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Organized Trauma: Increased systematic child arrests in Palestine

International Solidarity Movement

20 May 2010

The arrest of Akram Sharawneh, 15

The arrest of Akram Sharawneh, 15

Akram Sharawneh, a 15 year old boy from Hebron, was released on Sunday the 25th of April this year after being randomly arrested by Israeli soldiers and spending more than two months in an Israeli juvenile prison (not all the period in juvenal prison). He is one of the many minors from Hebron who has been arrested and held captive in Israeli detention since the beginning of this year.

Akram was arrested the 23rd of February near his home in the old city of Hebron when he went out to buy bread. The day before his arrest, the Israeli Cabinet had declared several holy places in the West Bank as National Jewish heritage sites, including the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron. This declaration resulted in widespread protests in the occupied territories, especially in Jerusalem and in the old city of Hebron.

In the market Akram was stopped by two soldiers who then body searched him and demanded to see his birth certificate. This is not uncommon in the old city of Hebron, if you are Palestinian it is essential to always carry your identification card, and if you are a minor you must always have your birth certificate. Akram was wearing a red T-shirt underneath his shirt, once the soldiers saw this shirt, they claimed that they had seen him throwing stones and they arrested him at the spot. He was blindfolded and handcuffed and thrown into a military jeep. In the military vehicle one of the border policemen hit Akram several times on his neck. Akram and three other Palestinian boys, two 13 year olds, and one 19 year old, were taken to Kriat Arba’a settlement for investigation.

In Kriat Arba’a the boys were made to stand handcuffed and blindfolded for six hours. They were individually interrogated several times. During these interrogations the border police tried to threaten the boys into confessing to throwing stones. The police threatened Akram with physical violence and used insulting terms about his family. They told him if he admits to throwing stones he will be released, if he doesn’t, they will beat him more. However, Akram did not confess, he refused to lie about his actions despite their threats. When he continued to deny their accusations they brought out a form, which was an official confession, they tried to make him sign it and he refused. It is important to recognize that this reaction is an exception to what normally happens during this initial interrogation. According to the DCI (Defense for Children International) usually young boys confess to whatever they are accused of right away, or they are often tricked into signing a confession. These forms are always written in Hebrew, and the boys are sometimes told that it is a form for their release. Later in court when the form appears again it is actually a confession statement, which they have already signed, and the judge will not accept their claims that they did not know it was a confession statement.

At 8pm on the night of their arrest, Akram and the two other Palestinian boys were taken to an unknown military camp where they spend the night handcuffed in a military jeep. The fourth boy, who is 13 years old, confessed after significant police pressure and was released the same day.

On the second day Akram and the other boys were taken to Gush Etzion, a detention center in a settlement where detainees from the south are taken for interrogation. Akram and the other 13-year-old boy were kept in an outside prison cell and exposed to the same form of interrogation as the previous day. On the third day the boys were taken to their first hearing in Ofer Military Prison. At this point the boys had not slept, nor had they been offered any food. Akram drank two glasses of water only because he asked for them. It was the first hearing of the six trials he would have to endure in the two-month period he was kept in prison. After the court he was taken to Remonim prison, a special prison in Israel for Palestinian minors. In Remonim, Akram spent his first three weeks alone in a cell. He was let out everyday for three hours. During this time the Red Cross would give the boys lessons and they could talk together in a common room. Finally they put another boy in his cell. This boy is 16 years old and had been sentenced to five years for “planning to kill a soldier”. He had been in Sharon prison for 21 months already, and he told Akram that in this detention center the guards beat the boys regularly.

Throughout his imprisonment the military behaved completely inappropriately, among other occurrences, Akram had his new shoes stolen after one guard told him to take off his shoes before his third court. Before the last court a prison police officer threatened Akram that if he said one word in his court about what happened to him, he would be beaten. At one point Akram said that one high ranking officer told him that he could kill any three prisoners he wanted to, and nothing would happen.

