Palestinian youth in jeopardy

By April Kabagambe

Jarrah Masalmeh with his father Walid. Jarrah, who lives in Beit Hawa near Hebron in the West Bank, was detained by the Israeli military at age 15 and was in prison for nine months on charges of throwing stones. He denies doing this.  (MCC photo by Meghan Mast)

Many of us like to have our days planned out when we start the morning. We send our children to school, we head to the gym or to work, we meet with coworkers for lunch. At the end of the day, we expect to return to our homes to spend time with our families before we start a new day.

But life is often not so predictable for Palestinian families living under occupation in the West Bank. Sometimes simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time can mean arrest and detention, even for children.

Many times youth are taken from their homes during the middle of the night, when they are vulnerable, handcuffed and blindfolded, leaving families scared. Arrests also take place on the street near demonstrations or checkpoints. These are sometimes the last moments family are able to see their children for several months until their court date.

This June will mark 51 years of Israeli occupation, which has left more than two generations of Palestinian youth growing up with less than basic human rights. Each year on average 850 Palestinian youth in the West Bank are detained for “security reasons” under Israeli military law. Israeli settlers in the West Bank are subject to civilian law.

Over the past decade the Israeli government has made minor changes to its military court system. In written form the improvements give the impression that the courts are operating more fairly, but the rights of minors are still being violated when they are arrested. Children, as young as 12, are often interrogated without access to their parents or a lawyer.

Palestinian minors are often subjected to harsh interrogation practices, which include physical violence, threats, and verbal abuse, until they confess. When young Palestinians are brought before a military court, where they usually meet their lawyer for the first time, the main option that is placed before them is to take a plea bargain. Though Israeli settlers are convicted around 8 percent of the time, Palestinians face a 99 percent conviction rate. This gives the impression of guilt, whether it is true or not.

“Our first charge is that we are Palestinian, and the rest is just filling in the gaps,” according to Bassem Tamimi. Bassem’s 17-year old-daughter, Ahed, was arrested in a night raid on her home in December, for slapping an Israeli soldier. Earlier soldiers had shot her cousin with a rubber bullet. During her interrogation, Ahed and her family were threatened by her interrogator. Unfortunately, Ahed’s case is not unique.

Mennonite Central Committee is part of a joint campaign, No Way to Treat a Child, that aims to bring more awareness to abuses within the Israeli military court system. Each child has a right to a secure and safe future. U.S. legislation has been introduced to protect the rights of Palestinian youth. Support campaigns such as No Way to Treat a Child and ask your legislators to support H.R. 4391.


April Kabagambe is an international affairs intern at the MCC Washington Office this semester.