Right now, there are literally hundreds of Palestinian children in Israeli jails.
Up until recently, 12-year-old Dima al-Wawi was one of them. This past Sunday, the 12-year-old was released after a two and a half month stay in an Israeli prison. Al-Wawi is the youngest known female detainee to be held by Israel.
The pre-teen was arrested earlier this year at the entrance to the illegal Israeli settlement of Karmei Tzur for being in possession of a knife.
She was convicted of attempted manslaughter and sentenced to four months imprisonment following a plea deal.
“I am happy that she was released, but am furious about the situation. I was angry the day she was arrested, and on every one of the 75 days that she was in an Israeli prison. She was a girl who was always happy and wanting to play and now she came out of prison scared and weak,” al-Wawi’s mother told 972+ Magazine.
Al-Wawi was one of more than 400 children currently held in military detention in Israel. A comprehensive report by Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCIP) describes the pervasive abuse inflicted on minors in Israeli detainment.
The DCIP report extensively researched affidavits collected from 429 minors detained between 2012 and 2015, and includes dozens of testimonies.
According to the report, “No Way to Treat a Child,” three out of four of the 429 minors detained between 2012 and 2015 suffered physical abuse before or during arrest, or while being interrogated.
A whopping 97% did not have their family or lawyers present during interrogations. 84% were not adequately informed of their rights. 71% experienced verbal abuse, humiliation, and intimidation, among various other abuses.
More than 40% of the children were arrested in night raids, where Israeli soldiers drag groggy and terrified minors from their beds, often at gunpoint, bind their hands, blindfold them, verbally and physically abuse them, and throw them in the back of Israeli military vehicles, where many report being punched, kicked, and slapped by soldiers.
When the children reach the interrogation centers, they are frequently subjected to physical violence, and are threatened and intimidated into confessions.
Most of the charges are things like “incitement,” due to posts on social media, or throwing stones. Often, while they’re imprisoned, their families have little to no access to them.
In the report, a 17-year-old identified only as “Bashir D” told DCIP about his experience in an Israeli interrogation centre.
“[The Israeli interrogation officer] kicked me twice on my legs, punched me twice in the stomach and three times on the head, while shouting, ‘You better confess because I won’t stop beating you unless you confess.’”
According to the report, in 416 cases, children were not allowed to have their lawyers present during the interrogations.
In addition to the various abuses suffered during the arrest and interrogation process, 66 of the children reported being put in solitary confinement at some point during their detainment; one child was in solitary confinement for as long as 45 days.
Conversely, exactly zero Israeli children under the age of 14 are imprisoned, a disturbing fact that highlights the systemic discrimination inherent in the occupation. Israeli law prevents children under the age of 14 from being imprisoned, which also applies to settlers living in the West Bank in contravention of international law.
So while 12-year-old Dima al-Wawi was found criminally culpable and tried under military law, an Israeli child who committed an identical (or even worse) crime would be protected from incarceration by the civil law that only pertains to Israelis.
Israel has come under fire for its use of excessive force of Palestinian children, including the extrajudicial killings of children who are accused of committing crimes.
It is both difficult and infuriating to look at the photos of Dima that have flooded the interwebs, her eyes filled with the kind of deep and penetrating pain that no 12-year-old should ever know.
It is also important—and heartwrenching—to remember that there are literally hundreds of other children just like her in Israeli prisons, suffering various abuses and injustices, denied due process and basic human rights; essentially being punished for the “crime” of being Palestinian.
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