It was the middle of the night when Israeli soldiers came to 15-year-old Jarrah Masalmeh’s home to arrest him.
Over the next five days, Jarrah’s family had no idea where he was being detained.
When they attended court during the trial ten days later, the family still couldn’t speak to their son.
Eventually convicted of throwing stones—something he says he didn’t do—Jarrah was sentenced to nine months in military detention, in a jail far away from his home.
When he was released, he wasn’t the same young man.
Unfortunately, Jarrah’s Masalmeh’s story is far from an isolated incident.
Two legal systems…two different experiences
Every year, hundreds of Palestinian children in the West Bank—like adults—face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment under an Israeli military detention system that denies them basic rights.
Since 1967, Israel has operated two separate legal systems in the same territory. While Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are subject to military law (where army commanders have full executive, legislative and judicial authority), Israeli settlers in the West Bank are subject to civilian law.
- In more than half of all cases, arrest happens in the middle of the night by heavily armed Israeli soldiers;
- During transfer, children are often blindfolded, hooded and/or painfully restrained with zip ties;
- In the majority of cases, children are interrogated without legal counsel and without access to a parent or guardian;
- Interrogations tend to be coercive, including verbal abuses, threats and physical violence that ultimately results in a confession;
- Children are often shown, or made to sign, documentation written in Hebrew, a language most do not understand;
- After sentencing, more than half of Palestinian child detainees are transferred from occupied West Bank to prisons inside of Israel—a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Upon release from prison, these children are typically traumatized, cautious about ever leaving the house for fear of going straight to prison again without question.
Relationships with their parents become strained, as there is a sense that they can no longer be protected.
There is a profound impact on children and families alike.
Why does it matter?
Beyond the moral questions, these practices are all in violation of international law, which protects children against ill-treatment when in contact with law enforcement, military and judicial institutions.
For instance, the UN Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)—both ratified by Israel in 1991—prohibit the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment under any circumstances. Full stop.
The CRC outlines, among other things, that:
- The best interests of the child should be a primary consideration in all actions (Article 3);
- Children should only be arrested and detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible time (37);
- Children have the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment (37); and
- Children in custody have a right to prompt access to legal advice and to a prompt hearing before an independent court (37).
In other words, Israeli authorities have no right to treat Palestinian and Israeli children differently under the civilian and military legal systems.
What can we do in Canada?
Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, third party countries like Canada have an obligation to hold Israel to account for these violations—by cooperating with other states to bring an end to the situation, refusing to recognize the situation as lawful, and abstaining from giving aid or assistance.
In short, Canada has international obligations.
The No Way to Treat a Child campaign—led by Defence for Children International – Palestine—is urging Canada to live up to these responsibilities, in word and in deed.
As a first step, the campaign is inviting Canadians to sign a petition to the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, calling on Canada to prioritize the human rights of Palestinian children and to hold the Israeli authorities accountable for widespread and systemic ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees.
We invite you to learn more, and join us as we work to draw attention to the situation faced by Palestinian children and their families!
By Jenn Wiebe, Ottawa Office Director
MCC participates in this initiative in both Canada and the U.S. In Canada, MCC’s engagement with No Way to Treat a Child is part of its own A Cry for Home campaign.