If You’re a 12-Year-Old Palestinian, You Could Go to Prison

­­“That night, I could hear him scream for me, even though he was far away and looked up. I woke up and I could hear him scream for me.”
Farrehan starts crying as she tells me about how her 12-year-old son Shadi was treated when he had just been arrested in December 2015.

“They took off all of his clothes and wet them with water, then they threw them back in the cell and turned on the air condition on the coldest setting…in December.

Shadi is kept in a center in Israel, waiting for a trial for a crime which never happened.
Despite Israel ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which states that children should only be detained as a last resort – 420 Palestinian children are detained by Israeli military or administration; 112 of them are between 12 and 15 years old.
Shadi’s Story
“They’re here!” Abu Shadi stands up nervously. His 12-year-old son Shadi just entered the room. He is together with his 13-year-old friend Ahmed and five guards from the juvenile detention center where they are kept.
Since they are both under 14 they are detained in this center and not prison, but with the new law which the Knesset passed in August this year, they will probably be placed in prison with adult offenders.
This is the sixth time in as many months that Abu Shadi is allowed to see his son. For five minutes the hall of the court building we are in is filled with voices and hugs, when Shadi and Ahmed are allowed the greet their families.

Photo Credit: Johanna Svanelind
Photo Credit: Johanna

Then they are taken away to be prepared for the court hearings.
Here in court is the first time I meet Shadi and Ahmed, and without at this point knowing the story of how they are charged with a crime which never happened, I am feeling uneasy.

There is something so wrong about seeing these Palestinian children in this position, seeing children treated as adults in Israeli jails.

The insecurity in Shadi’s and Ahmed’s eyes are not like anyone else’s in court this day.
Shadi’s mother, Farrehan, can’t come to the court hearings. She does not have a permit to enter Jerusalem, where the court is. Instead we meet her in their home. There are pictures of Shadi everywhere, and whatever we talk about, Farrehan says, ”Oh Shadi loved doing that!” or ”Shadi loved eating that!”

Photo Credit: Johanna Svanelind
Photo Credit: Johanna Svanelind

It is easy to notice how much he is missed, when she shows me his room she takes out his favorite clothes and puts them on the bed. She holds them to her face and as she smells them she starts crying quietly. “How can I still miss him this much?” she asks me, “it’s been seven months, but each day is still as hard.”
Later, I am told that his younger brother who shared his room does not want to sleep there anymore after they found the youngest son in there hugging Shadi’s clothes, crying.
Even Without a Crime…
Shadi and his friend Ahmed were arrested in December last year. They had gone to Jerusalem one afternoon, and were both accused of having a knife on them. Because of this, they are now charged with attempted murder, even though there is no victim nor any attack was ever carried out.
After long interrogations, where the family says brutal methods were used, Shadi reluctantly admitted to loosely planning an attack, but changed his mind and was on his way back home.
Despite international law claiming that a minor without a parent or caretaker must be protected, Shadi was held for more than two days and his parents were not allowed to see him. Later, he told his mother about how they took his cloth and soaked them with water before throwing them back into a cell where they had turned on a freezing air conditioner. In December.
Farrehan show me a letter which Shadi wrote to her for her birthday.

“For my mother, the most important in my life. I want you to keep your head high in the sky, like palm trees, never shaken by winds nor earthquakes. I want you, my mother, to be proud because what I am going through is a test from God. Mummy, I am sorry for making you sad and keeping you up at night.”

“I don’t want him to be a hero, I just want him to be a child,” Farrehan said with tears in her eyes.

Photo Credit: Johanna Svanelind
Photo Credit: Johanna

The amount of Palestinian children who are arrested by Israeli forces have doubled since October 2015. There are now 420 Palestinian children in Israeli Military Detention.
When children are arrested and taken to Israeli territory to be prosecuted and detained, far away from their families, Israeli military and authorities are breaking the Geneva Convention.
The UNCRC states that children should only be detained as a last resort and several international organization have demanded that Palestinian children are provided security and that Israeli military stop arresting and detaining children. You can read more about it here, here, and here.
In the past Israeli law was to offer extra protection for minors under 14 years of age, but Shadi’s family are worried that they will keep him in detention and postpone the trial until he turns 14. He has already been detained for seven months.
Since the center where he is held is located in northern Israel, Shadi’s mother has to apply for a permit to entry Israel, and pay around 1000 NIS (approx. 260 USD) for a taxi, each time she wants to visit her child. So far she has been able to visit three times.
Despite Shadi’s mother telling me over and over again how Shadi was not like other boys, how he cared about wounded animals and danced the traditional dance called Dabke, she also knows his situation is not unique.
“Shadi’s story is not only his story. More than 400 Palestinian children are in prison. I had the chance once to speak in front of the judge…”

“…I told him: if you put my son in prison, you will make him a hero for Palestinians, and a terrorist for Israelis. But if you give him to me, I can give him his childhood back. Unfortunately they did not listen.”

Written by Johanna.  Due to ongoing harassment from Israeli settlers–even after leaving Palestine–Johanna’s last name is being withheld.