Israel targets teens, children in protester crackdown
East Jerusalem // They came at 2am as the Gheit family slept.
Fifty Israeli special forces police officers, their faces covered in black ski masks, broke down the front door and dragged 16-year-old Mahmoed from his bed.
The young Palestinian was not even allowed to change clothes before he was taken off to a police station to be interrogated.
“I was allowed to see Mahmoed only once. He looked weak and drawn and his body was covered with bruises,” said Nahil Gheit, Mahmoed’s mother, at her home in Silwan, East Jerusalem. With tensions simmering in the city after a summer of war in Gaza, a number of murders and further attempts to build Jewish settlements, Israeli security forces are cracking down on young Palestinians taking part in protests and clashing with police.
Human rights groups have been particularly alarmed by the increasing number of very young being arrested, including children under 10 years of age. Most of the youngsters are accused of throwing stones or Molotov cocktails. Many are held for long periods of time without the presence of lawyers or parents, and are abused during detention.
Since July, more than 750 Palestinians have been arrested in the city with at least 250 of them under the age of 18, Israeli police said.
“The situation this year is worse than last summer because of the tense political situation including the military assault on Gaza,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, the Ramallah-based spokesman for Defence for Children International.
He said anger was also still high over the murder of a Palestinian teenager in Shuafat, East Jerusalem, by Israeli extremists in July.
Ever since, there have been clashes each night in Silwan between frustrated Palestinian youth and Israeli security forces and nightly police raids have become the norm.
Tension, arrests, shootings and bloody clashes have marred Silwan for years. Resentment among a disadvantaged Palestinian population suffering chronic unemployment, discrimination in housing and education and an increasingly hopeless future, has been building up against the influx of Israeli settlers, and their mushrooming settlements, all illegal under international law.
The underlying anger boiled over when 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was beaten and set on fire in a revenge attack after three Israeli settlers were abducted and killed in the West Bank.
The anger was stoked further last month when Israel approved the construction of 2,500 housing units in East Jerusalem, which has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The scale of unrest in East Jerusalem has become so great that on Tuesday the Israeli prime minister ordered his security forces to crack down on the protesters.
This has heightened concerns that it will be Palestinian children like Mahmoed who will bear the brunt of this crackdown.
“[Mahmoed] told me he was put in a very small cell underground with no light,” said Ms Gheit. “He was tied to a chair in a stress position and beaten during interrogations. He was also tied to the ceiling for 17 hours and sleep-deprived during questioning, which had gone on for nearly three weeks.”
In June, The legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, sent a letter to Israeli attorney general Yehuda Weinstein “demanding an end to the practice of physical and psychological torture and ill treatment against Palestinian children ... during their arrest and interrogation by Israeli security personnel”.
The situation did not improve. Since July, Jerusalem’s prosecutor-general has hardened the state’s stance towards Palestinian juvenile offenders, making the conditions of their arrest and interrogation much harsher than for Jewish juvenile offenders who have committed more serious crimes. This includes long periods of incarceration before trial.
Some of the youngsters, such as Mahmoed, have been held incommunicado for weeks in dark, tiny, basement interrogation cells where they have been beaten and tortured. Their families accuse Israeli authorities of forcing confessions from them.
“After the beatings and his brutal treatment, Mahmoed confessed to throwing stones and Molotovs because he just wanted the beatings to stop,” Jadallah Rajil, Mahmoed’s uncle said.
The Gheit family have been told by Israeli police that they will be neither able to visit nor speak with Mahmoed for the next few months while he is held until his trial date, which has not been set.
Mahmoed’s lawyer said his client faces up to three years in jail. Despite his young age, Mahmoed is already a veteran of Israeli jails, having been jailed twice before for stone throwing, the first time when he was just 13.
Ahmed Qaraeen, an activist from the Silwan Committee residents group, who was shot in both legs by Israeli settlers during clashes several years ago, said he thinks a third intifada is only a matter of time.
“How many Palestinians have been killed, how many homes have been destroyed, how many illegal settlements have been built, how many times have the settlers provoked violent confrontations? People are very, very angry,” Mr Qaraeen said.
* With Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
Updated: October 8, 2014 04:00 AM