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In Israel, Riot Police [Illegally] Detain 7-Year-Old Child, Interrogate Him Without a Parent or Adult for Hours

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Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily. by David Harris-Gershon
Muhammad Ali Dirbas, seven years old, was detained by Israeli police. Photo via Maan News Agency.

Muhammad Ali Dirbas, seven years old, was detained by Israeli police. Photo via Ma'an News Agency.

Tragically, the story contained below is not an isolated incident or some stark anomaly. Rather, it is a common occurrence in a country I love, but a country which continues to fall into a police-state abyss. The story comes from Jerusalem, a city with a mayor, Nir Barkat, who has allowed (to reference Mayor Bloomberg) his own personal army to routinely and illegally suppress the rights of Palestinian citizens with impunity. As Yossi Gurvitz in +972 Magazine reports:
Nir Barkat, the de jure mayor of Jerusalem and de facto military governor of Jerusalem, toured Issawiya yesterday, and the locals, taking a dim view, stoned his entourage. Soon afterward…policemen detained Muhammad Ali Dirbas, aged seven, carried him off to a nearby police station, interrogated him for three or four hours, and then released him. Further information, obtained by B’Tselem, shows that Dirbas was was detained by YASAM (riot police) at about 4 P.M., and was then moved to a police station at about 5 P.M. His father came to the police station circa 6 P.M., was kept apart from his child until about 9 P.M., and then Muhammad was interrogated in the presence of his father until around 11 P.M.
Forget for a moment that a child – a first grader – was detained by riot police for throwing stones. Forget for a moment that this child was held, for hours, in isolation with the authorities as his father waited, worried about what was happening to his child in the same building. And forget that doing so contravened Israeli law, where the age of criminal liability is 12, and where detaining such minors is patently illegal. Instead, consider that the scene depicted above is replayed time and again. But not only that. Consider this: in the last five years, 835 minors were tried in military courts on suspicion of throwing stones, with 255 being between the age of 12-13. And out of those 835, how many were acquitted? Only one, which is an acquittal rate of 0.11 percent. And of those children between the ages of 12-13 charged, 19 of them served jail sentences of up to two months, despite the fact that, in Israel, it is forbidden for minors under the age of 14 to serve time in prison. Indeed, as B’Tselem reports:
The infringement of the minors’ rights begins from the time of arrest and interrogation. Minors are often arrested in the middle of the night and taken to interrogation alone, without being allowed to consult with an attorney or even their parents, and without a parent being allowed to be present at the questioning. Often they are treated violently. The violation of their rights continues during the course of the court proceeding. Judges order the vast majority of minors to be held in custody until the end of the criminal proceedings, forcing plea bargains. This is because even if the minor is eventually acquitted, he will spend a longer period of time in custody during the course of a full trial than the length of punishment if he pleads guilty in a plea bargain. The military justice system views incarceration as the primary means for penalizing minors, and hardly considers other options. While incarcerated, the minors’ receive almost no family visits and face numerous restrictions on their ability to complete their studies.
It should be noted that Israel is a country which just received a boost in U.S. military aid, thanks to President Obama’s signing of NDAA, and a country to which, according to multiple reports, the U.S. is planning on deploying several thousand troops. Given the incredible importance Israel plays as a U.S. ally – as a democratic nation in the Middle East – and the astronomical monetary and logistical support with which the U.S. provides Israel on a yearly basis, Israel’s treatment (or abuse) of the Palestinians matters. It matters just as the human rights record of any nation matters, no doubt. But it matters in this sense: America has the potential to influence behavior, particularly behavior – such as settlement construction – that it wholly opposes, behavior that continues to do harm to any chance of peace and/or a two-state resolution. What happened to a seven-year-old boy yesterday matters not just because a Palestinian’s human rights were violated. It matters because such violations harm both the primary victims and the secondary victims – Israelis who simply want to live in peace, but who are held captive by both hawkish and centrist leaders alike. The longer this conflict continues, and the farther we stray from the potential for resolution, the more we creep into an area that looks anything like what is in America’s best interest for the region. And that fact is reflected through the eyes of a seven-year-old child.

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