Arriving on time for class is fraught with difficulties for Palestinian children in the southern West Bank city of Hebron.
In the historic Old City, under Israeli military occupation, some children don’t make it to school at all.
Navigating over 18 Israeli military checkpoints, settler violence and daily clashes, children in the center of the city face a menacing daily walk to receive an education.
The militarization of the H2 area of the city is designed to protect the 800 Israeli settlers who live illegally among 40,000 Palestinians, and the checkpoints are a constant source of intimidation and danger for Palestinians, both young and old.
In 2013, at least 41 children and five teachers were arrested by Israeli forces on their way to school in H2.
One of the starkest incidents occurred on Mar. 20, 2013 when Israeli soldiers detained 27 children on suspicion of stone-throwing.
At least 14 children were under 12, the age of criminal responsibility.
A volunteer for the EAPPI who monitors checkpoints in the H2 area says her team witnesses the arrest of children on a near daily basis.
“Oddly enough, this is something pretty common. It is absurd that things like this can be part of daily life,” she said.
Arrests and physical violence by Israeli soldiers at checkpoints are often random and unprovoked.
On Sept. 24, EA workers witnessed the arrest of two boys as young as 8 and 9 on accusations of stone-throwing.
"It is absurd that things like this can be part of daily life”
One of the boys said a soldier grabbed his face in the back of a military jeep and forced him to confess. His parents were not allowed to be present during the incident, although both boys were released hours later.
In another incident on Sept. 8, EA workers say that Israeli soldiers randomly grabbed a 7-year-old boy during clashes and accused him of throwing stones.
The boy immediately burst into tears, in shock at being manhandled by armed men.
Usually children are detained and then released hours later without charge after their parents pay a fine of 2,000 shekels ($535), a huge sum for most Palestinian families.
Sometimes they are held overnight. The arbitrary nature of the arrests means children never fully understand why they are being detained and how long the process will last.
Children are also often caught in the middle of daily clashes in H2, which transform the restrictive alleyways into temporary warzones.
In 2013, 13 incidents of Israeli soldiers firing tear gas or raiding schools were reported, affecting roughly 3,400 children.
“It can be a horrible place. I can’t even count the number of mornings which begin with tear gas shooting and sound bombs,” an EA worker said.
“Kids are constantly faced with this and their education is for sure interrupted. Even getting to school and back is affected by constant unrest in these areas.”
TWO UNEQUAL LEGAL SYSTEMS
The military infrastructure of Hebron’s Old City is an extension of Israel’s two distinct legal and political systems for separating and controlling the Palestinian and Jewish settler community in the West Bank.
“The issue of child detentions relates to the existence of two legal systems; one for Palestinian children in the West Bank, which is military, and the second for Israelis (settlers) which is the civil system,” Ayed Abu Eqtaish, from Defense for Children International Palestine, says.
Under the military legal system, Palestinian school children are arrested arbitrarily as a first, not last, resort, with conviction rates of over 50 percent for children who go before a military court.
Settlers will often accuse Palestinian children of throwing stones, prompting Israeli soldiers to arrest children randomly.
“Sometimes, settlers complain and will physically abuse children. Israel’s army accompanies them to look for children. The soldiers are partnered with settlers in violating the rights of Palestinian children,” Abu Eqtaish says.
Once in the military system, Palestinian children face mistreatment, abuse, and undergo severe mental trauma.
In 2013, 90 percent of children detained in the West Bank were blindfolded, had their hands or legs tied, and were not informed of the reason for their arrest, DCI says.
Over 75 percent of children reported physical violence during their detention, and were denied access to a toilet, food and water. The majority of children were strip searched and faced verbal humiliation and abuse.
One in five children are held in solitary confinement for two or more days, and around the same number are shown or forced to sign papers written in Hebrew only.
"One in five children are held in solitary confinement for two or more days"
Abu Eqtaish says these experiences often cause severe psychological traumas, with many children dropping out of school.
EA volunteers say that although children act strong and pretend they are not scared, they are severely affected by their detention experiences and develop restlessness, anxiety, and bed-wetting.
“The constant presence of soldiers near schools and not knowing what can happen to you affects these children. Detention affects their mental state,” an EA worker said.
DCI says that as of August 2014 there are 201 Palestinian children being held in Israeli jails.
The H2 area is a particular flashpoint for child detentions, but Abu Eqtaish says the policy of detention, for both adults and children, is designed for the same effect.
“Arresting children from this area is to prevent them from participating in any resistance policies. I think whether in Hebron or not, the system is designed in order to oppress the human spirit.”