It is one thing to salute Ahed Tamimi’s bravery and turn her into a heroine du jour, but real respect for her courage would be to make sure that neither she nor other oppressed and abused Palestinian children have to continue to face Israeli oppression alone and unaided.
NABI SALEH, PALESTINE (Opinion) — One can barely go for half a day on social media without seeing new iconic images of Ahed Tamimi. Everyone who ever posed with her for a photo is posting, and some very creative art is being made of her almost by the minute.
But the truth is that we all failed her. Even those of us who regularly visit the village of Nabi Saleh and march with the people of the village to protest the Israeli oppression, though we cough and gag from the tear gas and we stink from the skunk water, and though some of us are arrested from time to time — we have all failed her.
We failed Ahed, just as we failed her young uncles Mostafa and Roshdy who were killed; and her cousin Mohammad who was shot in the head a week before her arrest, and miraculously survived; and just like we failed countless other Palestinian children who have been shot, arrested and tortured by Israeli forces for over seven decades.
If we had been vigilant, if we stood and cried louder, and if the world did not allow Israel to abuse Palestine and its children for seven decades, Ahed would not have had to kick the soldiers out of her house. No child should be alone and have to defend her home from armed, violent men as the rest of the world idly watches.
Many will recall the video from August of 2015, where Ahed’s brother, who had a broken arm at the time, is being chased down a rocky hillside by an Israeli soldier carrying a semi-automatic rifle and wearing a ski mask. When the soldier catches up with the boy he picks him up then violently throws him on the ground and visibly tries to break the boy’s healthy arm. The boy was terrified and in terrible pain and even then, none of us were there to defend him. His sister Ahed, his mother, his aunt and other women from the village — all unarmed, all risking their lives — fought off the soldier and saved the boy.
On December 7, 2017 images and a video were published of a young Palestinian boy in Hebron being led, handcuffed and blindfolded, by some 20 armed infantry soldiers. The boy is 17-year-old Fawzi Aljunaid. His shoulder fractured, Fawzi was eventually released after paying $2,800 bail. Where were we and where was the world when he was thus abused, and why do we allow the Israeli authorities to profit from such abuse?
According to a report published by Addameer, the Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, approximately 700 Palestinian children under the age of 18 from the occupied West Bank are prosecuted every year through Israeli military courts. Since 2000, more than 12,000 Palestinian children have been detained, the most common charge against them being throwing stones, a charge that now carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison — or 20 years if the state can show proof of intent.
The prohibition against torture . . . is universal and absolute
In February of 2013, UNICEF, the United Nations International Children’s Fund, published a report titled “Children in Israeli Military Detention.” The executive summary states:
[The report] concludes that the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing. It is understood that in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights.”
UNICEF, has been gathering information on what it calls “grave violations committed against Palestinian children by Israeli authorities” since 2007. The report further states that for “many years” there have been claims of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment” of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities. UNICEF further states that “International law prohibits the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment under any circumstances,” and that “the prohibition is absolute and unconditional.”
While all that is needed for the protection of children is already stated in international law, in the case of Palestinian children there is no recourse and no authority to force Israel to comply with that law. As in other matters, on the issue of mistreatment of child prisoners, Israel is getting away with severe violations of international law. This is true even though there is a 1999 decision of the Israeli Supreme Court, legally binding on the Israeli military courts, which prohibits torture: Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and others v. The State of Israel (1999) 53 (4) PD 81 (“The Torture Ruling”). The ruling includes all interrogation performed by Israeli authorities, not limited by territory, and refers to Israeli Security Agency interrogations in particular.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child has stated that state parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child should establish separate facilities for children deprived of their liberty — including distinct, child-centred staff, personnel, policies and practices — but the Israeli military court uses the same facilities and court staff for minors as it does for the adult military court. In September 2009, in response to documentation regarding the prosecution of children as young as 12 in adult military courts, Israel did establish a juvenile military court — the only one in the world. However, the staff that operates this court is the same staff that operates the adult court — and the facilities are also the same.
Before a detained child is put to trial, he or she go through a process that is harrowing in itself.
It typically starts with being aggressively awakened in the middle of the night by armed soldiers. The soldiers invade the home, forcing all family members to stand outside in their night clothes while they search the house. The search often includes destroying furniture, throwing the family’s belongings on the ground and breaking windows. Then the child will be blindfolded, handcuffed and shackled, as he or she is taken away to an interrogation center. Children are rarely informed of their right to an attorney or the right to remain silent, and parents are rarely informed as to where the child is being taken, why, or for how long.
Signing a confession in a foreign language
Most children confess at the end of the interrogation, either because they have been advised that ‘confessing’ is their only way out of the military detention system or as a result of being implicated in a confession given by another child. The child will be shown a form in Hebrew and ordered to sign it. Palestinian children do not learn Hebrew and, even if they speak it, they are not fully literate and able to understand legal documents.
While Ahed Tamimi is being praised for her courage and even idealized as a heroine of the resistance — her very actions should be seen as an accusation of all of us. We should have protected her and her family. The courage that she displayed points up the lack of courage by the rest of the world to stand up to Israel.