Child Detention In Israel Palestine

As Embrace’s Programmes and Partnerships Manager for Israel Palestine, I have the benefit of spending time with the staff of the East Jerusalem YMCA, visiting and speaking with children who have been detained by the Israeli military or who experience real life challenges under the Occupation. The Director of EJ-YMCA, Nader Abu Amsha, who has himself experienced much of what these children go through, tells us about the work of this programme, its vision, and the hope and healing it brings to children and young people across the West Bank.

Peoples’ concerns in Israel/Palestine vary so much: some are thinking of how to spend vacations with family and loved ones, others are concerned about their income and their businesses. Bigger numbers are living in fear of the angry nature and the horror of the ongoing political conflict that they are caught in the middle of and or are hostage to as a result of where they happen to live. The majority of people are thinking of how to secure their basic needs. Now, almost everybody, is concerned about their health and when they will be free from all the measures imposed as a result of Covid-19.

Bethlehem in Palestine is not an exception, but all of these concerns are intensified in one place. Here the space is shrinking at all levels. The geography is becoming much smaller than ever before, with land confiscations from the Israeli Government to build new settlements, or to expand existing ones. Palestinian life is increasingly hemmed-in by walls. These only multiply the pain already experienced by the people, especially for those who lose their property and income revenues as a result. Everyday joys like going for a picnic are governed by military checkpoints. Conflict is still the dominating phenomena, even children are involved, resulting in more casualties, arrests, pain and making life harder and harder full of sorrow and loss.

To make life more complicated and difficult, cases of Coronavirus are on the rise. Although the testing ability of the various Palestinian health departments is limited, more than 0.003 of the population have tested positive. The health services are humble, the economy is collapsing, poverty is more obvious and prevailing viciously.

The good news is that we are in a country where people are patient and extremely hopeful, especially those who live in Bethlehem, whom, more than 2000 years ago, met the Angels face to face, received the Great news, including the all-important “Peace on Earth.” We belived it deeply, and we store this Good News in our hearts even today.

With the support of Embrace the Middle East, The YMCA through its Rehabilitation Program is still patiently night watching with lighted candles, trying to spread light and hope to the children and their families who live with the pain of trauma because of the occupation.

One of the consequences of the Occupation by Israel of Palestine is that military law applies to the territory under occupation. Under Israeli military law children as young as 12 can be arrested, questioned, imprisoned and prosecuted by the Israeli military.

The most common offence for which children are prosecuted is the throwing of stones. Many of those arrests take place at night, where children are taken from their beds by a group of 8 to 12 soldiers, all of whom are carrying weapons. The family are rarely fully informed about the grounds for the arrest or where the child is being taken.

According to the organisations that monitor the arrest of children by the occupying forces, a high proportion of children that are subject of arrest report that they were blindfolded when arrested and or their hands were tied using plastic ties which caused a level of pain and ,for some, caused significant swelling or injuries to their wrists.

It is also common for the child to be subjected to verbal and/or physical abuse during the process of arrest, transfer to detention and when being questioned. Many are transferred to prisons in Israel –which is illegal under international law. A consequence of this is that it is extremely difficult for family members to visit their children who are detained. This only adds to the psychological harm experienced during detention.

The Rehabilitation program which we at EJ YMCA run offers counseling for those affected by instances of violence as a result of the conflict, children who have been released after detention by the occupying forces and their families. The program also provides education for the children who drop out of school because they have missed out on too much whilst being detained by the Israeli military, or who are too traumatised to cope with a formal classroom environment.

Counselling happens on a one-to-one basis and in a group setting. We teach those attending coping mechanisms, life skills and educate them about peaceful resistance based on the lives and works of historic resistance movements around the world. There are options to learn various vocational training programs to help young people build a life and a future for themselves. The wider Rehabilitation Program also develops the capacities of young girls and boys living with disabilities to lead more independent lives.

In February 2019, 13 year old Milad  was playing football with friends near Nablus when Israeli soldiers entered the village. Milad was scared and ran, but ended up in front of the soldiers who handcuffed him, blindfolded him and put him into their jeep where he was beaten. 

Milad was detained for twelve days and attended court eight times. He was released on bail, awaiting a court verdict. Embrace’s partner EJ-YMCA provided Milad with counselling support for PTSD. Over time his self-esteem increased and he felt less scared. His school work also improved and he was able to join his friends playing football again.

Today the Program has expanded its witness to include additional help for those who can’t afford the protection and hygiene needs required since Covid-19. At this time we ask for prayer to strengthen and enable the YMCA to keep on with its mission and strengthen its witness to bring hope for to the hopeless and to open the eyes of the people, especially the young people, so they can see that there is light at the end of the very dark tunnel in which they find themselves.

We are asking our Almighty God, God of love God of Justice and forgiveness, to open our eyes, minds and hearts to look differently at the detention of the Palestinian children in Israeli prisons, give us the courage to address it not as a political issue but as an issue which breaks God’s heart and therefore ours.

With the grace and peace of God we can bring hope and a good future through programs that seek to rehabilitate those who have sustained psychological and emotional damage as a result of the occupation.

Lord our comforter, we ask you to keep the families of the detained children in your precious care. Give them all the strength required to bear seeing their children being woken up from their beds by the soldiers after midnight, seeing them blindfolded handcuffed and taken to interrogation. Relax them our glorious God and give them all the patience needed. Particularly at this time, let them trust that their kids will be safe from Covid-19 while in prisons.

Our healing and loving God, we put in your hands the girls and boys living with disabilities, to comfort them, to protect them from the Corona virus and to enable their families to offer them not only food and shelter but also safety and security.

We ask You God of light and love, to open the eyes of the Israeli soldiers and interrogators to see the children as they are, to remember that the pain which they might create could be avoidable, to keep in mind that violence leads to more violence and to remember that we all need to do justice, Love mercy and walk humbly with You Lord.

In Your precious Name we pray.

Amen

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