any rule of law illustrates to the Palestinians that they are second-class citizens and that there is no system of redress.
We can only imagine how children are affected by the fear and violence they experience, either directly or indirectly. Bassam told us that his younger son is still suffering psychological problems from his experience of being arrested by the Israeli army. As an occupying power Israel has an obligation to treat civilians humanely and never to discriminate against them. (Article 27, Fourth Geneva Convention). Israel is also a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). For Palestinian children on the ground these obligations may seem far from the reality.