SILWAN, Nov 24 (JMCC) - Approximately 51 Palestinian children have been arrested in the East Jerusalem
neighborhood of Silwan
since mid-September, many under circumstances that violate their basic human rights, according to the Wadi Hilweh Information Center.
"The kids of Silwan see their parents sometimes [being] arrested in the middle of the night. They see the Israeli soldiers assaulting or insulting their parents. They see the general situation: the killings, the violent clashes, house demolitions, the evacuation orders. So they live in a very tense environment," said Muna Hasan, the Public Relations Coordinator at the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, a media and information center run by Silwan residents.
Silwan residents have witnessed this increase in the targeting of children since clashes erupted on September 22 after an Israeli settler security guard shot and killed Palestinian Samer Sarhan in the neighborhood.
Hasan explained that many of the children who have been arrested – some as young as eight-years-old – have been taken from their homes in the middle of the night and been interrogated for extended periods of time without the presence of their parents or a lawyer.
Some children have also reported being beaten by the Israeli authorities during the interrogation process, she added.
"Israel is solving the problems [in Silwan] in a very violent way," Hasan said. "Some families have even been forced to rent houses outside of Silwan for their children to use for their house arrest."
Since that time, the children who have been arrested in Silwan are most often charged with throwing stones at Israeli settlers or at the Israeli soldiers and police officers who have set up a near-permanent presence in the neighborhood.
Palestinian families have been forced to pay fines of up to NIS 2,000 and place their children under house arrest, often outside the village of Silwan.
For instance, on November 16, three Silwan youth between the ages of 17 and 20 were each sentenced to house arrest, to be served in the Beit Hanina
, Ras el Amoud and Beit Safafa
neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.
"Of course it's very difficult for the parents to keep their children in the house and not to let them go out," Hasan said. "The children need both social support and legal support."
SETTLERS IN SILWAN
Silwan sits at the foot of Jewish holy sites and the al-Aqsa mosque, just outside the Old City walls in East Jerusalem. In recent years, the neighborhood has undergone a large take-over by far-right Israeli organizations – including the Elad settlement organization – which are largely supported by the Israeli government and Jerusalem municipality.
Today, approximately 350 Jewish settlers live amidst 55,000 Palestinian residents in Silwan. Fifty percent of Silwan's Palestinian residents are under the age of 18, and 75 percent of these children live below the poverty line.
According to Khaled Quzmar, a legal adviser with Defence for Children International's (DCI) Palestine section, the presence of Israeli settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories has the biggest impact on the lives of children.
"Thousands of children are injured and many of them are handicapped because of the occupation and settler violations," Quzmar said.
"The Israeli government and the Israeli army never take any action against the settlers. They never open any investigations against the Israeli settlers. So we can see the message. It is a green light to the settlers to continue their violations," he added.
Quzmar explained that despite the fact this year marks the 21st anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which outlines the rights of children around the world, the Convention has wholly failed to protect Palestinian children in the face of Israeli aggressions.
"We believe that enough is enough. Palestinian children until now are deprived from the fundamental rights. So as Palestinians, we are asking for international protection from the occupation and we ask all the high contracting bodies to the Geneva Convention or the UN Security Council to take an action to implement these conventions on the ground." he said.
GETTING THEIR CHILDHOOD BACK
Jawad Siyam is the Director of the Madaa Creative Center, a community center for children and teenagers established by residents of Silwan's Wadi Hilweh neighborhood in 2007 with the goal of building "a strong, knowledgeable and involved Arab community in Silwan."
He said that the center hopes to create a legal clinic in the neighborhood to help alleviate the financial burden many families are now facing with regards to the arrests of their children and other issues.
"We are trying now to make a legal clinic in Silwan in order to have professional lawyers. The dream of the Madaa Center is to make a legal clinic not just for the arrests but for the house demolitions and other things we are facing in Silwan," Siyam said.
He explained that while the center has been able to provide classes and activities to 460 children in Silwan this year, most children continue to struggle with the constant threat that they will be arrested, or have their homes demolished.
"The children don't know when they will come back home if they have a house still," Siyam said. "We're trying to give them a little part of their childhood back."