Amir, Ten Years Old, Abducted by Israeli Soldiers from His Bed

Amir al-Mohtaseb smiled
tenderly when I asked him to tell me his favorite color. Sitting in his
family's living room last Thursday afternoon, 4 March, in the Old City
of Hebron, the ten-year-old boy with freckles and long eyelashes softly
replied, "green." He then went on to describe in painful detail his
arrest and detention -- and the jailing of his 12-year-old brother
Hasan by Israeli occupation soldiers on Sunday, 28 February.

Hours after our interview, at 2am, Israeli soldiers would break into
the house, snatch Amir from his bed, threaten his parents with death by
gunfire if they tried to protect him, and take him downstairs under the
stairwell. They would beat him so badly that he would bleed internally
into his abdomen, necessitating overnight hospitalization. In complete
shock and distress, Amir would not open his mouth to speak for another
day and a half.

In our interview that afternoon before the brutal assault, Amir said
that on the 28th, he was playing in the street near the Ibrahimi
Mosque, on his way with Hasan to see their aunt.

"Two of the soldiers stopped us and handcuffed us," Amir said. "They
brought us to two separate jeeps. They took me to the settlement and
put me in a corner. I still had handcuffs on. They put a dog next to
me. I said that I wanted to go home. They said no, and told me I would
stay here forever. They refused to let me use the bathroom. They
wouldn't let me call my mother. They blindfolded me and I stayed there
like that until my father was able to come and get me late at night."

Amir's detention inside the settlement lasted nearly ten hours. "The
only thing that I thought about was how afraid I was, especially with
the dog beside me. I wanted to run away and go back to my house," he

Amir and Hasan's mother, Mukarrem, told me that Amir immediately
displayed signs of trauma when he returned home. "He was trying to tell
me a joke, and trying to laugh. But it was not normal laughter. He was
happy and terrified at the same time," she said. "He wet himself at
some point during the detention. He was extremely afraid."

Amir revealed that he hadn't been able to sleep in the nights following
his detention, worried sick about his brother in jail and extremely
afraid that the soldiers would come back (which, eventually, they did).
Today, approximately 350 children are languishing inside Israeli
prisons and detention camps, enduring interrogation, torture and
indefinite sentences, sometimes without charge. The number fluctuates
constantly, but thousands of Palestinian children between the ages of
12 and 16 have moved through the Israeli military judicial system over
the past decade since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada.
Israel designates 18 as the age of adulthood for its own citizens, but
through a military order, and against international law, Israel
mandates 16 as the age of adulthood for Palestinians. Additionally,
Israel has special military orders (#1644 and #132) to be able to
arrest and judge Palestinian children -- termed "juvenile delinquents"
-- as young as 12 years old.

"This way, they have a 'legal' cover for what they are doing, even
though this is against international laws," said Abed Jamal, a
researcher at Defence for Children International-Palestine Section's
(DCI-PS) Hebron office. "However, in Amir's case, they broke even their
own laws by arresting and detaining him as a ten-year-old boy. These
laws are obviously changeable according to Israel's whim. We have yet
to see a prosecution for crimes such as these."

I asked Amir and Hasan's father, Fadel, to describe how one is able to parent effectively under this kind of constant siege.

"It's not safe for the children to go outside because we've faced
constant attacks by the settlers and the soldiers," he explained. "This
by itself is unimaginable for us. And now, we have one son in jail and
another traumatized ... they're so young."

On Sunday, 7 March, exactly a week after Hasan's arrest and Amir's
detention, the family and members of the local media made an
early-morning journey to Ofer prison where Hasan had been held since
his initial arrest. After a lengthy process in which the Israeli
military judge admitted that the boy was too young to stay in prison,
Hasan was released on the condition that he would come back to the
court to finish the trial at a later date. This trial followed the
initial hearing last Wednesday at Ofer, where Maan News Agency reported
that the judge insisted that Fadel pay the court 2,000 shekels ($530)
for Hasan's bail. According to Maan, Fadel then publicly asked the
court, "What law allows a child to be tried in court and then asks his
father to pay a fine? I will not pay the fine, and you have to release
my child ... This is the law of Israel's occupation."

Consumed by their sons' situations, Mukarrem and Fadel say they are
trying to do the best for their family under attack. "What can we do?"
asked Fadel. "We lock the doors. We lock the windows. We have nothing
with which to protect our family and our neighbors from the soldiers or
the settlers. If a Palestinian kidnapped and beat and jailed an Israeli
child, the whole world would be up in arms about it. It would be all
over the media. But the Israelis, they come into our communities with
jeeps and tanks and bulldozers, they take our children and throw them
into prison, and no one cares."

DCI-PS's Jamal reiterates the point that international laws made to
protect children under military occupation have been ignored by Israel
since the occupation began in 1967. "Most of the time, we try to do our
best to use the law, the Geneva Conventions, the UN Convention for the
Rights of the Child as weapons against this brutality," said Jamal.
"All of these laws exist, but Israel uses their own military laws as
excuses to defy international law. As Palestinians, we have to work
together to create solidarity against this brutality. Through our work,
we try to tell the international community what's going on with
Palestinian children to create a wide berth of support against this
situation. We believe that the only way this will stop is through the
support of the international community."

Amir slowly began speaking again 36 hours after the beating by Israeli
soldiers. Zahira Meshaal, a Bethlehem-based social worker specializing
in the effects of trauma in children, said that Amir's "elective
mutism," a symptom of extreme psychological shock caused by his beating
and detention, is a common response, but that it is a good sign that he
began talking again. "This is a reaction of fear on many levels. Amir's
house and his family are his only source of security," said Meshaal.
"This was taken away from him the moment the soldiers invaded his home.
It's easy to attend to the immediate trauma, but the long-term effects
will undoubtedly be difficult to address. He'll need a lot of mental
health services from now on."

Meshaal comments on the nature of this attack in the context of the
unraveling situation inside Hebron. "We are talking about a place that
is on the front lines of trauma," she said. "This is an ongoing and
growing injury to the entire community. Parents have to be a center of
security for their children, but that's being taken away from them.
Especially in Hebron, the Israeli settlers and soldiers know this, and
use this tactic to force people to leave the area. It's a war of
psychology. This is a deliberate act to make the children afraid and
force people to leave so that their children can feel safer."

At the end of our interview last Thursday, Amir sent a message to
American children. "We are kids, just like you. We have the right to
play, to move freely. I want to tell the world that there are so many
kids inside the Israeli jails. We just want to have freedom of
movement, the freedom to play." Amir said that he wants to be a heart
surgeon when he grows up. His mother and father told me that they hope
Amir's own heart -- and theirs -- heals from last week's repetitive and
cumulative trauma at the hands of the interminable Israeli occupation.

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