The season of peace and goodwill is, as we know, honoured more in the breach than the observance, by states around the world. The abuse of human rights continues unabated and the Israeli state is always somewhere near the top of the list.
News that the Israeli government has been torturing Palestinian children by keeping them in outdoor cages for months during the winter won’t surprise many but it is shocking nonetheless.
The human rights organisation Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) has just reported that children suspected of minor crimes are subjected to “public caging”, threats and acts of sexual violence and military trials without representation.
Its report – Childhood is a Right – was released on the day that a committee in the Israeli Knesset was due to hold a hearing on the treatment of Palestinian youth seized – or, more accurately, kidnapped – by the Israeli authorities.
According to two other human rights organisations, Defence of Children International Palestine and Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, Israel is the only nation to “automatically and systematically prosecute children in military courts that lack basic and fundamental fair trial guarantees”.
The organisations estimate that around 500-700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12 years old, are arrested, detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military detention system each year.
And their “crimes”? The majority are charged with throwing stones, and 74% experience physical violence during arrest, transfer or interrogation. Of course, they are aiming their stones at the illegal occupiers of Palestinian territory.
Israeli torture of children is part of the systematic assault on Palestinians documented in the impassioned pre-Christmas open letter to the Pope Francis from Dr Vacy Vlazna, Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters.
In invoking the July Lampedusa Homile, in which the Pope drew attention to the “globalisation of indifference”, Dr Vlazna’s letter asks for help to release the people of Gaza from the strangulation of the Israeli seven-year blockade.
“Today’s Israeli Herods have systematically made Gaza a hell on earth by imposing a blockade in violation of international law that has made Gaza an open air concentration camp imprisoning 1.7 million innocent people, half of whom are children.
“As the world makes merry this festive season, the people of Gaza have deliberately been deprived of fuel by Israel for two months: they suffer in freezing temperatures, with no electricity, no light, no heat, scarcity of food, no essential services, when the waste water treatment plant stopped functioning sewage flooded the streets - then kicking families while they are down so low, Israel opened dams east of Gaza drowning hope and the last vestiges of normal life.”
The repression of children in particular and Palestinians in general is integral to the fanatical. fundamentalist Zionist vision of a region ethnically cleansed of a people forcibly deprived of their homeland.
More than that even. In his documentary The Lab, filmmaker Yotam Feldman, notes: “I think the main product Israelis are selling, especially in the last decade, is experience… the testing of the products, the experience is the main thing they [customers] are coming to buy. They want the missile that was shot in the last operation in Gaza or the rifle that was used in the last West Bank incursion.”
Inevitably, profits soared in 2009/10 after surgical strikes by F16s, attack helicopters drones, and phosphorous bombs slaughtered 1,400 Gazans, one third of whom were children and again in November 2012.
Vlazna’s appeal to the Pope is heartfelt but ultimately without power. The Israelis know that they have the United States at their side, ignoring the occupation and the torture of children. With Egypt’s military regime reinforcing the siege of Gaza, we can safely say that the season of peace and goodwill passed the Palestinians by.