Israel must stop imprisoning kids like Ahed Tamimi
Like all people around the world, the Palestinians simply want the right to live with dignity and freedom
Ihad barely fallen asleep when I woke to find an armed Israeli soldier hovering over my bed. He told me to get up quickly and put on a jacket. Half asleep, I was handcuffed, thrown into an army jeep, and taken to be interrogated. They had already taken my 16-year-old cousin, Ahed, the night before, and now it was my turn.
A few days earlier, the Israeli army raided our town of Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank to suppress our weekly demonstration against the illegal Jewish colony built on our land and the theft of our freshwater spring by colonists. During the demonstration, a soldier shot our 15-year-old cousin Mohammad in the face from close range, shattering his skull. He was rushed to the hospital and had to be medically induced into a coma. About half an hour later, we found soldiers in the front yard of Ahed’s home where we were sitting and tried to get them to leave. For demanding they leave, my unarmed cousin is now facing charges for confronting an armed soldier.
When a video of the encounter was shown in Israel, it went viral and many Israelis demanded that we be punished. So, the following week, soldiers came to Ahed’s home in the middle of the night and she was taken away to prison. The next day, her mother Nariman was also imprisoned when she went to check on Ahed. Later that night, I was arrested as well.
I was released on bail after 16 days, but Ahed has now been languishing in prison for nearly two months, as has her mother. On January 31, she spent her 17th birthday in a cell. The start of her trial in a military court has been delayed several times. The latest postponement came on Tuesday, when it was rescheduled for March 11. In a blatant attempt to avoid the scrutiny of the international media, the judge also ruled that journalists will be barred from attending. The charges that Ahed faces carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. I still face charges as well.
In prison, we were treated very badly. After being arrested, Ahed was taken into a basement cell and interrogated without a parent or lawyer present. She and I were repeatedly moved from one prison to another, held with regular Israeli criminals, and subjected to sexist and degrading verbal harassment. They deprived us of sleep and food, and I was forced to remain seated in a chair unable to move for long hours at a time. When we were brought to military court for a hearing, it was very hard seeing our parents sitting in the back feeling worried and helpless.
Ahed and I are the second generation of Tamimis to spend our whole lives under Israel’s oppressive 50-year military rule. We grew up under the constant watch and control of Israeli soldiers. At a young age, we had to learn resilience, determination and persistence. In order to survive, we had to be acutely aware of our surroundings at all times. Even the most basic things, such as being able to move freely or take a day trip wasn’t a possibility because of military checkpoints and other impediments.
Each year, Israel prosecutes between 500 and 700 Palestinian children in its military courts, which have a conviction rate of more than 99 per cent. Israel’s two-tiered legal system in the occupied West Bank has been condemned as “separate and unequal” by human rights groups. Colonists, including minors, are subject to Israeli civilian law while Palestinians of all ages are subject to martial law.
Palestinian children in Israeli military prisons endure systematic abuse — including threats and physical violence — and are pressured to sign confessions in Hebrew that they can’t read, all while being interrogated without a parent or lawyer. These abuses have been well-documented by human rights groups, and even members of the US. Congress are now taking action to stop them with a bill that’s intended to make sure American aid doesn’t fund Israel’s imprisonment of Palestinian children or violations of their rights.
We cannot stand up to Israel alone. The international community must also stand for justice and not tolerate Israel’s abuses of our rights, especially against children. I imagine my life without the hardships of Israel’s military rule, enjoying the simple liberty of being able to make it to class on time because there is no occupation military checkpoint closing my town. Not having to worry about me or my loved ones being killed, injured, or thrown into a military prison for standing up for our rights. Like all people want, we simply want to be able live in freedom.
Police in Israel have wrapped up an investigation that took well over a year into accusations of bribery and corruption against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — and have recommended that he be prosecuted by courts there. That it took so long to reach that conclusions comes as a little surprise — he is morally corrupt when it comes to his government’s deliberate and wilful mistreatment of Palestinians.
But why stop with charges that arose from receiving boxes of cigars and lavish gifts, all with the intent of influencing Netanyahu? Hold him responsible for the deliberate theft of Palestinian lands; the wilful destruction of Palestinian homes; the criminal kidnapping of protesters from streets; the assassination of demonstrators; grievous bodily harm for injuring thousands in attacks on Gaza; premeditated murder by unleashing his armed forces; of occupation on those living in the Gaza Strip; and the perversion of justice in ordering the rolling administrative detentions of prisoners; and intimidation and threatening behaviour for the secret trial of Ahed Tamimi.
If prosecutors in Israel were really serious and committed to the principles of justice, the list would be endless. As it is, the Israeli justice system serves Israelis alone. In any normal nation, a Prime Minister facing such charges would be morally obliged to step aside. Every Israeli PM over the past 20 years has faced corruption allegations. It goes with the job, and former President Ehud Olmert served 17 of 26 months on similar charges. Israel is no normal nation, nor can morals be placed in the same sentence as the name of its prime minister. The least Netanyahu can do is stand down.