Sunday, February 19, 2012

Children in the Israeli injustice system

"A year ago, Islam Dar Ayyoub was a sociable ninth grader and a good student, according to his father, Saleh, a Palestinian laborer in this small village near Ramallah.  Then, one night in January 2011, about 20 Israeli soldiers surrounded the dilapidated Dar Ayyoub home and pounded vigorously on the door. Islam, who was 14 at the time, said he thought they had come for his older brother. Instead, they had come for him. He was blindfolded, handcuffed and whisked away in a jeep.  From that moment, Islam’s childhood was over. Catapulted into the Israeli military justice system, an arm of Israel’s 44-year-old occupation of the West Bank, Islam became embroiled in a legal process as challenging and perplexing as the world in which he has grown up. The young man was interrogated and pressed to inform on his relatives, neighbors and friends.  The military justice system that overwhelmed Islam has come under increasing scrutiny for its often harsh, unforgiving methods. One Palestinian prisoner has been hospitalized because of a hunger strike in protest against being detained for months without trial. Human rights organizations have recently focused their criticism on the treatment of Palestinian minors, like Islam.  Now, as a grass-roots leader from Nabi Saleh stands trial, having been incriminated by Islam, troubling questions are being raised about these methods of the occupation.  It is the intimate nature of Islam’s predicament that makes this trial especially wrenching for the young man, his family and his community. Most of Nabi Saleh’s 500 residents belong to the same extended family. The leader on trial, Bassem Tamimi, 44, was Islam’s next-door neighbor. Islam was close friends with Mr. Tamimi’s son, Waed, a classmate. And Mr. Tamimi’s wife is a cousin of Islam’s mother.  “This case is legally flawed and morally tainted,” said Gaby Lasky, Islam’s Israeli lawyer. Islam is traumatized, she said, “not only because of what happened to him, but also what happened to others.”  After he was pulled from his home at night, Islam was taken to a nearby army base where, his lawyer said, he was left out in the cold for hours. In the morning, he was taken to the Israeli police for interrogation. Accused of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers inside the village, he was encouraged to identify other youths and the adult organizers of weekly protests here.  In a police videotape of Islam’s five-hour interrogation, the teenager is at times visibly exhausted. Alone and denied access to a lawyer for most of the period, he was partially cautioned three times about his rights but was never told directly that he had the right to remain silent.  Instead, the chief interrogator instructed him, “We want only the truth. You must tell everything that happened.”  The young man, who seemed eager to please his interrogators, described how village youths were organized into nine “brigades,” each assigned tasks like throwing stones, blocking roads and hurling unexploded tear-gas canisters back at the soldiers.  Soon, the arrests followed.  Mr. Tamimi was taken last March and is being held at the Ofer military prison. The charges against him include organizing unauthorized processions, solicitation to stone throwing and incitement to violence. Mr. Tamimi has proudly acknowledged that he organized what he called peaceful protests but denied ever having told anyone to throw stones.  Mr. Tamimi’s wife, Nariman, attended a recent court hearing with Waed.  Asked about Islam, her voice softened. “He is our neighbor,” she said. “The interrogation was very difficult. He was afraid. He is just a child.”"