Detentions of children highlight the cruelty of the Israeli occupation

Detentions of children highlight the cruelty of the Israeli occupation

Ahmad Manasra after his sentencing hearing at the Jerusalem District Court on November 7, 2016. (AFP)

An appeal last week by a group of UN human rights experts urging the Israeli government to release Ahmad Manasra, a 20-year-old Palestinian who has been languishing in Israeli prisons since the age of 14, highlighted that within the larger picture of the harshness and cruelty of the Israeli occupation and blockade of Palestinian lands and people, there are even darker and crueler elements.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a child is any human being under the age of 18. However, this could challenge the legal systems of many countries regarding the age at which criminal responsibility should be set. Moreover, the United Nations agency working for children at risk, UNICEF, rightly asserts that “juvenile justice processes and practices should never have the effect of undermining the rights of children, but should always seek to empower and defend them”. Arresting and applying the criminal law to Palestinian children as young as 12, and sometimes detaining them with adults, is a travesty.
For those who suffer from life under occupation, resisting it is a badge of honor, mainly through legitimate forms of protest, but unfortunately also sometimes through acts of militancy against civilians, as was the case in Manasra.
In this tragic environment, good and evil are seen very differently and become confused. However, when children commit an act of violence, it should always be handled with due regard to the cognitive development of a child, not an adult.
All cases of detention of minors are a cause for deep concern, but that of Manasra is particularly worrying because he has been detained for a long time and suffers from serious mental health problems. As the UN experts said in their press release: “Ahmad’s imprisonment for almost six years deprived him of childhood, family environment, protection and all the rights that should have been guaranteed to him as a child”.
In 2015, Israeli security forces arrested Manasra, 13, and his cousin Hassan Khalid Manasra, 15, in connection with the stabbing attack on two Israeli citizens in the Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze’eve in East Jerusalem. .
Asking for compassion for the younger cousin could be misinterpreted as an expression of approval of the stabbing of innocent people, especially in this case where one of the victims was a 13-year-old Israeli on a bicycle. Yet the details of the case are important in understanding why keeping Manasra in prison is inhumane and a perversion of justice. His age when he was involved in the attack, the crime for which he was convicted and his mental state are obvious reasons for leniency, but also the fact that it was his cousin who carried out the stabbings before to be shot by the police. .
Moreover, before the police arrived on the scene, the young Manasra was run over by a car, then violently attacked and almost killed by a group of Israelis. In the aftermath of his arrest, according to some videos circulating online, he was mistreated during his interrogation by the police, not to mention that the interview took place without the presence of a lawyer or any support from his family members. or social workers.
Amnesty International reports that Manasra has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and suffers from psychotic delusions and severe depression with suicidal thoughts; therefore, prison is no place for him. Spending her teenage years, and now her early adulthood, behind bars and sometimes in solitary confinement can only exacerbate her problems.
Many in Israel would have been quick to reject those arguments, saying he shouldn’t have been involved in terrorism in the first place and therefore deserves his 12-year sentence, which was later reduced to nine-and-a-half years. on appeal. .
Yes, we would all like to see children of his age go to school, fulfill their potential and enjoy a happy life with their family and friends on their way to adulthood, like any other teenager in a normal country . But nothing about life in the West Bank and Gaza is normal, especially for children who see family members and friends killed, maimed and detained by occupying forces.
No sane person would like to see or approve of children being involved in violence or becoming easy targets for extremist indoctrination, and ending up dead, seriously injured or detained. Nonetheless, the way Manasra is treated is fueled by a desire for revenge and does not show the slightest degree of compassion for an individual who is clearly ill.
At any one time, there are between 150 and 200 Palestinian children held by Israel in detention centers and prisons. Most of the detainees have not been convicted of any wrongdoing, but are remanded in custody. Figures suggest that since 2015 more than 9,000 children, some under the age of 10, have been detained. In other words, they have already been punished, in what must be a terrifying experience of being arrested by heavily armed soldiers, handcuffed and blindfolded, then put in the back of a van, before be thrown into a detention center.
Israel might believe that this type of treatment punishes and deters detainees and others who might consider joining the resistance, but that is clearly not the case: it only fuels anger and hatred.

Nothing about life in the West Bank and Gaza is normal, especially for children who see family members and friends killed.

Yossi Mekelberg

Calling for Manasra’s release is not to minimize the pain and injury caused to the victims of the attack in which he participated, even though he was the lesser culprit. It is about showing humanity, compassion and forgiveness despite his childhood mistakes, especially one who suffered brutality from passers-by following the stabbing, as well as from public order officials. . Not only has he already been punished, first illegally by a mob, then through harsh interrogations and years in prison, but even if he were to be released today, his path to recovery and any semblance of a normal life would be long and arduous.
Manasra’s release would indicate the strength of Israeli society, not its weakness. Surely there must be someone in a position of authority who understands this and is wise and compassionate enough to do the right thing.

  • Yossi Mekelberg is Professor of International Relations and Associate Fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He regularly collaborates with the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg

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Michael A. Bynum