I want to continue my education. I want to be a lawyer when I grow up to defend Palestinian children against the injustice that is happening in Palestine’, Mohammad Salem Abu Eid told a packed meeting in central London on Tuesday evening.
The meeting was one of a series organised by Action for Palestinian Children to highlight the systematic and institutionalised ill treatment and torture of Palestinian children by the Israeli authorities.
Mohammad Salem Abu Eid was 14 years old when he was detained by the Israeli forces in February 2008 and accused of throwing stones at the Wall.
He was beaten, interrogated in the absence of a lawyer and family member, deceived into signing a confession, prosecuted in a military court and sentenced to four months imprisonment.
Whilst in prison, he received no education, no access to health care and no family visits.
Mohammad, in the company of his mother Somaya, shared their experiences with the audience to foster a better understanding of the situation facing Palestinian children.
He was joined by Gerard Horton, from Defence for Children International — Palestine, a lawyer working in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Abdelfattah Abusrour, President of Palestinian Theatre League.
Also speaking at Tuesday’s meeting was civil rights lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy. She told the meeting she had just recently returned from a fact finding mission on the West Bank.
She said: ‘I was profoundly shocked. While we were there we went to see what happened in the military courts.
‘You may ask why should there be military courts in the West Bank.
‘During the Six-Day War a military commission was set up. You have to have courts in war time.
‘The extraordinary thing is that here we are 14 years on and those military courts are still in existence dealing with Palestinians in the West Bank.
‘People are tried before judges who are members of the army. So the Israeli army are trying Palestinian people.
‘There is a 97 per cent conviction rate, based on confessions. The lawyers told us of the horror of their clients physical abuse/torture to get confessions.
‘Even to throw a stone at the Wall is an offense.
She added that in the Israeli courts, ‘things were happening that went beyond what could be considered within the law’.
Kennedy said there were no proper translators and there was a high grill where people waited ‘in baking heat’ to enter the court.
She said: ‘The judges became inured to what they were doing. It was a far cry from justice.
‘We went to the home of Mohammad and his mother Somaya. She told us of the effect on the family.
‘Mohammad told how he was rounded up by the army and taken to a settlement. He ended up spending some months in a detention centre in Israel where the family could not visit him.
‘He was taken away at 13 or 14.
‘Somaya said, “It’s what we have come to expect”, that’s the horror of this situation’.
‘I don’t think the world knows that so many children are being incarcerated in this way, tried for minor offenses.
‘We were all shocked. My major concern is they are criminalising a whole new generation.’
She added: ‘There are some wonderful young people out there – exhilarating young people who will be tomorrow’s leaders and have to go on with the struggle.
‘It’s a disgrace what has happened.’
Fellow civil rights lawyer Geoffrey Bindman, chairing the meeting said: ‘Every year several hundred Palestinian youth are arrested and later taken through the courts for throwing stones at the Wall. It’s an outrage. The Israeli government should stop doing that.’
Gerard Horton, told the meeting: ‘Around seven hundred Palestinian children are detained and prosecuted through the Israeli courts each year.
‘Most of the children arrested are from villages near the wall, settlements and by-pass roads.
‘A report comes in that someone threw a stone, then a day or two later the Israeli army will move in and start arresting children as young as 12 years old. They knock on doors and make the family come out.
‘Children are selected for arrest have their hands tied up with plastic bands so tight their hands swell up.
‘They are taken away with their hands tied and blind-folded. They are not told where they are being taken or why they are being arrested.
‘They are put on the floor of a van and kicked on the way to the interrogation and detention centre.
‘Children are frightened, alone and in pain and traumatised.
‘During interrogation they are physically abused. Younger children are slapped round the face and 16 or 17-year-olds are put in a painful position for hours.
‘Almost in every case this provides a confession. The interrogation takes place without a lawyer or family member present.
‘When they are taken to court, where most plead guilty because there is no bail, and if they fight they can be held in detention for 12 to 18 months.
‘Children plead guilty to get released quicker’.
At this point the meeting was shown a short film of Mohammad’s experience, in which his father says, ‘As long as the occupation exists there will be arrests’.
The next speaker was Abdelfattah Abusrour, from the Palestinian Theatre League. He told the meeting: ‘I was born in a refugee camp as Beit Latif village was destroyed by the Zionists in 1947 or so.
‘We still have the keys of all the doors in the village. We still claim the right to return, 61 years after the occupation we are still in refugee camps.
‘We still wait for human rights to be applied.
‘We don’t want our children to be just numbers, or martyrs or be put in prison.’
Mohammad told the meeting that even after his release his family has been harassed by the Israeli army. He said: ‘On Sunday we were sleeping when we heard voices at my house calling my Dad’s name.
‘My Dad went out. They got us to go outside. We got outside and there were soldiers. they asked my Dad “Is this Mohammad”.
‘They asked for my ID card. My Dad told the soldier “He is too young for an ID card”.’
‘We were told to go to the security services, we went the next day. We waited from 9am to 3pm, no one talked to us. At 3pm they told us to go home.
‘In answer to some questions his mother Somaya said: ‘As a Palestinian mother I suffer like other Palestinian mothers. We were born under occupation. Our children were born under occupation.
‘We hope our children will grow up without occupation, so they can be free and have a future with education.’