Fawzi al-Junaidi is a 16 -year-old Palestinian boy who has been photographed above as being aggressively handled by members of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). The image became popular as it condensed the systematic abuse and suffering endured by the children of Palestine in occupied territories into a single photo. The stark contrast between the power dynamics of a teenage Palestinian boy in dirty ripped clothing and Israeli occupation forces clad in protective uniform and weaponry are shown in the image, and are telling of the force of the power the soldiers have over Palestinian civilians, including children, on a daily basis.
The image has garnered significant popularity on social media and amongst Palestinians and liberal Israelis, condemning the actions of the IDF.
On December 6, Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This quickly caused severe public controversy as it further officiated the United States’ support of Israel, in spite of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. For Palestinians, Jerusalem is also land significant to their culture and heritage and the United States’ announcement of this sacred land belonging to Israel is both terrifying and infuriating.
Hence, many people across the Middle East took to the streets to protest their outrage and disappointment. In a protest in Palestine, 4 protestors were killed, while over 700 more were wounded. Fawzi al-Junaidi was amongst those protesting throughout the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. A few days later, al-Junaidi, as well as at least 16 others, were arrested.
Fawzi al-Junaidi was accused of throwing stones during his presence at a protest. However, al-Junaidi denies these accusations, claiming he had not participated in any protests. His lawyer, Farah Bayadsi, told Al Jazeera, “He said he was fearful and was running away when tear gas canisters were being thrown. Fawzi said he was beaten with a rifle and he showed up with bruises all over his neck, chest and back.”
He had a hearing on Monday, with a trial after in which he was charged with throwing stones during the protests. A decision for his sentence will be confirmed on December 18.
The judge hearing the case showed surprise at the amount of force used by the soldiers in arresting al-Junaidi. Bayadsi spoke of the trial, “He showed up with large slippers from the prison. He had lost his shoes and spoke about the way he was abused while being transferred to prison. The prosecutors didn’t even say whether the soldiers would be investigated for using excessive force. The whole case so far has been handled with neglect.”
Under unfortunate circumstances of a terminally-ill mother and a father with a leg injury, al-Junaidi’s family depended on him for income. He was out grocery shopping at the time of the protests and bumped into Israeli forces.
His uncle, Rashad, told Al Jazeera, “They beat him, blindfolded him, arrested him and first took him to the detention centre in a nearby settlement. That night, at 2 a.m., he was transferred to another detention centre. The day after, they took him to Ofer prison.”
Rashad told Al Jazeera, “Unfortunately, there has been absolutely no form of communication – we haven’t spoken to him since his arrest.” The prison does not often grant permission for detainees to have contact with outsiders, including family.
Ayed Abu Qtaish, the accountability programme director of the DCIP, says around 320 children are held in detention centres and prisons in and/or owned by Israel. He says that in October 2015 there was an increase in children being interrogated and arrested, resulting many times in a trial in a military court.
These children share the same story as al-Junaidi.
“These children are usually picked up at protests, arrested for throwing stones, for allegedly possessing a weapon, things like that. During these arrests, the children undergo various types of mistreatment, including torture.”
Video footage of children being abused by the IDF during protests have come up from Hebron, a city in the occupied West Bank.
B’Tselem, an Israeli source of documentation surrounding Israel’s violation of human rights within its occupation on Palestinian land, released a video in which a boy was cowering while surrounded by 3 soldiers. The child is dragged by his arm by the soldiers while yelling for his arm and he limps between the soldiers; one has put him in a headlock.
The recorder is stopped by a soldier from following the boy.
On October 13, 18 youths, most underaged, were also arrested for throwing stones at soldiers. These boys threw stones at soldiers during Friday prayers. The disproportionate response from the soldiers was “stun grenades and rubber-coated metal bullets.” The men and boys were arrested and detained while being questioned in a military base, and released at 10 p.m.. No one’s families were told of this, nor had they access to a lawyer.
A 13-year-old boy, MJ, did not throw stones at the soldiers, arriving later on, but was arrested amongst the rest of the boys. He said, “We all ran away. The soldiers caught up with us and ordered us to stand with our faces to the wall. One of the soldiers kicked my arm and the back of my legs and hit me on the back with the butt of his rifle. I started to cry. After about 15 minutes, they led us out of the mall and took us to the checkpoint at Bab al-Zawiya where they kicked us again. They tied our hands in front of our bodies and led us to a military base at the old bus station on al-Shuhada Street in the Old City. The soldiers took us into a room, put us on chairs, and blindfolded us. They interrogated us for about two hours while we were blindfolded. A soldier asked me whether I throw stones and I denied it. He told me that they had photographs. I told him to show me the photographs, but he wouldn’t and accused me of lying.”
Amjad Al-Najjar, the spokesperson of Palestinian Prisoners Club, shared with Al Jazeera his observation that indeed Israeli forces have been using excessive force in their beating and arrested Palestinians.
The former Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, would order army commanders to break the bones of Palestinian protestors when he was defense minister during the First Intifada.
Al-Najjar says that this method has returned, only now to target Palestinian youth, regardless of the status of their participation in protests. For those who do protest, the method is used to hurt the legs and knees of Palestinian youth to disable and prevent them from speaking out.
Al-Najjar says of the youth, “In the last few days, after the protests over the U.S. embassy move, a lot of the youth who return home after being detained were in miserable shape,” said Al-Najjar. They’re often covered in blood and with stitches on their heads as a result of being severely abused and beaten up by Israeli forces. They’re often in so much pain that they are unable to consume water and food.”
Amit Gilutz of B’Tselem told The Independent,
“Israel’s military control over millions of people is not merely a theoretical-political issue: the lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories are subjected to a daily routine of violence. The harassment, abuse, arrests and detention of Palestinians, including minors, by Israeli security forces, as well as instances that do not involve the direct use of physical force, are all different forms of organised, ongoing state violence by Israel.”
Palestinian children in occupied regions are being robbed of their humanity. Their rights to freedom, to a safe and healthy childhood, have been taken from them before they have ever had the opportunity to truly experience it. The IDF are contributing to a practice in which the abuse of Palestinian children has become systematic and normalized, putting their lives in constant danger. Many of these children, borne to a world where their home is also a battleground, know physical abuse and harassment at the hands of those recognized and supported by government as a norm. As Israel’s military force is aiding in the creation of a system of abuse and harassment, it leaves not even children exempt.
A child’s geographical and surrounding sociopolitical circumstances and ethnic identity should never take away their rights to live in a world of safety, humanity and justice.