It’s been a tough week in the life of my friends in Tequa, a village near Bethlehem. If the name rings a bell for you, perhaps it’s because you’ve seen it noted in the Bible—the birthplace of Amos, a prophet. Today Tequa, a village near Bethlehem, sees frequent confrontations between villagers and the Israel Defense Forces [IDF]. The IDF patrol the area heavily because of two nearby Israeli settlements, which have been established on land seized from the villagers. I have numerous friends in Tequa and visited the village frequently, when we lived in Bethlehem.
While U.S. politicians argued this week regarding comments that Representative Ilhan Omar made regarding Israel, my friends live in the oppressive reality that happens on the ground in the Occupied territories. It is this type of injustice and oppression to which Rep. Omar should be drawing attention. She used poorly chosen words. She has unequivocally apologized for using tropes that have a history in anti-semitism. Yet, politicians remained focused on weaponizing phrases and inflaming rhetoric, yet failed to look deeper into the oppressive reality, which Palestinians experience daily.
Last week, Mohammed, a 17-year-old friend and the son of close friends, was arrested outside his school. He is being held, on unknown charges, in an Israeli detention and interrogation center in Ramallah. It took three days for my friends to find out where their son was being held. Meanwhile, he is being interrogated, under military law, without legal counsel. So far his parents have not been able to speak with him. They have been told that maybe they will be able to speak with him tomorrow, more than a week since he has been detained. At least, they will try. Perhaps they will again be refused. They have no rights recognized by the IDF.
If Mohammed were an Israeli citizen, living in the settlement nearby his village, he would have been arrested under Israeli civilian law, given legal counsel and communication with parents. He would typically not be detained in prison before trial or sentencing. Since he is a Palestinian, though, he is detained for interrogation and tried as an adult under Israeli military law. His parents, like many Palestinians are living a subsistence living. To hire a lawyer to defend their son is an unreasonable hardship.
Several of Mohammed’s school friends were first detained for “troublemaking.” Under pressure, they were probably forced to identify their friends. This is the usual course of action for the IDF. Often, detained youth are told they will be freed if they cooperate or plead guilty to minor charges. They are sometimes presented documents to sign, which are written in Hebrew, a language they cannot read. Then they find themselves facing prison time for more serious charges, to which they unknowingly pled guilty. Here is an article demonstrating the reality of deletion for Palestinian youth. B’Tselem, an Israeli organization advocating for human rights in the Palestinian Territories has also documented the violation of the human rights of Palestinian youth.
This is not something out of the ordinary. According to Defense for Children International, 500- 700 youth were detained in the past year. Nearly 10,000 since 2010. Some are as young as 12 years-old. There have been documented cases of soldiers in Hebron detaining youth even younger for questioning (not imprisoning them).
Many of the Palestinian youth, once their interrogation is finished, are transferred to prisons within Israel, against the Geneva Conventions. This means that their parents, are often not able to visit them regularly.
Numerous human-rights organizations have documented the evidence of these detentions and trials. Breaking the Silence [BtS], an organized group of IDF veterans, has written testimony about the horrors of the detentions the soldiers participated in, while serving in the IDF. These horrors include holding minors handcuffed and blindfolded, withholding food and water, and causing them to urinate and defecate in their clothes.
A long-lasting effect of these detentions is that the young people (along with the father and other male relatives) usually end up on the “blacklist” of Israel. This impacts where they can look for future jobs, whether they can access holy places of worship, or visit family that live across the line.
As I communicate with my friends this week, my emotions run through the cycle of anger, grief, and hoping for a change like a hamster on a wheel. The US administration has closely supported the Netanyahu administration and has cut off all diplomatic ties with Palestinians. It has ended support for all health, education, and security programs of the Palestinians. None of this is helpful for either Israelis or Palestinians in the long run. Without question, this strong alignment with the Israeli administration has only emboldened the actions of the IDF in the Palestinian territories. The IDF operates with impunity.
Please join me in praying for Mohammed and his family and for the establishment of justice and peace for my friends. It is a discipline of faith, in obedience to the command of Christ to be peacemakers.