What if it were your child?

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Almost every subject can be argued two ways, especially when the subject at hand is as controversial as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. No matter how unjust the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip is, there will always be those biased souls that justify it with the “Hamas terrorists” argument and the hackneyed Israeli pretext of state security. However, one subject, which cannot possibly have a flip side to it, is the torture of children. Only a deranged and perverted mind could justify that. Oh, and of course, Israel’s security establishment.

On May 18, Defense for Children International released a press statement in which it said it had filed a complaint with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in which it documented the cases of 14 Palestinian children who were either sexually assaulted or threatened with sexual assault by Israeli interrogators, soldiers or police last year. Throughout 2009, DCI’s Palestine chapter reviewed over 100 affidavits from Palestinian minors between the ages of 12 to 16 who gave sworn testimonies of their torture and sexual assault at the hands of Israeli soldiers or interrogators.

To read some of these affidavits is shocking. Israeli interrogators bind boys as young as 13 to chairs, sometimes handcuffed, and squeeze their testicles until the child admits to throwing stones. In other sworn affidavits, all of which were taken immediately after the boys were released, the minors recount how Israeli soldiers or interrogators slap them, kick them, call their mothers whores and threaten to rape them. “He started beating me all over my body and once again he grabbed my testicles and started pressing hard. ‘I won’t let go of your testicles unless you confess,’ he said to me. I felt so much pain and kept shouting. I had no other choice but to confess to throwing stones,” said one 15-year old boy in his testimony to DCI.

It is common knowledge that confessions under torture are inadmissible in court, even for adults. The violations of children’s rights in these cases are off the charts, obviously. For one, the arrest of a child is only to be used as a “last resort”. Israel arrests 700 children on average every year from the West Bank. Furthermore, the Fourth Geneva Convention stipulates that each and every person is entitled to a fair trial, something Palestinians in general, children included do not have. Most important though, is this:

Article 2(2) of the UN Convention Against Torture states:

"No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

Under no law, except maybe the law of the jungle, is it justifiable to use torture, especially on a child. Israeli forces not only drag children out of their beds in the middle of the night and handcuff and blindfold them in front of their families, they are exposed to terrible conditions once inside the detention center. Children are deprived of sleep, are made to stay in one position for hours, are not allowed sufficient food or water and are intimidated constantly by their interrogators and prison wardens.

The testimonies of sexual abuse however, are the most disturbing. How can such vile acts be going on under the nose of the civilized world? This is Israel, a country that claims it is democratic, that it respects international law and human rights and is constantly extending its hand in peace. This is Israel, a country that prides itself on its judicial system, mocks the primitive systems of neighboring Arab countries and insists that all it does is in the name of its security.

This is when their argument falls through. In the overwhelming majority of cases where children are arrested, either from their homes or from the street, children are charged with throwing stones. Logically, even if a 12-year old had thrown stones at an Israeli army jeep, which is fully armored and bullet-proofed, how could this possibly constitute a threat to the soldiers’ lives? And even if that child had thrown stones at an occupation soldier (a right he is entitled to by the way), torturing him and abusing him sexually cannot be justified even by the staunchest of Israel supporters. These are blatant violations of human rights and international law for which Israel should be held accountable.

As Israel continues to accuse the Palestinians of stalling the peace process and inciting its people against Israel, for once let’s shed light on this far more serious offense. President Mahmoud Abbas will soon be sitting across from the most powerful man on earth, Barack Obama, next week. President Obama has two daughters who he must love more than anything else in the world. Could he ever imagine Sasha or Malia being blindfolded, handcuffed, slapped and threatened with sexual assault by a power that has occupied their country and oppressed their people for over 40 years? It is a very tough scenario to envision for any parent and one every parent hopes they will never have to endure. There is no doubt that if the tables were turned and Palestinian soldiers and interrogators were torturing and sexually assaulting Israeli minors the world would not have remained silent. It should not be permissible that such heinous acts be committed against Palestinian children.

So, when President Abbas sits down with Mr. President Barack Obama, maybe he should make him feel just a bit uncomfortable by painting him an ugly picture of young American children in the place of some of these unfortunate Palestinians. Once you walk in someone else’s shoes, you never look at that situation quite the same again.

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