Wednesday, September 23, 2020

A bench behind bars: education and child-imprisonment in Palestine

By Maria Correia - August 06, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [child arrests] [Education]

“The violations begin from the moment of arrest”

The mass-incarceration of children
Last week, Ahed Tamimi was released from her eight month sentence for slapping a solider. The video of Tamimi confronting soldiers at her doorstep went viral last December and she has since gained immense international traction; becoming a symbol of Palestinian resilience and resistance to the occupation.
Tamimi was originally charged with 12 counts of assault, incitement, interference and stone throwing. She pleaded guilty to four of them.
The story of this 17-year-old isn’t one of a kind; child imprisonment is a bleak reality for Palestinian families.
Speaking to Sahar Francis, a human rights lawyer and director of the Addameer prisoners support and human rights association, it became clear that the mass incarceration of children is more than just sporadic.
The Israeli legal age for imprisonment is 12. However Francis made sure to highlight that even this limit wasn’t always respected. She listed stories of kids as young as 5 being held for some hours by Israeli military.
The Israeli forces violations of international human rights begin from the moment of arrest; most children are arrested in the middle of the night, and frequently without explanation. During the transfers from the child’s home into detention, statements show that children face an array of abuse. During the interrogation period, the most common technique of torture is solitary confinement, while blindfolded and tied up in uncomfortable positions. Children are also subject to sexual and verbal harassment.
It is also common for parents to not be informed of where their child is being taken. Out of the three juvenile prison facilities, two are in '48’, towns which remained Arab majority after the 1948 war. The transfer of children there is already a violation of international law.
Education in prison
Palestinian children in Israeli prisons don’t get special treatment for being minors; the only difference is they have access to an educator. A Palestinian teacher that holds an Israeli ID card gives children in prison classes 3-4 times a week. The classes focus on basic topics such and Arabic and Mathematics; Hebrew classes are also offered but are not mandatory. Topics like science are forbidden for security reasons.
The teacher assigned to the task is chosen by the Israeli Minister of Education and thus does not follow the Palestinian curriculum.  The children in prison are also not grouped based on their age but rather on their intelligence, which means it does not help their reintegration process upon release.
Speaking to M., a Palestinian who was imprisoned at 17 for stone throwing, it seemed the level of education wasn’t exactly beneficial.
“It was simple education, the basics of Arabic, Hebrew and Math. If you are educated, it doesn’t benefit you. If you have no education then it benefits you.”
M. had already left the education system before his arrest, so the time in prison didn’t affect his education pattern.
A., another ex-prisoner who was in prison for 11 years said he didn’t ever go back to school after his arrest. He did however say that the education provided in prison was okay. He was arrested at 15 years old.
Speaking to H., a Palestinian who works extensively with child prisoners during and after their sentence, it became clear that education is hugely affected post-release.
“Most [children] don’t go back to school mainly because of embarrassment. If they are jailed for a year, it means that he has to go back a class because he cannot keep up. It embarrasses them so they drop out.”
The Tawjihi and self-sustainability
Speaking of the Tawjihi, the final high-school exams before graduating, H. said it is possible for a prisoner to sit the exam in prison if they apply to do it in time through the Palestinian Ministry of Education. However, it’s not very common as the imprisonment sets them back in the curriculum. “Most of them they cannot keep up because they have been imprisoned for such a long time,” H. told Palestine Monitor.
The education Palestinians receive in prison is subject to restrictions on educational material. A lot of the revision is dependant on more senior prisoners. H. talked about the trend of older prisoners teaching younger children in preparation for exams, as it is their only source of education apart from the limited hours offered by the Israeli Ministry of Education.
Francis told Palestine Monitor a story of a group of girls in prison whose teacher disappeared in January and had to organise themselves to teach each other in preparation for the Tawjihi exam in July. The prison administration tried to stop these classes.
Re-integration into society
H. wanted to emphasize the long-term effects of imprisonment on a child, and the dire need for psychological support. “If you spend your childhood cooped up in prison, it changes you. This also means that education isn’t the first thing they think about once they leave prison.”
If a child does not do the last exam and graduate high school, the reintegration into society becomes increasingly difficult. Palestinian schools do not have a psychological support program in place for students returning from prison. They rely solely on the limited help counsellors are able to offer. Some NGOs offer rehabilitation programmes but due to limited funds they cannot offer long-term support.
Additionally, upon their release, children are supervised for an x amount of time, and as most child-prisoners live in friction-zones, their lives become increasingly limited. Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCI) stated that “the child can’t even go near these areas due to risk of being associated with violence – which makes kids not go out much due to fear and can’t live their life normally after their release.”
Reality on the ground
Most Palestinian children are arrested for stone throwing, participation in demonstrations, or online incitement.
Numbers of imprisoned children vary yearly. In 2017, 1,400 children were arrested, out of a total of 6,000 prisoners. By the end of June this year, already about 600 children from the age of 12 - 17 have been arrested.
Children are often forced to confess to crimes they are not guilty of, because it is the fastest way out of the system. This stays on the child’s record for life. “The military court system is not a system of justice but rather it is a system of control,” DCIP stated.
During her release, Ahed Tamimi told the world that although she was happy to be with friends and family, she wanted the world to remember all the other children that remain in Israeli prisons. And that’s a message the world needs to remember; that Ahed is merely a drop in the ocean of this immense problem that is currently creating a generation of children forced to become familiar with the horrors of unlawful incarceration.

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