During the current escalation of violence in East Jerusalem and other occupied areas, Israeli government forces have been conducting mass arrests of more than 1,550 Palestinians, including a number of children. This is part of the state’s ‘Operation Law and Order’ initiative, pronounced mass incarceration of Palestinian citizens in Israel as punishment for their participation in protests responding to the recent bouts of settler violence and family evictions.
Police are singling out children in protests, violently detaining them and charging them with throwing stones. This is a crime in Israel, with a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. Israel is the only country in the world that regularly prosecutes children in military courts.
According to Al Jazeera, in Haifa, children make up 20 percent of recent arrests. Lawyer Janan Abdu said that police forces were “intentionally targeting minors”.
Additionally, UNICEF has reported that 35 schools have been damaged in Gaza, and three more in Israel. In the West Bank, children are being injured and arrested on their way to and from school.
Furthermore, when police do arrest minors, they often do so violently and arbitrarily. Thirteen-year-old Mohammed Saadi was arrested by five members of the undercover police Musta’ribeen unit after a funeral procession for Mohammed Kiwan, a 17-year-old boy Israeli forces shot a week earlier. Saadi was kidnapped, beaten, and detained for three hours without legal representation. Police also attempted to force him to confess to crimes he had not committed.
In the most recent bout of violence in the area, Israeli state forces have killed at least 66 Palestinian children in the month of May alone. Humanitarian organisation offices that provide much-needed support to children in the area were also bombed in the recent Israeli airstrikes on civilian buildings, limiting what aid they can give. The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF)’s office was one of these. According to PCRF founder and president Steve Sosebee, this makes it harder “for us to organise and implement direct humanitarian relief at a time when Gaza children need it most”.
Both the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Human Rights Council are investigating potential war crimes perpetrated by Israeli forces. However, their efforts are impeded when key players like the US and others in the international community do not decry this state-sanctioned violence. Western media outlets are careful in how they cover state actions in Gaza and other areas, so as not to alienate the Israeli government. Economic and political concerns seem to outrank the human toll this crisis has, and that needs to end. The decades of violence needs to finally stop, to end the cycle of brutality against innocent youth.
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