Muhammad Rabi’ Elayyan was summoned by the Israeli police to be interrogated; the summons was handed to his family in occupied Jerusalem, who had to take him to the police station. The boy is just five years old, but he is not the first child to be taken for interrogation. We know of this particular child’s predicament because of the support that he received from his neighbours who accompanied him to the police station on Tuesday morning. The images of the incident flashed around the world.
He left his house with his father in the Issawiya neighbourhood in Jerusalem, holding a toy and some snacks in case he got hungry during the investigation or even arrest for allegedly throwing stones. The police realised that their usual intimidation of children was on social media thanks to the Palestinians and their mobile phones, who captured images of the violations committed by the occupation forces. The police had to deny their intention to subject the child to investigation, claiming instead that they were going to question the father over the accusations that his son threw stones at the occupation forces. The boy’s family promptly showed the actual summons issued the previous evening and naming Muhammad Rabi’ Elayyan specifically.
What happened to this Palestinian child exposed the reality of the physical and psychological violence that the Israeli occupation authorities inflict on Palestinian children, most of which takes place out of sight. Israel’s arrest and torture of Palestinian children is nothing new, despite Israeli propaganda to the contrary. The sanctions imposed by the occupation authorities on some of those youngsters include house arrest and banning them from school. Such sentences have been imposed on 60 to 100 Palestinian children under 14 in Jerusalem alone. Older children may be sent to prison, as was the case with 16-year-old Fawzi Al-Junaidi, who was beaten by a soldier as he passed by and then arrested with great brutality by 23 soldiers in Hebron on 7 December, 2017. Al-Junaidi was blindfolded and handcuffed, in a horrifying scene which was reported by the media worldwide.
Psychologically, the most severe terror inflicted on Palestinian children is to witness some of these horrific experiences across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem when people from their neighbourhoods are arrested by the Israelis. The most traumatising experiences are those which take place within Palestinian homes when the occupation forces raid at dawn almost daily in villages and towns in order to abduct people as they sleep.
These violent campaigns intimidate the whole Palestinian community and attempt systematically to deter anyone from challenging the occupation. The hearts of dozens of Palestinian children tremble every week as they witness the arrest of their fathers, the symbol of their protection, their elder brothers or even their mothers and sisters. Such incidents remain engraved in their hearts and minds and give them a motive to turn their anger against the occupation and its soldiers, either by shouting at them or other means, including throwing stones. This in turn may lead to yet more field executions by the Israeli occupation forces using live bullets against school children, as they do across the West Bank (and in the Gaza Strip, of course). This has become almost routine since the autumn of 2015.
Demolition and forced eviction orders delivered by the occupation authorities to Palestinian families throughout Jerusalem and the West Bank also intimidate children. Those delivered to the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar in East Jerusalem are an example of the continuous oppression of Palestinian Bedouins and their communities, which have been threatened for years with forced displacement throughout Oslo’s “Area C” in which Israel has administrative and security control. In these villages, Palestinian children live under constant existential threat in their own homes.
Indeed, every aspect of Palestinian childhood is under threat, especially in some neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, where the Israeli authorities have ordered the demolition of “unlicensed” homes. The occupation uses such orders to ensure that it has greater control and can expand illegal settlements on Palestinian land. While doing so, it also blocks applications for building permits submitted by local Palestinians who know that if they build without a permit their home will be destroyed sooner or later. Demolitions are tragic events, as we saw in Wadi Al-Hummus last week, when bulldozers and explosives left 100 Palestinian families homeless, to the delight of the Israeli soldiers responsible. We can’t imagine how this will affect the children of those families.
Thankfully, Palestinian youngsters born and brought up under Israel’s occupation learn to be resilient from their elders. Furthermore, they are social media savvy, so incidents like the incident with Muhammad Rabi’ Elayyan on his way to interrogation at the hands of Israeli officials will never go unrecorded.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.