‘A child’s place is not in a prison’: the scandal of the Israeli prison crisis

1 December 2016 - 4:00pm
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Every political prisoner has a story. War on Want has joined forces with Addameer: Prisoner Support and Human Rights Centre to produce a series of photo stories about Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli detention.

“A child’s place is not in a prison,” says Hisham. His son Mohammad was arrested and sent to prison when he was 15 years old. “A child’s place is the playground, in the school, so who knows how a child will turn out in the future after living through all that.”

Mohammad is a political prisoner. A political prisoner is someone who is arrested and detained because of their identity, beliefs or political activities.

In Palestine, political prisoners refer to people detained in relation to the Israeli occupation, as opposed to detainees suspected or convicted of crimes unrelated to the occupation.Nearly every Palestinian family in the West Bank has a family member currently in prison or who has been.

As of October 2016, Israel is holding 7000 Palestinians as political prisoners, including 720 in administrative detention, 400 children and 64 women.  The number of administrative detainees has more than doubled over the course of 15 months.  The prisoner crisis deepens.

Mohammad’s brothers, Yusef and Ahmad. Photo Credit: Rich Wiles

Hisham and his family live in Jalazon Refugee Camp, in the shadow of Beit El, one of the hundreds of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Aside from housing settlers, Beit El is also the site of an Israeli military base where detainees are held before being moved to other prisons and detention centres

Palestinian political prisoners come from all over Palestine, though the vast majority are from the Israeli occupied West Bank.

Children like Mohammad are often arrested in night time raids following demonstrations.  Arrests connected to demonstrations are part of a broader practice of political repression, with the expectation that villages will be less likely to protest if children are targeted as a consequence.

Mohammad was arrested after one such demonstration, accused of throwing stones. He was fined and sentenced to 7 months in prison. Hisham says: “The sentence is just to intimidate him so that he will not get involved in anything in the future. Every time he speaks he will now stop and think about every word in case it will get him back in prison.”

Israel’s system of arrest and detention is an integral part of Israel’s Apartheid system, under which Palestinians are governed by a separate set of laws. It combines human rights abuses against individuals with a system of discrimination specifically designed to restrict and repress the Palestinian people and their struggle for freedom.

Israel, like other colonial regimes, has a long history of using arrest and detention as a method to repress political organising by Palestinians.

During the first intifada (uprising) in the 1980s, thousands of Palestinians were taken prisoner by Israel for their political activities. These included ‘offences’ such as organising and participating in protests, taking part in assemblies or vigils, waving flags and other political symbols, or printing and distributing political material.

Palestinians can be arrested by the Israeli authorities at any time, taken from their schools, homes, workplaces, at checkpoints or at demonstrations. Some may never know why they have been picked out for arrest.  

Mohammad’s two younger brothers, Yusef and Ahmad, saw their brother arrested, and marched from their home in the middle of the night by more than 20 soldiers. 

“We miss everything about him, says Yusef. “We want him to come home.” 

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