No Way to Treat a Child

By Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach

In the documentary “Detaining Dreams,” Abed, a 15-year-old Palestinian, tells how he was arrested by Israeli soldiers at gunpoint in his home while sleeping and then was taken away, handcuffed and blindfolded. While in detention he was beaten, interrogated and placed in solitary confinement before eventually being released on bail.

Abed’s story is not unique. At the end of April (the most recent numbers available), more than 400 Palestinian youth were being detained by the Israeli military. A recent report showed that three-quarters of children who are detained experience physical violence after their arrest.

Two separate legal systems operate in the West Bank, which has been occupied by Israel since 1967. If a Palestinian teenager such as Abed is arrested for allegedly committing a crime, such as throwing stones, he is subject to the Israeli military court system, with no protections for juveniles. If an Israeli teenager living in a settlement nearby is arrested for a similar crime, he is subject to Israeli civilian law with many more protections and rights.

Israel is the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes children in a military court system. Israel is now also using “administrative detention” against children, under which a child can be detained without charge or trial indefinitely.

Nearly half (46 percent) of the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza are under the age of 18. For many of these children, their limited interactions with Israelis consists mainly of dehumanizing interactions with soldiers. All aspects of their lives are impacted by the Israeli military occupation—from the soldiers they encounter on their walk to school each morning, to how much clean water they have for bathing and drinking each day.

The costs of this are huge for everyone involved. In addition to the tremendous suffering of Palestinians as a result of the occupation, Israeli young people are also directly impacted by the occupation, living in a highly militarized society and drafted into the Israeli military at 18 years of age.

This simply is not a sustainable situation for anyone. After a recent attack by two Palestinians on a café in Tel Aviv, mayor Ron Huldai noted how the occupation fuels grievances and anger, saying, “You can’t hold people in a situation of occupation and hope they’ll reach the conclusion everything is alright.”

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and 19 other Members of Congress recently signed a letter to President Obama, raising concern about the issue of child detention and calling on the president to appoint a Special Envoy for Palestinian Children’s Rights.

Jesus made clear that how we treat the youngest and most vulnerable among us matters to God. When his disciples tried to stop children from approaching him, he said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Luke 18:16).

If your member of Congress signed onto the McCollum letter, please send a thank you note. To learn more about the issue, visit No Way to Treat a Child, a campaign supported by Mennonite Central Committee U.S.