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Rev. John Buttrick: Confront Israeli injustice in the treatment of Palestinian children

  • Palestinian protest icon Ahed Tamimi is shown in a courtroom at the Ofer military prison near Jerusalem on Feb. 13. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 3/31/2018 12:09:59 AM

On Feb. 8, the Monitor reported the impending trial in an Israeli military court of 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi “for slapping and punching two Israeli soldiers.” The soldiers were armed with assault rifles and able to lightly swat away Ahed’s slaps, according to Amnesty International.

The encounter had taken place at a nonviolent demonstration in Nabi Saleh against President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The soldiers were standing on the edge of the Tamimi family’s walled front yard. Ahed’s cousin, 15-year-old Mohammad Tamimi, had been hit in the head at close range by a rubber bullet fired by an Israeli soldier. He later required surgery that involved the removal of part of his left skull. Ahed was arrested four days after the incident in the middle of the night from her Palestinian home in Nabi Saleh. She was 16 at the time. She has been held in detention for four months awaiting a military court trial. Her conviction would subject her to as many as 10 years in prison. An Israeli woman in a similar situation was subject to the Israeli civil court system, not a military court, and received no prison time.

Leading up to the trial Tamimi requested a public proceeding. The military court rejected her request. After weeks held in prison and interrogated under the threat of 10 years in prison (Israeli military courts have a 99 percent conviction rate) Ahed Tamimi accepted a plea agreement that was accepted by the court on March 21. The agreement included three counts of assault and one count of incitement to violence. Six other charges were dropped. She was sentenced to eight months in prison and fined $1,437 (5,000 shekels). Calculating time served while waiting for the trial she will be released in July. Ahed’s mother received a similar sentence for incitement in the release of a video of the incident between Ahed and the Israeli soldiers.

The background for Tamimi’s confrontation with Israeli soldiers goes back to the late 1970s. At that time the Israeli army seized 150 acres of land from Tamimi’s village of Nabi Saleh for “military purposes.” Soon after, Israel handed over the land to Israeli settlers who began to develop the illegal settlement of Halamish. More Palestinian farmland has been taken during the ensuing years for the expansion of Halamish. Also seized by the settlement was Habi Saleh’s water source, Bow Spring.

In nonviolent demonstrations against these injustices, Tamimi’s uncle, Rushdie, was shot and killed. Another time her mother was shot in the leg. In her lifetime of 17 years, Tamimi has known only political, economic and military domination of her Palestinian village and her person.

The Israeli army prosecutes hundreds of Palestinian children in juvenile military courts every year, often after arresting them in night raids and systematically subjecting them to ill-treatment, including blindfolding, threats, harsh interrogations without the presence of their lawyers or families, solitary confinement and in some cases physical violence. There are currently some 350 Palestinian children in Israeli prisons and detention centers, according to local human rights organizations.

I have personally witnessed the taking of a 16-year-old boy from his home in the Palestinian village of Jayyous at 3 a.m. I also witnessed the debriefing by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem of another Palestinian boy who reported being handcuffed, blindfolded and threatened, and receiving harsh physical interrogation asking for the names of his friends, all without the presence of lawyers or family.

It is important to know that we are not alone in protesting against these injustices inflicted on Palestinian children. On Nov. 14, Congresswoman Betty McCollum, DFL-Minn., introduced legislation – the “Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act,” H.R. 4391 – to prevent United States tax dollars from supporting the Israeli military’s ongoing detention and mistreatment of Palestinian children. (The United States gave Israel $3.1 billion for fiscal year 2017 in direct bilateral military aid.)

There are also elements of the Israeli Jewish population who seek human rights for Palestinians and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. They include organizations such as Machsem Watch, B’Tselem, and Breaking the Silence. In the United States, J-Street and Jewish Voice for Peace seek ways to promote a just peace in Israel/Palestine. They recognize that the health of Israel is dependent upon the just treatment of Palestinians and their children.

Vice President Mike Pence said in a speech to the Israeli Knesset, “We stand with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, and in liberty over tyranny.” It would be more appropriate to say, “We stand for right over wrong, good over evil, in liberty over tyranny, and call upon Israel to join us in seeking the end of oppression and injustice for Palestinian children like Ahed and Mohammad Tamimi, and dignity for all Palestinians.” That would be an affirmation consistent with the values of our country and the ethics of American Jews, Christians, Muslims and other faith communities.

(The Rev. John Buttrick, United Church of Christ, lives in Concord.)

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