No Child’s Play in the Occupied Palestine

By Kim Bullimore in the West Bank

Today I witnessed, for the first time, a Palestinian child being abducted by the Israeli Occupation Forces. This, of course, is not the first time that a Palestinian child has been abducted in such a manner. It happens every single day in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).  Since the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, more than 2500 Palestinian children have been arrested by the Israeli forces [1]. Thousands more have been abducted and detained for several hours, often beaten and then released.  In May 2007, there were 416 Palestinian child political prisoners in Israeli jails, while today of the 11,000 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons, more than 380 of them are children [2]

Despite being aware of these facts, having seen photos of young men and boys arrested by the Israeli military and having made several trips to Palestine and lived in the Occupied West Bank for more than 12 months, it still came as a shock to see the young boy, aged 14, sitting hunched over and blind folded on a rock with his hands tied behind his back.  It seemed a surreal and sickening image to me.

For several months now the village of Marda, which is located directly below the illegal Israeli colony of Ariel and two kilometres from where the International Women’s Peace Service is based in the village of Haris, has been subject to a systematic campaign of harassment by the Israeli occupation forces. This campaign of harassment has included almost daily and nightly incursions, searching and occupation of family houses, throwing sound bombs and teargas, imposing curfews and blocking off the only entrance left to the village that is not permanently closed by barbed wire and iron gates. The campaign has sought to target the village youth under the pretext of preventing stones being thrown at the settler road. Teenagers and young men from Marda are frequently detained, threatened and abused to try to pressure them to inform on other youth of the village.

The young 14 year old boy had been snatched from his grandfather’s house, detained and abducted under this usual pretext. Two hours earlier, Israeli occupation forces had invaded two homes in the village in search of a "stone thrower" in an orange t-shirt.  At the first home, they detained a mother and her six children, aged between 6 and 16 years and interogatted the oldest son, aged 11 years, demanding he tell them who had been allegedly throwing stones. The child, however, was unable and unwilling to give them any information. When the father of the family, who had been at work in another village arrived home, the soldiers tried to prevent him from approaching the house, aiming a gun at him and threatening to shoot him. When the father insisted on joining his family, the occupation soldier opened fire with live ammunition, the bullet only missing the father’s head by centimetres.

At the same time the first house was being invaded, in another part of the village, another group of Israeli occupation soldiers randomly entered a second house looking for the same alleged stone thrower. The soldiers ransacked the house, again detaining the family and terrifying the children inside the house. At this house, however, they detained and abducted the 14 year old grandson of the house owner, despite the fact the child had been wearing a different colour shirt to the alleged suspect the soldiers were looking for. 

By the time my IWPS team mate and I had arrived at the village, after being called by the father of the first family whose house had been invaded, the terrified young boy from the second house had already been snatched by the occupation soldiers. As we arrived in the taxi/car from our village, we saw the young boy bound and blindfolded next to an Israeli military jeep on the side of the illegal settler highway which runs past our village and Marda. After making sure the family of the first invaded home was alright (we were unaware at this time that a second home had been invaded) we began to walk to where the boy was being held.  However, before we could get close enough the military jeep suddenly speed off with the boy inside. Two soldiers remained on the side of the road. It was clear when we spoke to them, that they had absolutely no proof of the boy having thrown any stones, instead the boy’s detention and abduction was purely random. He had simply been at the wrong place at the wrong time. 

The child, they said, was being held by other soldiers from their unit who would determine whether or not he had indeed thrown stones and whether or not they would formally arrest him. Our request for a phone number to speak to the other soldiers was denied, as was our request for name of the soldier’s unit. The child will not be hurt they assured us. "We don’t do things like ‘that’", they said. Refusing to give us any more information on the boy’s whereabouts, the soldiers began to pack up and leave as we took down the unit identification numbers stencilled on their jeep.

We spent the next four hours in Marda village, determining the identity of the child, visiting his family, getting the relevant information – his name, age and identification number – and making phone calls to Israeli anti-occupation activists and the Israeli military trying find out the whereabouts of the child. When we arrived at the child’s home, we found his mother – a woman in her mid 30s – laying distraught on a mattress in the family’s living room, being comforted by her 16 year old son and her daughter.  She had been crying for several hours and was suffering shortness of breath and arm pains having gone into shock after hearing about her son’s abduction.

Her other son, aged 16 years, was solemn and quietly angry, while sadness and concern for her mother flowed from the woman’s daughter’s face. Her son who had been snatched, she told us, had been in the house all day studying and only left the house just before he was abducted, to visit his uncle who was at his grandfather’s house.  A week or two earlier, she informed us, his 16 year old brother had also been abducted for more than 12 hours by the soldiers, interrogated at the illegal settlement of Qedumim. He had been badly beaten and required medical attention for a facial injury he had received during the beating.

We collected the relevant information and drank tea with the family. Even in times of great stress and sorrow, Palestinian hospitality is never far away. We then went to visit the grandfather’s house. As we left the village at 10.30 pm, we saw an Israeli military jeep drive up to the entrance. We soon discovered, after making several phone calls to contacts in the village and ringing the boy’s mother, that the soldiers had released the boy. The boy had been detained and interrogated from more than 6 hours. He had been beaten, but luckily did not require medical attention.

