Dima al Wawi, 12, was released from an Israeli prison last week, and according to The New York Times, her experience there was not all that bad. She played shuffle ball and went to classes, and when she came home after more than two months, she remained her spunky self.
This is the tenor of a piece by Diaa Hadid that ran on page one recently under the headline, “As Attacks Surge, Boys and Girls Fill Israeli Jails.” The tone here is in stark contrast to other accounts. The Daily Mail, for instance, ran the story with this title: “Haunted face of a 12-year-old girl broken by jail.”
A YouTube video of Dima’s reunion with her family also reveals a stony-faced child with dull eyes, and her mother speaks of her dismay at seeing her like that: “It seems like she is living in another world, in shock, not aware of what is happening.” She adds, “It feels like our suffering has increased.”
But Hadid gives us nothing like this. Her piece opens with a description of a benign Israeli prison experience and ends with Dima talking back to her mother like a normal, spirited pre-teen. Only far into the story do readers learn that Dima was not allowed to have either her parents or a lawyer present when she was interrogated and that she was shackled when she appeared in court.
Also missing from Hadid’s article is a full account of Israel’s scandalous treatment of Palestinian children and its apartheid court system. She describes these euphemistically as “a debate over how Israel’s military justice system, which prosecutes Palestinians from the West Bank, differs from the courts that cover Israeli citizens…and especially how it handles very young offenders.”
In fact, this is more than a debate. It is an atrocity that monitoring organizations have been documenting and publicizing for years: Israel routinely abuses Palestinian children in custody, deprives them of access to their parents and lawyers and coerces them into confessions. (See list of sources below.)
In addition, Israel is the only country in the world that systematically tries children (but only Palestinian children) in military courts, and it has two distinct systems for Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank. The former are tried in civil court while Palestinians face military trials.
In the Times story, however, this scandalous state of affairs becomes little more than a bureaucratic matter, a problem that calls for bringing two separate justice systems “more in line with one another.”
Hadid writes that Israel is trying to correct this deficiency, and she lists some policy changes made since a 2013 UNICEF report outlined abuses, but she fails to clarify either the extent of these abuses or the consistent and widespread condemnations of Israeli practices.
It is not only UNICEF that has raised alarm over the scandal: Human Rights Watch, Defence for Children International, the Israeli monitoring group B’Tselem, Amnesty International, Military Court Watch, several members of the U.S. Congress, the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child, Breaking the Silence (a group of former Israeli soldiers) and the U.S. State Department have done the same over several years.
It should also be noted that Israel, even as it claims it is correcting the problems, recently denied a delegation from the UK the right to witness child detainees in court. Additionally, the DCI report, cited in Hadid’s article, states, “Despite repeated calls to end night arrests and ill treatment and torture of Palestinian children, Israel has persistently failed to implement practical changes to stop violence against child detainees.”
Missing from the Times story is a major abuse cited in the above quote: the arrest of young Palestinians during night raids. Israeli soldiers routinely invade Palestinian homes after midnight—terrorizing families and neighborhoods in the process—and haul away teenagers and children accused of throwing stones or other offenses.
After a drumbeat of criticism from rights groups, the military announced that it would try a pilot program to cut down on night raids by delivering summonses to suspects, demanding that they turn themselves to the authorities.
But as the online magazine 972 reported, little has changed. The program has affected only 5 percent of these arrests, the documents are often handwritten in Hebrew without translation and soldiers are delivering the summonses during night raids.
DCI noted in its report that Israel has an obvious interest in continuing the raids: “Arresting children from their homes in the middle of the night, ill-treating them during arrest and interrogation, and prosecuting them in military courts that lack basic fair trial guarantees, works to stifle dissent and control an occupied population.”
Hadid’s story makes no mention of the night raids nor of the possible Israeli strategic interest mentioned by DCI. We get glimpses of the hardships Dima’s family has faced, but overall the effect is to minimize the trauma Israel inflicts on Palestinian children.
As the Times tells it, the treatment of these young detainees is simply “different” from that of young Israelis who run afoul of the law. It’s a matter of making a few adjustments, not a matter of ingrained racism and a brutal occupation.
Online readers can get a more complete story by clicking on the links to the DCI and UNICEF reports, but in the Times itself only fragments of the truth are allowed into print. The result is to obscure the cruel reality of routine abuse in the cells and interrogation rooms of Israel’s crowded prisons.