06 April 2009

423 Palestinian Children Still Held by Israel

With the recent genocide in Gaza, we must not forget the Israeli Human Rights Violations that have gone on for years and continue today.

I thought it important for people to remember the children that are still alive yet being held in Israeli prisons, many un-charged. We Irish call this internment and understand it quite well having gone through the same. The report below came out today, however for a window into the world of these Israeli human rights abuses, I have also posted a wonderful account of this from "dissident voice" after the story below. A moving story about a Palestinian girl intent on getting her education, despite Israeli aggression towards her and her family. A must read, but first this:

Israel holds 423 Palestinian children: report

GAZA, April 6 (Xinhua) -- Israel still holds 423 Palestinian children aged under 18, the Palestinian Center for Defending Prisoners said on Monday.

"The children stay in very difficult circumstances in the Israeli jails," the center said in a report, adding the Israeli jailers "put them under psychological pressure and some jailers molested some of the children."

The prison authorities places eight to ten children in one room of four meter square, the report added.

According to the center, "231 of the children were sentenced while 182 are still waiting their trial. Ten children are subject to administrative detention without any charge."

In 2006, Islamic Hamas movement captured an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid near the Gaza Strip and demanded to exchange him for a number of Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas still holds the Israeli soldier and Egyptian-mediated talks to achieve a swap collided with Hamas' insistence to select the names of the first 450 prisoners and Israel's rejection.

In addition to the 450, Hamas stresses that Israel must also free all the children, women, old prisoners and leaders of the Palestinian groups.

Posted below is a partial account of life under Israeli aggression and human rights abuses. Told by "Merna" a brave young Palestinian girl who has suffered so much, for so long.

Merna, an honors student in her final year majoring in English. For most people studying for a degree is tough enough, but this youngster also has to battle against armed intruders who invade her home and have systematically destroyed her family life.

Merna is described by the Brothers as “a joyful and engaging person, full of life and love”. The tragedy is that Israeli soldiers frequently rampage through her refugee camp in the middle of the night and have taken away her loved ones, one by one. From childhood Merna remembers the constant night raids and soldiers randomly searching Palestinian homes, ransacking their contents and arbitrarily arresting residents. She remembers, too, her home being bombarded with missiles fired from Gilo, an illegal Israeli settlement outside Bethlehem.

Merna’s family, like thousands of others, became refugees when their village was attacked by Jewish terrorist forces in 1948. The villagers were forced to flee to a camp in Bethlehem where they remain to this day, unable to return to their old homes.

In 2003 her 14-year-old cousin and best friend was shot dead by an Israeli sniper while sitting outside her family home during a curfew.

In 2004, the Israelis arrested her eldest brother, a 22 year-old artist who designed posters and banners for university student groups. They accused him of taking part in student political activities, which can mean anything from running for student council to organizing speaking events, and for this he spent 4 years in prison.

In 2007, they came back for Merna’s 18-year-old brother. He is still incarcerated under ‘administrative detention’, which means he hasn’t been charged or sentenced for any crime because the Israeli military claims to have secret evidence, which only a military judge can see. The Israelis use this device to lock up Palestinians — mostly students — for up to 6 months, to be renewed if the mood takes them. Merna’s 19 year-old cousin is also in prison waiting to be charged with a ‘crime’.

Then a few months ago the military came again, this time to take her youngest brother. Merna was in despair. He had only just turned 16. “As he was being taken away, he told us to take care of ourselves,” said Merna, her eyes brimming with tears. “He’s my little brother! He is the one who needs taking care of. What is he doing in an awful prison cell and how are his spirits?”

“Coming to school is a way of getting away from what is happening in the refugee camp,” says Merna. “It’s like an oasis here for me.” But her thoughts are never far from her cousin and brothers. “I only wish they were allowed this opportunity.”

She is now a senior member of the Bethlehem University Student Ambassadors Programme and an example to fellow classmates, say the Brothers. She hopes to pursue post-graduate studies abroad and return to the University to give back to the community some of the support it has offered her. You can read the full story HERE