Akram's mother, Leila

Akram's mother, Leila

Akram finally confessed during his sixth trial. In the end, the judge said that if he did not confess she would bring in each of the four soldiers who claimed they saw him throwing stones into testify. He could be in prison for another five months and she would take the soldier’s word. His lawyer from the DCI had advised that he should confess from the beginning because he knows the system; boys who confess are released. This is always the goal with child prisoners, he explained later in an interview: “As a lawyer and as a father – I cannot stand to let a child stay in prison – because I know the system – they will keep postponing the courts until they get a confession.” He went on to say “our first obligation is to be with the child and act in their best interest. But as a lawyer feelings are different…” The Israeli military court system uses lawyers as a “legal signature” (as a validation for their unjust system) and as a lawyer it is difficult to do your job knowing that your participation is a part of their continuing oppression. One of the ways to combat this system is to boycott it. By refusing to partake in it you refuse to recognize it as a valid system. As a method of resistance this can be very powerful, because it means that instead of giving confessions and instead of lawyers playing into their legal charade, everyone remains in prison. This has happened in the past, but it was limited. Boycotting the Israeli military judiciary system needs to happen on every level, from the lawyers, prisoners, families, human rights groups and NGOs, and from the Palestinian government. In the end you ask this of a child. Akram was clearly traumatized from his experience in prison. During the court hearings he would cry, he was under a lot of pressure to confess, but still he did not want to lie. But in the end he told his mother, I am tired, I want to leave this place, so he confessed. He was released and fined 1,000 shekels. When asked about why a child is fined for a confession and then released, the DCI lawyer made it clear that this money is just a punishment; it has nothing to do with the crime. They know a child cannot pay 2,000 shekels, they know the family needs to pay this money, and that they will pay this money instead of feeding their children. So now you make more enemies. He was released with the condition that if the Israeli military arrest him in the next four years he can be imprisoned for up to eight months without trial, and these sentences are often extended as court dates are continually postponed. This is the reality facing all Palestinians who are arrested and detained.

So why do the so-called “guilty” go free and the “innocent” stay in prison? Why the obsession with confessions? As the DCI lawyer explained, a confession justifies the arrest in the first place; a guilty arrest is seen as “justifiable” and “necessary”. Also, the Israeli military judicial system wants “to let you be in prison on your own account” stripping the system of responsibility and directing the blame elsewhere, it is seemingly your choice about whether or not you are released. It creates a very warped set of options, you can either be guilty or in prison, and for a young mind this is incredibly destructive. It creates anger. The young boys are much more likely to behave violently after being mistreated in jail for something they didn’t do. The lawyer gave an example of a boy from Hebron who was arrested so much in one year, getting steadily more angry at the system, that his family sent him to Jericho to give him a break from prison. He was reacting more and more violently as his arrests and experiences in prison continually traumatized him.

Of the eleven cases of under-14-year old child arrests in the first two months of this year, all have confessed. This number represents an increase in the rate of arrests of juveniles since last year. There are of course many factors contributing to why this is happening, it comes down to ideology. Sometimes it is just about maintaining a certain number of arrests, keeping up appearances in order to perpetuate the myth that the Palestinian territories are somehow “dangerous areas”, seemingly justifying Israel’s continuing occupation.

In Akram’s case several international laws were breached, including being interrogated without a lawyer and being moved out of the occupied territory and imprisoned inside Israel . When asked about how DCI lawyers use International law in these cases in the Israeli military court, the lawyer from DCI said, “When you talk in the military court about international standards it is like you are joking, the system does not care about international law.” Israel is a signatory to the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: “the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” Clearly Akram’s imprisonment was not a measure of last resort; it was random, unjustified, and illegal. Beyond this fact, even if the arrest was somehow justifiable, in no part of his detention did Israelis act with any consideration of Akram’s Juvenile status. During the court hearings the judge purposely prolonged his case in order to obtain a confession. And this is not special to Akram’s case; this is the standard procedure of a system that is designed around oppression, not justice.


According to the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty;
(a) Juveniles should have the right of legal counsel and be enabled to
apply for free legal aid, where such aid is available, and to communicate
regularly with their legal advisers. Privacy and confidentiality shall be
ensured for such communications; http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/45/a45r113.htm

Under Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the transfer of detainees out of occupied territory is prohibited. Apart from being illegal, the detention of Palestinian children inside Israel makes family visits more difficult due to freedom of movement restrictions. DCI, http://www.dci-pal.org/English/Doc/dbulletin/Issue_03.pdf

DCI, http://www.dci-pal.org/english/publ/research/CPReport.pdf