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Israel must provide alternatives to prison for Palestinian minors

It’s time to advocate for the mental health treatment and education of Palestinian children detained in Israeli military prisons. Untreated post-traumatic stress disorder will only fuel their continued hatred and aggression towards the authorities.

By Leah R. Platkin

Soldiers arresting youths in Nabi Saleh, 2013. (Yotam Ronen / Activestills).

Israeli Border Police officers arresting Palestinian youths in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, 2013. (Yotam Ronen / Activestills).

A painfully violent video went viral last month, showing two Israeli soldiers ordering dogs to attack a 16-year-old Palestinian Hamza Abu Hashem. The incident took place months earlier but the video was only circulated in March by former Knesset member Michael Ben-Ari, on the eve of Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress. Ben Ari hoped the video would teach Palestinian children a lesson, but his plan backfired. The video sparked outrage over the violence and brutality inflicted upon this traumatized teenager. In response, the IDF announced that it would temporarily discontinue using attack dogs in West Bank demonstrations.

There was a surge in media coverage criticizing IDF tactics once the world watched video of this traumatized child being bitten by an attack dog. The aftermath and next steps for Hamza and his family were not part of that discourse. The prospect of any discussion of Hamza’s fate and well-being was lost somewhere between Netanyahu’s speech to Congress and coverage of the Israeli election.

After the attack and arrest, Israeli authorities took Hamza to the hospital for his injuries, interrogated him, detained him in a military prison, and a military court fined him NIS 4,000 ($1,000). Hamza’s parents were not permitted to visit him for several weeks. He was imprisoned for three months, without mental health treatment for trauma stemming from the assault, or any option for continuing his education.

Hamza was released from prison earlier this month. He is now suffering from undiagnosed psychological trauma, according to Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy. Hamza is withdrawn, isolated, has both insomnia and nightmares, is startled by dogs barking, and is in critical need of mental health treatment, Levy reported. He has not received any psychological intervention and his family is unable to pay for private services. Hamza’s family is likely traumatized by the attack, the arrest, and their concern for his well-being and mental heath subsequent to the severe physical and psychological abuse he experienced before and during his incarceration.

The time has come not only to watch and talk about videos like this, but also to take action. Now, while the new government is being formed by presumptive Prime Minister Netanyahu, the public should begin advocating for the mental health treatment and education of Palestinian children detained in Israeli military prisons. Untreated post-traumatic stress disorder due to physical abuse in these youth will only fuel their continued hatred and aggression towards the authorities.

Israel’s detention and inhumane treatment of Palestinian youth is not new, but an increase in the numbers of Palestinian children arrested, detained, assaulted, and denied education by Israeli military and police forces is raising international awareness and concern. DCI-Palestine reports that Israeli military prisons detained a monthly average of 190 Palestinian children throughout 2014. Israeli military law defines Palestinian youth, ages 12 to 18, as adults in certain regards, whom the IDF can sentence to a maximum of 20 years in prison for an offense, such as stone throwing.

In contrast, Israel utilizes an entirely different, civilian legal system for Israeli youth, including those living in West Bank settlements, sometimes only hundreds of meters from Palestinian villages. If arrested, the Israeli authorities provide Jewish Israeli children with the option to attend alternative-to-prison programs including continued education, mental health treatment, and detention prevention. Israelis are not tried under military law in military courts, and they are certainly not sent to military prisons.

UNICEF recently issued a follow up report in February 2015 (previous report in March 2013) on breaches of international law and human rights violations pertaining to Israel’s treatment of detained Palestinian youth. This document notes that Israeli authorities have made few improvements, per recommendations of the March 2013 report. While the IDF did create several new orders, they failed to put the majority of them into practice, meaning that the maltreatment of children continues and is systematic and pervasive within the Israeli military detention system.

Earlier this year, Jewish and Arab social workers of Ossim Shalom-Social Workers for Peace and Social Welfare issued a statement demanding that Prime Minister Netanyahu, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and the Welfare and Education ministries formally create alternative-to-prison programs for detained Palestinian youth. Such programs would reduce the inequality between Israeli and Palestinian youth who are arrested, provide them with rehabilitation, allow for continued education, and in turn, prevent school dropouts.

Ossim Shalom continues to demand that Prime Minister Netanyahu recognize and rectify concerns regarding abuses and lack of education for detained Palestinian youth in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and allocate funds to provide them with alternative-to-prison programs similar to those available to Israeli youth.

Leah R. Platkin, LMSW, is a social worker and NIF/Shatil Social Justice Fellow. She lives in Tel Aviv and is originally from Los Angeles. She works at Ossim Shalom-Social Workers for Peace and Social Welfare in Jerusalem and at Arous Elbahar in Jaffa. 

