The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports how a 14-year-old epileptic Palestinian girl was arrested as an “illegal alien” in East Jerusalem (Palestinian territory, as everyone knows), her cellular telephone confiscated and a lawyer from the Public Defender’s Office appointed to represent her. She was released on bail and taken to the Gaza Strip because it was listed in Israeli records as her father’s place of residence. She told officials at the Erez checkpoint on the Gaza border that she didn’t live in Gaza but in the West Bank.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered her release on bail after her uncle paid 1,500 shekels. The authorities checked their records and found she was registered as a Gaza resident, although her mother is registered as a West Bank resident. Her father, on the other hand, is registered as a Gaza resident and is classified as an illegal alien in the West Bank because he didn’t receive an exit permit from the Strip, which he left in 2000. This administrative muddle, which is deliberate and widespread, hardly makes for happy family life in the illegally occupied territories.
Representatives of the HaMoked Center for the Defense of the Individual, who assisted the girl’s family, said she had never been to Gaza. Nonetheless, Civil Administration officers instructed the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) to pack the girl off to Gaza despite her protests. Only after being deposited in Gaza did she get her phone back.
A HaMoked lawyer said: “With obtuseness that cannot be justified, nobody bothered to tell the minor where she was or made sure the family knew of her release, as is required in view of her age.”
The Guardian reports that, according to HaMoked, 27 Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank were forcibly sent to Gaza last year – condemned to be shredded, incinerated or at least deeply traumatised the next time Israel “war-tests” its weaponry on this tight packed open-air prison where the inhabitants have nowhere to run. It was the first time they had heard of someone as young as 14 being sent there.
There’s nothing new about the Israelis’ urge to hurt the most vulnerable. If there’s one thing they are good at it’s making war on women and children. The self-styled “most moral army in the world” especially loves targeting Palestinian university students. Back in 2009 I wrote about Merna, an honours student in her final year majoring in English. Israeli soldiers frequently rampaged through her Bethlehem refugee camp in the middle of the night, ransacking homes and arbitrarily arresting residents. They took away her family one by one. First her 14-year-old cousin and best friend was shot dead by an Israeli sniper while she sat outside her family home during a curfew.
Next the Israelis arrested her eldest brother, a 22-year-old artist, and imprisoned him for four years. Then they came back for Merna’s 18-year-old brother. Not content with that, the military came again, this time to take her youngest brother – the “baby” of the family – just 16 years old. These were the circumstances under which Merna had to study.
Israeli military law treats Palestinians as adults as soon as they reach 16, a flagrant violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Israeli youngsters by comparison are regarded as children until 18. Palestinians are dealt with by Israeli military courts, even when it’s a civil matter. These courts ignore international laws and conventions, so there’s no legal protection for individuals under Israeli military occupation.
As detention is based on secret information, which neither the detainees nor their lawyers are allowed to see, it is impossible to mount a proper defence. Besides, the Security Service always finds a phony excuse to keep detainees locked up “in the greater interest of the security of Israel”. Although detainees have the right to review and appeal, they are unable to challenge the evidence and check facts as all information presented to the court is classified.
Despite the horrendous mental stress of it all, Merna was determined to carry on with her studies. The most moral army in the world may have robbed her brothers of an education, but she would still fight for hers.
Cruel beyond belief
Dumping students in Gaza to disrupt their studies is nothing new either. Five years earlier the Israelis forcibly removed four Birzeit University students from their studies in the West Bank and illegally sent them back to the Gaza Strip. All four were due to graduate by the end of that academic year. There was an outcry from around the world and the Israeli army’s legal advisor was bombarded with faxes and letters demanding the students be allowed to return to their studies.
The world’s most moral army agreed that the students might be allowed to return to Birzeit if they signed a guarantee to permanently return to the Gaza Strip after completing their studies.
This effectively exposed Israel’s plan to impose a final separation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, even though the two are internationally recognized as one integral territory. Under international law everyone has the right to freely choose their place of residence within a single territory, but Israel doesn’t give a damn about international law. The racist regime makes it virtually impossible for Gaza students to reach the eight Palestinian universities in the West Bank. In 1999 some 350 Gaza students were studying at Birzeit. By 2009 there was almost none.