11-month-old Balqis Ghawadra just became the youngest prisoner in the world, when Israeli authorities jailed her after visiting her father in Eshel Israeli prison in occupied Beer Sheva.
Balqis was arrested alongside her sister and mother on November 26, 2014, as they arrived for a long awaited visit with the children’s father.
As the International Middle East Media Center reports:
Nihal Ghannam Ghawadra from Bir Al-Basha village, near Jenin, waited passionately for the permission to visit her husband, Mu’ammar, only to be separated from her two little children, and to see her entire family become prisoners, Ahrar Center for Prisoners Studies and Human Rights reports.
According to the PNN, Nihal headed to the prison on Wednesday, with her daughter Balqis, 11 months, and son Baraa’, age 2. As soon as she arrived, the three were separated.
Nihal was imprisoned, along with her two children, under the pretext of sneaking a mobile phone to her husband. The entire family has now been imprisoned, as a result.
Local and international human rights agencies are now scrambling to support the family and push for their release.
Mu’ammar Ghawadra was one of many thousands of Palestinians released in 2011 under the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange between Israel and Palestinian resistance, only to be re-arrested without charge over the summer. He had already served 8 years of a life sentence.
More than 720,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been through the system since Israel began occupying the Palestinian Territories in 1967.
A Unicef report last October reported that during interrogation by Israeli Security Forces, Palestinian children had been “threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member” in efforts to gain confessions for alleged offenses, most commonly for throwing stones.
14-year-old Qsai Zamara says he was taken from his bed, in the middle of the night by the Israeli Army and transported to an Israeli prison.
“There was this big machine with all the electric wires in it, connected to the electricity. He wanted to give me electric shock with it,” he said
15-year-old Fathi Mahfouz says he was arrested under false pretenses and taken to an Israeli prison where he also received electric shocks.
“Because I didn’t confess he sent me to a room that has a cross in it, and hung me on it. I was hung and he kept hitting me,” he said.
These stories have become achingly familiar to Australian barrister Gerard Horton, who has interviewed hundreds of Palestinian children through his organization Military Court Watch. He says these ordeals are a regular occurrence across the West Bank.
“[In one incident] someone put food on his genitals and the dog was then made to eat the food off that part of his trousers,” Mr Horton said.
“[One] particular interrogator specialises in threatening children with rape, and he makes very specific allegations.
“He will name someone who apparently is waiting outside the interrogation room who will, if the child doesn’t confess, will come in and rape that child.”
Prominent Israeli lawyer Gaby Lasky, who specializes in cases of Palestinian children in the Israeli justice system argues that as part of its intelligence gathering process, Israel has begun “mapping” children. This means the systematic kidnap and arrest of children in order to gain an unprecedented level of control and intelligence over the next generation of Palestinians. Of course, they are devastating that generation in the process.
This is the despicable process which has now ensnared 11-month-old Balqis Ghawadra, before her life has even really begun.
The UNICEF report found that:
“the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.
It is understood that in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights.”
It is inconceivable that a generation of children, broken and traumatized by Israeli Security forces throughout their childhoods, will likely grow into a generation of adults who see peace and co-existence with such brutal an occupier as either possible or desirable. With its brutalization of children, Israel is sowing the seeds for a bloody and hate-filled future.
You can watch the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Four Corners Programme in full below: