Israel is a Child Torturer

Sana Wazwaz, contributor

CW: torture, sexual violence

14-year-old Ammar was asleep the moment he was dragged to Israeli prison. It was 3 a.m. on the summer night that Palestinian child was blindfolded, shackled and yanked out of bed by Israeli soldiers. When his blindfold was violently ripped off, he awoke not to sun, but glaring prison lights. There, he sat alone, chained in an unfamiliar cell. I imagine he knew what was coming for him, a place all too familiar for Palestinians — where toilet access is rare, strip-searching is regular, sleep is forbidden and food is often served after mice crawl over it, if it’s even served at all. This is the place he’d be held in for six months: Israeli military prison. 

What was his alleged crime? He threw a rock. He’d been charged with throwing a rock at a fully-armed, gun-wielding soldier that was illegally occupying his land. Apparently, his rock was oppressing a nuclear superpower. And that rock — that God-forsaken rock — made Ammar a victim of a vile, illegal system — Israel’s military court system. 

According to Defense of Children International (DCI), Israel imprisons 500-700 Palestinian children every year, most for accusations of throwing stones. Rock throwing, under Israeli law, is punishable by 10-20 years in prison. Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reports that, of these children, 60% were under the age of 14. This so-called justice system is by no means just — it has a conviction rate of 99.72% against Palestinians, and there’s no wonder why. According to DCI, 97% of Palestinian children’s interrogations have been without a parent or lawyer present, and over 75% involved violence to coerce an admission.

DCI reported on another 15-year-old Palestinian boy who was arrested by Israeli forces at 5 a.m. on Jan. 13, 2021. The boy said his interrogator “knocked him to the floor while blindfolded and raped him with an object,” and promised to continue raping him until he confessed to a crime. Once the boy desperately confessed, he was forced to sign a document in Hebrew — a language he didn’t understand — and confessed to crimes he couldn’t even read, let alone commit. This is to say nothing of Israel’s brutality inside the prisons. Amnesty International reports that Palestinian children are routinely beaten, shackled into stress positions, forcibly deprived of sleep, frequently sexually assaulted and subjected to solitary confinement.

I know what you’re thinking: Maybe this situation is more nuanced. Maybe some of these detainees were actually radical Palestinian kids involved in terrorist schemes. Maybe rock-throwing is a violent, dangerous act, and maybe I’m unjustly brushing it off. But I’m not. 

First, military occupation is exceptionally more violent than throwing rocks, and only one of these is illegal under international law: It’s not kids resisting their armed occupiers — it’s the occupation itself. Second, Israel’s torturous practices are still unequivocally illegal regardless of the alleged crime. The UN’s Convention on Children’s Rights, ratified by Israel, demands that children only be deprived of liberty “as a means of last resort.” And the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture placed an absolute ban on solitary confinement for children. Lastly, if torture was necessitated by the gravity of rock throwing, why aren’t Israeli counterparts punished equally? An article published in Haaretz reported that a 20-year-old Israeli rock thrower was sentenced to public service and given eight months of probation. Why, then, are Palestinians almost half his age not treated similarly?

I’ll tell you why: It’s because they’re Palestinian. And their Israeli occupier is a child-torturing machine that’s built on suffocating Palestinian lives. This machine is nothing close to moral as it claims — it’s a racist and cowardly occupier that shackles Palestinian childhood until it ceases to be.