Communist Party of Australia


The Guardian

Current Issue

PDF Archive

Web Archive


Press Fund


About Us

Why you should ...

CPA introduction

CPA Policies

CPA statements

Contact Us

facebook, twitter

Major Issues





Climate Change



What's On







Issue #1437      25 November 2009

Framing the children

Teachers across the West Bank were on strike and Bil’in village school was shuttered, so 14-year-old Mohamed Salem Abu Eid and his mates decided to have a kick-about.

Nowhere left to go – two boys in Gaza surrounded by concrete and razor-wire playing amongst the rubble.

The youngsters were aware that the night before some kids had been throwing stones at the seven-metre-high separation wall that strangles the village and walls off land around the domineering, illegal Giv’on Hahadasha settlement. But they were not prepared for what happened next.

Seconds after clocking the plain-clothes Israeli soldiers bearing down, Mohamed was blasted with a faceful of teargas. Then he felt the butt of a gun clunk against his head, opening a gash above his eyebrow. As he collapsed into the dust a boot stomped his leg.

Hours later at the Atarot interrogation centre, Mohamed was informed that he had been seen throwing stones at the separation wall, a crime punishable by a prison sentence of up to 20 years under Israeli law.

Mohamed denied it, at which point his interrogator brandishing some documents in Hebrew, saying: “Go ahead and sign. Then you can call your father to come and pick you up.” As soon as the traumatised youngster did as he was told, the Israeli officer informed him that he had signed a confession and that he was now going to be thrown in prison.

At no point was a lawyer or a family member present.

Mohamed was locked up for four months after a brief spell in hospital.

The extensive Israeli checkpoint system served to prevent his family from visiting and he fell behind with his studies because there was no schooling inside.

Mohamed is just one of around 700 Palestinian children who will be locked up by Tel Aviv this year. There are currently 326 Palestinian children in Israeli prisons – the overwhelming majority for throwing stones.

Although Israel has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which clearly stipulates that the detention of children must be a measure of last resort, 91 percent of these children are denied bail and remain in pre-trial detention.

Mohamed’s case is different only because, shortly after his release, he was fortunate enough to come to the attention of a distinguished British legal team on a fact-finding mission to probe Israel’s West Bank military commissions.

The team’s independent report will be published shortly.

Helena Kennedy QC, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, has visited Palestine and Lebanon on a number of occasions, often in her capacity as president of the Medical Aid for Palestinians charity.

So she was confident that she knew most of what there was to know about the conditions endured by Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Addressing a public meeting organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign at the NUT HQ in central London last week, she said that what her team discovered “disabused me of that notion.”

Kennedy, with Mohamed and his mother Somaya sitting at her side, stressed that Palestinian children are tried not by judges but by military personnel.

“Some of the people who sit in judgement on these Palestinian youngsters are settlers,” she said. “It came as something of a surprise to hear some of them talk in American accents – they were Americans who had taken up Israeli citizenship before settling illegally in the West Bank.”

Kennedy and her eminent team, which included Michael Mansfield QC and former British bar council chairman Roy Amlot, found that 95 percent of cases involving children led to conviction due to confessions.

“This came as no surprise to any of us who had worked on the big terrorist trials of Irish people in the ’70s and ’80s,” said Kennedy. “Then we became all too familiar with confessions which arise out of interrogations where there are no lawyers present, behind closed doors, leading people to confess to things they are not guilty of.”

Kennedy explained that many of the lawyers she spoke to, including some Israelis, “told us of their horror at seeing that their young clients had been physically abused, that torture had been inflicted to extract confessions.”

The hardened British human rights lawyers were shocked to see how these courts dealt with children, who in this country would be dealt with in special juvenile courts.

“Children as young as 12 appearing before the courts, preponderantly because they had thrown stones at the wall.”

Was the problem that the stones would rebound off the wall and hurt people? The team ascertained that it was nothing to do with that.

According to Kennedy, “stone-throwing was simply deemed an affront to the state of Israel. It didn’t matter that there was no-one in the vicinity at all.”

Gerard Horton, an Australian lawyer who works in Ramallah as international advocacy officer for the Palestine section of Defence for Children International, explained that almost all children facing the military commissions plead guilty.

A child convicted of throwing stones can usually expect a sentence of three to four months.

“If they plead guilty they can expect to be sentenced within a month and released three months after that date, but if the child wants to profess their innocence and fight the case, they will be held in detention and the case may not heard for between five and 12 months,” Horton said.

The prosecution tends not to bring all witnesses to court at the same time so as to drag out the hearing. And then there is the real prospect that the child will be found guilty in any event and “face a sentence two or three times greater than if they had pleaded guilty.”

Once sentenced the children are bundled off to one of five prisons inside Israel, in contravention of article 76 of the fourth Geneva Convention. Like Mohamed, most do not get any family visits. There is rudimentary education provision in two of those prisons and none in the other three.

Kennedy observed that Tel Aviv is effectively “criminalising” a whole new generation. “It is through the lens of their experience at the hands of the Israelis that they see their future.”

Abdelfattah Abusrour, who was born in the Aida refugee camp and now directs a theatre training centre to inspire youngsters in the camp with “the beauty of non-violent resistance,” insisted that “nobody has the right to say all is hopeless.

“In Palestine, as in every place in the world, we do not have the luxury of despair.”

Mohamed and the hundreds of other Palestinian lads who endured abuse and injustice at the hands of the “only free democracy in the Middle East” this year are unlikely to forgive and they certainly won’t forget.

As well as sitting for hours in West Bank military “courts,” Kennedy and the other members of the fact-finding team also visited “lecture theatres packed with hundreds of enthusiastic young people, informing themselves about international conventions and humanitarian law.

“Those young people will be tomorrow’s leadership and they will go on with the struggle, giving voice to the wrongs that are being inflicted on their communities,” she observed.

After his ordeal Mohamed has been throwing himself into his studies with a renewed sense of purpose. When asked what he wanted to do after school, he answered simply: “I want to be a lawyer.”

Morning Star  

Next articleTrade unions: taking the fight across frontiers

Back to index page

Go to What's On Go to Shop at CPA Go to Australian Marxist Review Go to Join the CPA Go to Subscribe to the Guardian Go to the CPA Maritime Branch website Go to the Resources section of our web site Go to the PDF of the Hot Earth booklet go to the World Federation of Trade Unions web site go to the Solidnet  web site Go to Find out more about the CPA