Leave the Children Alone

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Last week, six-year old Mohammed Dirbas was arrested by Israeli occupation forces, held and questioned for four hours. If readers did not catch the first sentence, here is a repeat of the key words: six-year old/arrested/held/four hours. If the information has sunk in, so should the shock.

First of all, Israel is in flagrant violation of not only international law, but its own, which stipulates that a child cannot be held without a parent or guardian present during “questioning.” It seems odd that a six-year old would be questioned on anything other than what food they prefer, what letter they learned to write that day in school or what color their bike is. But Israel, the “democracy of the Middle East,” the defender of human rights, apparently found enough to ask a frightened six-year old in a dank and bare room in Israel’s police station on Salah Eddin Street in Jerusalem.

The first question that anyone might ask is, why? Israeli soldiers said the boy threw stones at an army jeep in his town of Essawiyeh. His family said he was on his way to the corner store when he was snatched by the army. But the obvious response to the question of why can only be this: it doesn’t matter, because there is absolutely nothing that could ever justify the arrest of a six-year old boy.

The second question someone might ask is what would possibly compel any army to decide to terrorize a child, regardless of their nationality. The answer with the Palestinians is quite clear. The soldiers who decided that Mohammed Dirbas was a perfect target did not think so because the boy had Herculean strength and could bring down their jeep with a stone. What went through this army’s mind was more of a long-term plan, deterrence against the creation of future Palestinian nationalists.

In other words, the soldiers arrested little Mohammed because they wanted to scare the living daylights out of him. They wanted to ensure that when they let the boy go home, he would be so grateful to be out of their grips, he would never, ever consider throwing a stone at an Israeli soldier. For Israel it is all about the long term, a policy very different and frankly, much more effective than us Palestinians who often react instead of strategizing.

Unfortunately, Israel’s long-term plans include victimizing Palestinian children. According to Defense for Children International –” Palestine Section, 105 children under 18 still remain in Israeli jails. Furthermore, the organization said that since 2008, it has documented 38 cases of children being held in solitary confinement. Children are routinely taken from their homes in the middle of the night, shackled, blindfolded and separated from their parents when interrogated.

The real concern here, which has only been heightened by the case of Mohammed Dirbas, is the lost humanity of Israel’s army in the occupied Palestinian territories. It was not long ago when the video of little Naama Margolis circulated the internet (for those who did not watch the Hebrew language television report), the Orthodox Jewish child who was cursed and spat on by the ultra-religious community of Beit Shemesh where she lives. I cannot speak for all, but the people I discussed the situation with felt only sympathy for the child, regardless of her nationality or her community’s position on the Palestinians. No child should have to endure cruelty like that, ever.

No doubt, not all Israelis would agree with their army’s actions, especially when this army arrests little first graders. But it is their responsibility to speak up just as it is any people’s responsibility to keep their official establishments in check. Israel is clear on its intentions, which are very Machiavellian in nature. If the end (stamping out Palestinian nationalism) justifies the means (arresting six year olds) than so be it. Losing pieces of their humanity along the way is simply an unfortunate but acceptable price to pay.

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