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    1. Pedro X

      Context – Dog bite and Fighting terror activity

      The use of dogs is not per se bad. What was bad was that IDF members employed the use of a dog on a suspect they already had secured. The suspect had been involved an attack on a Jewish community.

      The context is that the IDF were conducting an anti-terror operation because the community of Karmei Tzur had been under attack. The Jerusalem Post March 5, 2015

      “The incident took place during a raid to thwart terror activity, as part of efforts to secure the Karmei Tzur settlement.

      The division commander’s report found that during an operation to arrest Palestinians suspected of throwing Molotov Cocktails and destroying the fence around Karmei Tzur, and as part of efforts to secure the area, dogs were employed against stone-throwers and rioters in opposition to the parameters of the mission that were set out by the brigade commander. “The division commander noted that the error in deploying the dogs occurred in the transition from the original planning to developments on the ground,” the IDF stated. and

      “Division, Brig. Gen. Tamir Yadai, ordered a halt to the use of dogs until soldiers undergo renewed training of protocol. He also instructed all use of dogs to be carried out at the order of the brigade commanders only. Yadai further ordered that the soldiers, who he said failed morally, face disciplinary proceedings.”

      If Palestinians do not wish to see their children injured, they should protect them and not send them to battle with Israeli soldiers. If they want their children to receive counseling, Palestinian society should pay for counseling instead of paying salaries to Palestinian terrorists and families for attacks against Israelis. Palestinian society should stop inciting their children to emulate terrorists and place themselves in harms way. It is time that Palestinian society took responsibility for its own actions.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Endlessly blaming the victims and the resisters of a terrorizing occupation, by calling that resistance “terrorism.” You’re incorrigible. The occupation–that’s the “context”! No one “sent children into battle with Israeli soldiers” that day. Always, always, you have one set of moral and criminal standards for your own, another set for others.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ron Temis

          Who looks after the emotional trauma of Israeli children subjected to years and years of homicide bombers and shooters in schools, cafes, markets, buses, cinemas, Sbarro Pizzerias, Passover dinners, and airports just to name a few. Who looks after the emotional well-being of children subjected to years and years of rockets fired at them, and being on constant alerts that they can find shelter when a random rocket is fired at them?

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I certainly hope that emotionally traumatized Israeli children are looked after by Israelis. In fact, I know that they are. Did you expect Palestinians to look after them? How would they accomplish that? You didn’t ask who looks after emotionally traumatized Palestinian children. Did you expect Israelis to look after them? I suspect that would not ever occur to you. Because I think you have a very selective ethnic filter about emotional trauma.

            But that aside, you’re trying to erase the context of my reply to Pedro X, which involved the vicious practices of the Israeli army setting attack dogs on protesting Palestinian children, and locking up Palestinian children indefinitely, without any due process, and in conditions inhumane to these children and their parents. You are trying to replace that context with an emotional and one-sided appeal to children victimized by terrorism.

            But note that the context was protesting children—which Israel has such zero tolerance for that it would rather have its army sick attack dogs on children and lock up children in ways it would never ever tolerate for Jewish children.

            So, examine what this means. It means that Israel absolutely refuses to listen, at all, to Palestinians when they engage in nonviolent protest. But then when this absolute refusal by Israel, over many years, empowers violent extremists, then Israelis like you come out to ask why ever are the Palestinians violent, and to self-righteously point to the victims of suicide bombings. In a contest of blood. But when the Palestinians avoid violence, Israelis like you go back to a smug nonchalance about the occupation. “It’s quiet. Who cares? We can wait. They will have to wait. Life is good.”

            The really difficult truth underlying your confusions, and which you are not owning up to, is that the great majority of Israelis really only listen to violence. Noam Sheizaf has explained this very clearly:

            By Noam Sheizaf |Published March 11, 2016
            Why do we only listen to violence?

            The truth is difficult. Can you handle it?

            Reply to Comment
    2. Michael D. Paul – you’ve managed to say everything that needs to be said in only 6 sentences – every single one.

      Isn’t it funny, tragically so, that the people responsible for this pain and suffering, feel they are equally adept at repairing it? The best thing for the GoI to do is get out of the way and “leave their land for good”.

      Reply to Comment
    3. New Relic

      How about these angelic children find alternatives to committing crimes?
      Problem solved

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      A great documentary photo, Activestills:

      “Israeli Border Police officers arresting Palestinian youths in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, 2013. (Yotam Ronen / Activestills).”

      Reply to Comment