From April 25 to 27, I and other United Church and Mennonite Central Committee colleagues are going to Ottawa to meet with members of Parliament, senators, and government officials. We are privileged to have as part of this delegation Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories (Michael is a Canadian and Professor of Law at the University of Western Ontario), as well as Brad Parker, who is International Advocacy Officer and Attorney with Defense for Children International—Palestine (DCIP). DCIP is a Mission & Service partner of The United Church of Canada. They will also address a public event on Thursday, April 26.
Together, we will carry the message from Israeli and Palestinian partners that the situation is urgent, that they are facing an impossible moment. They assert that now is the time for strong constructive Canadian international leadership before hope and the opportunity for a just and peaceful resolution is lost. We will also carry with us stories, stories of Palestinian children who have been detained under the Israeli military detention system.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinian children and Israeli children live in separate communities right beside each other. On Shuhada Street in Tel Rumeida in the West Bank city of Hebron, Palestinian and Israeli children live across the street from each other. And yet, how these children are treated before the law is starkly different. This is because Palestinian children in the occupied territories are subject to Israeli military law, while Israeli children living in the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are subject to Israeli civilian law.
We will carry with us to Ottawa the story of Fawzi Mohammad Fawzi Jnaidi. Fawzi is 16 years old, Palestinian, and lives in Hebron. On December 7 last year, he was on his way to an aunt’s house when he noticed there were clashes with Israeli soldiers near the container checkpoint. He stopped for a while to watch what was going on. But then the Israeli soldiers threw tear gas bombs and stun grenades, and he became scared and ran away from the teargas and the soldiers. As he was running, he literally bumped into one of the soldiers, who beat him up. There were other soldiers hiding in the area to arrest the protesters. They all attacked Fawzi and beat him up. They knocked him down to the ground on his face and hit him on his head, back, shoulders, and chest. They kicked him and hit him with their rifles for few minutes. Then they blindfolded him, tied his hands behind his back with a single plastic cord, and kept beating him and stepping on his legs where he was still lying on the ground.
After that, they got him up and forced him to walk to the checkpoint. He was very scared and did not know or understand what was going on. He walked for about 30 metres, accompanied by some 20 soldiers. When he arrived at the checkpoint, he remembers his face bleeding, mostly his lips, because of the beating. They took him to a room, knocked him down to the floor, and began kicking him all over his body; he was screaming and begging them to stop, but they kept beating him for about five minutes…
We will share Fawzi’s experience and those of some of the other 500–700 other children in Palestine each year who are also detained under the Israeli military system. Like Fawzi, they experience physical and verbal abuse and humiliation. In most cases, the Israeli military arrest children from their homes in the middle of the night, without notifying parents of the reason for their child’s arrest. Often the kids do not have access to lawyers or their parents. Children are not informed of their rights. Isolation is used for coercion and they are frequently forced to sign a confession in Hebrew, a language they cannot read and do not understand. Children are often charged with throwing stones, which carries maximum sentences of 10 or 20 years, depending on the circumstances.
Experts like UNICEF have called this “a systemic ill-treatment” of Palestinian children under military law, which is only one facet of the 50-year long Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. By sharing the story of Fawzi and other Palestinian children who have similar experiences, we hope busy Canadian politicians’ hearts will be touched and it will strengthen their resolve to bring international leadership for a just peace in Palestine Israel. In spaces like the United Nations bodies and through its direct relationship with Israel, Canada has a unique opportunity to chart a courageous path, one that promotes respect for international law, the rights of all children—Palestinian and Israeli—and contributes to a just, negotiated, and lasting peace.
—Christie Neufeldt is Program Coordinator, Public Witness, Advocacy, and Campaigns, for The United Church of Canada.