According to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is a signatory, a child is every human being under the age of 18 years. However, Palestinian children from the age of 16 years are considered adults under Israeli military regulations governing the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In violation of both the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Israeli military’s own operating orders, Israeli occupation forces regularly detain, abduct and arrest Palestinian children as young as 11 or 12 years old from checkpoints, their homes, schools and from the street. 

The Freedom Now campaign run by the Palestinian section of Defence for Children International (DCI-P), which campaigns for the release of Palestinian child political prisoners has noted that Palestinian children are detained, abducted and arrested by the Israeli occupation forces for four main reasons [3].

The first reason being to intimidate and threaten those who are active against the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine by conducting widespread arrests of both children and adults. By imposing harsh treatment and maltreating prisoners, the occupation forces are attempting to discourage Palestinians from engaging in struggle against the occupation. 

The second reason cited by DCI-P is in order for the Israeli occupation forces to obtain confessions to incriminate others. According to DCI-P large numbers of confessions are extracted from Palestinian children under duress and torture conditions, with the children being forced to sign confessions that they cannot read, as they are often written in Hebrew.

A third reason for the abduction, detention and arrest of Palestinian children is so the Israeli occupation forces can hold them as "bargaining chips" with the aim of pressuring not only their family, but their village and the Palestinian population as a whole. Such collective punishment is illegal under international law. The fourth and final reason, notes DCI-P, is in order to recruit future "collaborators" who can used by the occupation forces as informers. DCI-P documentation of abduction and arrest cases has found that Israeli occupation forces use threats of force against the children, telling them they will be transfer or not be released or they will be killed if they did not agree to work as collaborators for the Israeli military.

Similarly, Addmmeer, the Palestinian Prisoner’s support and human rights association notes that "Palestinian child detainees are subject to physical and psychological torture during their interrogation in order to force them to confess to activities they may or may not have done. The majority of confessions and sentences are related to throwing stones. Under extreme physical and psychological pressure, children often confess to such activities to end the circumstances they find themselves, often confessing to things they didn’t do" [4]. During interrogation, notes Addameer, the "children are isolated from their families and lawyers are often not informed of the place of their detention. The child is usually not allowed to meet with a lawyer during the first period of interrogation, confining the child’s world to the interrogation room and the interrogator, adding to the psychological stress the child already finds himself/herself in".

The 14 year old boy from Marda was "lucky". He was released after 6 hours of abduction and detention, with only a beating. Many other Palestinian male children who have been detained but have never been charged or sent to trail are held under "administrative detention" in adult prisons for extended periods of time, ranging from months to years.  Currently there are around 30 Palestinian children being held in such a manner [5]. Other male Palestinian children who are abducted, arrested and found guilty of some crime, usually stone throwing, are transferred to adult military prisons such as Meggido military prison.  Currently more than more than 80 male child prisoners are being held behind these prison walls, often forced to live in tents. Female Palestinian child political prisoners are often held in the Neve Tertza prison near Ramleh. In 2005, there were 11 Palestinian girl political prisoners being held in Israeli prisons [6]. 

While held in prison, Palestinian child prisoners are often subject to deliberate sleep deprivation, lack of adequate food, forced to remain in dirty clothing, live in unsanitary conditions and are refused toilet breaks.  In addition, they are subject to medical neglect and educational neglect with no provisions made for their schooling while they remain prisoners [7]. 

This Thursday, April 17, will marks the International Day in Solidarity with Palestinian Political Prisoners. Through out the Occupied Palestinian Territories demonstrations will be held, with families demanding the release of their loved ones.  This year, Palestinian political prisoner support groups and their families are calling on all Palestine solidarity groups and prisoner solidarity groups to hold vigils, actions and demonstrations in support of both adult and child political prisoners being held in Israeli jails.   

Palestinian children, like all children around the world deserve to live in freedom and in dignity and without fear. However, as long as the Israeli occupation continues, this will be an impossibility. This Thursday, we will stand in solidarity with Palestinian pollitical prisoners – children and adults – and call for their freedom. We will also call for and continue the campaign to end Israel’s illegal occupation. Only then will the children of Palestine have a chance to live in freedom, in dignity and without fear.

– Kim Bullimore is currently living the Occupied West Bank, where she is a human rights volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service ( She has a blog and is a regular writer on Palestine-Israel issues. She contributed this article to 


[1] The politics of prisoners by Bex Tyrer and Tone Anderson, Alternative Information Centre
[2] Palestinian Child Political Prisoners: Semi Annual Report 2007, Defence for Children-Palestine
[3] Defence for Children-Palestine, Freedom Now campaign
[4] and [6] ADDAMEER, Prisoner’s support and human rights association
[5] Palestinian Children’s Day 2008, Press Release, Defence for Children International – Palestine [7] and [8] Palestinian Political Child Prisoners in Israeli Prisons,
Child &Youth Department, Ministry of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs, UNDP

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