Fifty of them come for every child.

“How do I deal with it? How do you deal with it? You pay for it!” A Reflection on Jerusalem and American Responsibility

Posted by rabbibrian on March 11, 2010

Child at Demolished home in Silwan

On Tuesday a shocking article on the front page of HaAretz about the arrest of Palestinian children in the middle of the night and their abuse in custody, reminded me of a transformative moment on a trip to Israel in November 2009.

First, the article:

“Several children in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan were arrested and taken from their homes in handcuffs in the middle of the night over the past few months, as part of a police crackdown on suspected stone-throwers, several teenage residents told B’Tselem and Haaretz.

Haaretz and B’Tselem, the Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, collected testimonies from several teens that suggest the police are treating them violently and violating their rights.

“They told me to get down on my knees and slapped and kicked me, one from behind and one from the front,” a 15-year-old told B’Tselem.

A large Border Police force has been raiding Palestinian homes at night, targeting mostly children aged 12 to 15.

Most of the children and teenagers living near near the two controversial residential buildings inhabited by Jewish settlers in Silwan – Beit Yonatan and Beit Hadvash – have been arrested at least once.

The police and Border Police activity follows complaints by the Jewish residents of the two buildings and by the guards hired by the Housing Ministry to protect them.

They say there has been an increase in children throwing stones at their houses and cars.

“The interrogator kept asking me the same question for an hour and every time I denied it, he swore. He swore at my mother and sister. He slapped me and wouldn’t let me go to the toilet or have a drink of water,” a 14-year-old told B’Tselem.

Another child said he was seated facing the wall and was beaten every time he turned his head.

Parents who try to argue or block their children’s arrest are treated harshly or attacked, said Jaballah Rajabi, many of whose family members have been arrested.

“I tried to talk to them and they hit me, sprayed me with gas. Fifty of them come for every child. This isn’t police, it’s a mafia,” he said. “

This shocking report of the arrest of children responding to the attempts by Israeli authorities to change their neighborhood, reminded me of a moment on a Rabbis for Human Rights trip in November 2008.  We visited a home in Silwan that had been demolished a few days earlier.  We stood together on the rubble of what had been two days earlier the home of a family.  A resident told us that he had just returned from the prison where he tried to secure the release of children from the neighborhood who had been arrested in the middle of the night.  When the house was demolished, some kids threw stones at the bulldozers and were filmed by the army.  In the middle of the night soldiers came to their houses, pulled them out of their beds and arrested them.  Exactly the same procedure that is described in this B’Tzelem and Haaretz report!

Child at Demolished home in Silwan

When I heard the resident tell us this story a little more than a year ago, I was overwhelmed with sadness and anger.  What were the Israeli authorities thinking? First, they demolish the home of a family so as to build a parking lot for the new City of David tourist area that they are building in the heart of Silwan, a densely populated Palestinian area.   Then they arrest children in the middle of the night because they thew stones at the bulldozers and hold them in jail.  How much hatred will be generated as a result of this demolition and all the other actions come in its wake?   Has Israel lost it’s mind, it’s soul?

At that moment I couldn’t stay there anymore and approached Rabbi Yehiel Greniman, a courageous Israeli rabbinic colleague  who sees many home demolitions.  I told him that I couldn’t bear to stay there another minute.  I have to leave.  ”You see this all the time?  How do you deal with it?”

Rabbi Yehiel Greniman and Palestinian resident in Silwan

Yehiel looked me in the eye and said,  ”What do you mean, how do I deal with it?  How do you deal with it?  You pay for it!”  He then told me that a representative of the American consulate witnessed the demolition and pleaded with the Israeli commander not to destroy the house.

Yehiel taught me a lesson that day.  Yes, we Americans, pay for it.  We pay for the abuse of these children, we pay for the settlement of Jews in Sheikh Jarah, in Silwan and in other Palestinian neighborhoods, and we will pay for the new settlement construction that Israel announced yesterday during vice-President Biden’s visit to the country to initiate the new “peace negotiations.”   Will we do anything beyond the polite reprimand that Biden issued yesterday?  When will America actually tell Israel that unless these unjust actions that violate core American values must end immediately, we will withhold our support and aid.   How long will our leaders make nice statements but in reality just turn a blind eye to the disaster that is unfolding in Jerusalem?

And we, the Jewish people, what has become of us that we dispossess another people and that we arrest children in the middle of the night.  Last week a 13-year-old child in Hebron who was arrested for stone throwing was held in prison for 9 days because his father couldn’t afford to pay the bail.

In the book of Lamentations, the author wails about the destruction of Jerusalem: “For these things do I weep, my eyes flow with tears.”  ”Remember O God what has befallen us, Behold and see our disgrace.” (Chapter 1:18 and 5:1)  These ancient words come to my mind as we all watch the tragedy unfold in this holy city.


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