Don’t mention cartoons to the boys of Silwan. Their story of capture and harassment is more like a horror movie which hasn’t yet ended, even with their release—instead, it’s imprinted in their memories for the rest of their lives.
The boys are 13-year-old Jihad Zeitoun, 11-year-old Suleiman Abd al-Razaq Siyyam, 8-year-old Omran Mufid Mansour, and their companion Muhammad Yaroun, age unknown. Their journey has taken them from boyhood to manhood, well beyond anything they could’ve guessed.
Mansour says he’s surprised by what happened to him. “A big force came to the house in the morning and took me when I was sleeping,” he said. “They put me in a car and took me to the station and brought my mother in for interrogation. The interrogator asked me who threw stones at the police and if I participated.”
As for Muhammad Yaroun, he was arrested last night as he accompanied his friend Jihad Zeitoun to the store. “I was on my way with Jihad to buy groceries and suddenly they came at us, a group of musta’arabeen (Israeli soldiers dressed as
Arabs). Some of them were in street clothes and one of them had a skirt and blond hair. [After they arrested me], they put on their black caps.”
The raid began as the Israelis found three of the boys in the street and began to beat them. They singled out one of them—Zeitoun, age 13—and took him to the Be’er Yacoub mosque to beat him with a sharp stick. Then they came back and took all of them in a military van to Wadi al-Ribab, where they blindfolded them and brought them into the King David interrogation center to be photographed and interrogated. The boys’ mothers were not present for any of it.
The interrogation, which centered on the Silwan protests following the death of Samir Sirhan, lasted over 5 hours. The boys were asked if they threw stones at Israeli forces and if they knew of any other collaborators. They recall being threatened with physical assault if they didn’t answer.
Suleiman Abd al-Razaq Siyyam, 11 years old and in the sixth grade, was hit by a sound bomb in his eye and injured by rubber bullets in his foot as he was playing with friends outside in Silwan home.Image
The International Movement to Defend al-Aqsa
Ra’ed Halbi, a researcher with the International Movement to Defend al-Aqsa, said there has been a recent rise in arrests of children under 14 years old. In a meeting with the boys after their release, he tried to assess the psychological effects of their ordeal. He said their fear of any Israeli settler coming down the street works in tandem with the knowledge they have of the occupation from daily lessons in school.
“Hours of arrest and interrogation and days of detainment make these boys unstable and uncomfortable,” said Halbi.
Halbi also said the lack of any legal warrant violated the rights of the children to “freedom and life,” the rights sacred under any international agreement. Israel’s arrest of the boys, he claims, violated those agreements, in particular the Geneva Accords.
Halbi says he hopes for international intervention on behalf of Palestinian children, but stresses the need for mechanisms within Palestinian society to counteract the effects of child arrests.
The Committee Against Torture
Bana Badrana, director of the Legal Department at the Committee Against Torture, says the effects of arrest on children don’t end with their release. “Research in Silwan suggests that children who are arrested suffer from lack of sleep, bladder weakness, and a fear of going outside alone. They also may act violently in the families that have raised them for years.”
Nisreen Alyan, Lawyer: Arrests in Jerusalem Neighborhoods are Even Contrary to Israeli Law
Nisreen Alyan, a lawyer from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), said that arrests committed by Israeli forces in Jerusalem neighborhoods are against the Israeli legal system. She pointed to a number of infringements, including arrests in the middle of the night, lack of family supervision for persons under 14 during interrogation, lack of children’s specialists during interrogation, and exposure of children to assault, intimidation, and torture.
“After many protests and requests, one of the parents was allowed to accompany a child to the interrogation,” said Alyan, “but unfortunately, the interrogator was always present between the child and his parent because of interference. What is the reason for so many police and special forces and police dogs when they break into homes in the morning? Is it really to arrest a criminal who threatens Israel?”
Alyan said that two of the Silwan boys brought a complaint against the policemen who interrogated them, but the police closed the file against the policemen and presented a list of accusations against the boys.
Unsafe Space: Deterioration of Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem Neighborhoods
The ACRI released a report entitled “Unsafe Space,” showing a complete picture of the deterioration of Palestinians’ human rights in the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, especially of those living among settlers. The report showed how municipal police often fudge their duty to keep the peace for all of Jerusalem’s residents without discrimination or bias.
In one case in which two minors were arrested, police broke the law by harassing one population selectively and ignoring their complaints while the guards from the Ministry of Housing protected settlers who were taunting and persecuting
Palestinians, even firing live ammunition at them.
The report also documents a case of the police using “very problematic methods” in their interrogation of children accused of throwing rocks. The ACRI explained that testimonials from the children gave the impression of a very dark picture, in which children are taken from their beds in the middle of the night, then bound and dragged to the interrogation rooms without parents. The ensuing interrogations are violent, frightening, and undertaken by policemen not specially trained to interrogate children.
Despite the availability of police specialists in this area, the authorities have continued in this manner for the past few months. The Israeli Border Police, who man the internal checkpoints in neighborhoods and congregate around homes—often breaking down doors and rummaging around in houses—comprise a dangerous phenomenon when they interrogate children under 12. The age of 12 is the age of criminal responsibility in Israeli law.
Minister of Prisoners and Detainees: During Recent Months, 129 Children Arrested
Aisa Qaraqa’, Minister of Prisoners and Detainees, said in prepared remarks that the occupation authorities had started a war in recent months, arresting more than 120 children, mostly in the areas of Hebron and Jerusalem—including 60 children taken from their homes in Jerusalem. At this rate, he said, more than 700 children would be arrested in the year.
Qaraqa’ continued that since the year 2000, more than 8000 children under the age of 18 had been arrested, and most of them exposed to harassment, torture, blackmail, and intimidation. He condemned Israel’s violations of international agreements, especially the Convention on the Rights of the Child.