Today I will be copying directly out of the journal I kept while I was in Palestine. What is found here is the culmination of very detailed notes that I took during a visit with a friend at Military Court Watch while visiting Sabeel. I don’t think I could write it any better than I did while there.
**Disclaimer: If any inaccuracies are found, please comment below and point them out so that I can change them.**
In 1967 the military laws and courts were put in place in the Occupied Territories. These laws are in addition to – and some times transcend – the mundane civil laws. It is because the Palestinians are, by Israeli law, residents of the Occupied Zones that they can only be tried by the military courts. In these situations the military commander creates the laws, not the President or Prime Minister. Of course the thing that everyone knows and nobody says is that Martial Law is supposed to be temporary. This occupation has been going on for 50 years.
It is mostly men that are arrested and detained. Statistics show that 25% are infiltration arrests, meaning the person isn’t licensed to work in Jerusalem and is caught doing just that. Another 25% is for traffic offenses, but the most common offense is for throwing stones. Yes…you read me correctly. Throwing stones. Sometimes they are thrown at settler cars, sometimes at checkpoints, sometimes at the separation wall, sometimes at observation towers, tanks and the IOF (Israeli Occupation Force) soldiers that are armed to the teeth and in full gear. The military courts emphasize, and indeed only exist to emphasize control. Rock throwing, you see, is considered an act of resistance.
The main objective, perhaps the only one, the military has is to keep the settlers and settlements in the West Bank and Gaza safe. There are 400,000 settlers living in the Occupied Zones – all, of course, feeling that it is their land by gift from God -and the only real protection that they have is the 1/3 of the IOF that is allotted in this “friction points.” The million dollar question is how, on such a small crew of people, do the IOF successfully achieve their campaign – because there is absolutely no doubt that they are very good and very successful at their jobs. The answer is psychological warfare – it’s cheap, easy and requires few resources.
The Occupied areas are divided into areas and further divided into jurisdictions. In each jurisdiction there is a Jr. Commander appointed to ensure the security of the settlers. When an act of resistance is shown, such as rocks being thrown, a chain reaction swiftly begins.
Generally a settler calls the police about some villagers throwing rocks. The logical assumption is that they are male between the ages of 12-30 and in a village close by. Whether or not they find the actual stone thrower, the result is the same: collective punishment. Within 48 ours the IOF storms into the camps/villages. It is always within 48 hours so that it establishes a strong cause and effect relationship in Palestinian minds. Generally raids and arrests are conducted at night, the reason is twofold; riots don’t have the time to form and it traumatizes the villagers. Soldiers attach a machine to the front door of the home which utilizes air pressure to silently open the door, allowing them to break in. This kind of terror preoccupies the mind, preventing villages from strategizing. Using informants – ones that are often blackmailed into the role – tears at the social fabric of the community, making everyone distrust each other thus incapacitating them for any sort of coherent resistance.
These night raids aren’t so much about arrests as it is about intimidation. For IOF it’s all about the proximity of the Palestinians to settlements and access roads. They want them to move – but how can that happen when Israel refuses building permits, won’t give them citizenship so they can get a visa to leave and certainly make no moves to help find meaningful work? Children are often woken in the middle of the night, tied and blindfolded, forced into a paddy wagon where his parents can’t find him. They are then driven to a detention center and forced to wait for eight hours for booking to open. They are given no food, no water, no sleep, no access to a bathroom or a lawyer. Kids are forced into giving a confession, which is in Hebrew – a language they don’t read – and told to sign it. If they ask for a trial they will be in jail for at least six months. If they please guilty, however, they’ll get only two months. So of course, it’s more expedient to plead guilty even if you’re not.
What I’ve presented here is the most roughest outline of child imprisonment. The best thing that you can do is visit Military Court Watch’s website and view their testimonials that have been taken from child prisoners about their experience. You can find them here. While I was in Palestine I had the great fortune to find a book in the Educational Bookshop called Dreaming of Freedom: Palestininan Child Prisoners Speak. It is a quick read and you may purchase it on Amazon (along with its second volume). To get a much more nuanced understanding, please purchase the book.
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