Since he participated in protests against Israeli occupation, Ramzi Abu Ajamia has been on the run from Israeli authorities. The 12 year old’s home, situated in Bethlehem’s Dheisha refugee camp in the West Bank, has been visited by Israeli soldiers on multiple occasions. The first time they came on March 24th and did not find him, so, in his stead, they took Ramzi’s 16 year old brother and beat him up, leaving his blood on the street.
His father has urged him to turn himself in, as avoiding the authorities would only escalate the matter. He has expressed a real fear for his son’s life, and not without reason. Although official military protocol only allows soldiers to open fire if there is an evident threat, this mandate has regularly not been followed. Still, Ramzi refuses to turn himself in after seeing what happened to his brother. Also, he still professes his innocence.
Unable to return home, Ramzi has been forced to sleep outside and miss school, as he fears the soldiers would come and arrest him in class. His mother and siblings have also left their home temporarily in order to avoid the dangers of possible night raids by the Israeli authorities.
Unfortunately, child arrests are common occurrences in Palestine. Last January, Shadi Farrah and Ahmad Zatari, also both 12 years old, were arrested and accused of owning a knife and of attempting murder based solely on their possession of the knife. According to prisoner rights group Addameer, there are currently an estimated 406 children in Israeli authorities’ custody, with around 108 of them being under the age of 16.
There are two distinct legal systems in the West Bank: a military law for Palestinians and a civil code for Israelis. According to the Defence for Children International Palestine, the most common charge against Palestinian Children is throwing stones, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Reports have found that more than 1,800 Palestinians children have suffered in Israeli Prisons, and at least 75% of them are subjected to torture and abuses.
Unlike Israeli children, Palestinian minors are not allowed to be accompanied by a parent or guardian and are tried in military courts. They are often interrogated without the presence of a lawyer, and endure physical and verbal abuses which ultimately lead to a forced confession. When they arrive in court, in most cases being the first time they see a lawyer or their families since their arrest, most of them plead guilty as a way to get out of the system faster, as bail is a rare thing to obtain.
The Palestine Liberation Organization’s detainees committee found that more than 1,800 Palestinian children have been arrested and thrown in jail since last October, while at least 40 others have been killed by the Israeli occupation forces.
Israel has long since used the rhetoric of self-defence to justify its actions towards Palestinians, regardless of gender or age. Having the strong backing of the United States, masked behind armor, guns, and tanks, this nuclear power state seemingly trembles behind the power of a mere child throwing a stone. Maybe what it really fears is the undying spirit of freedom and bravery in these children. Since children are the future of a people, Israel’s true fear could be that Palestine’s future is not dead yet.
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