Criminalizing Dissent: State Violence Against Black and Palestinian Youth

Guest contribution by Bayan Abusneineh

On May 15, a date when Palestinians around the world commemorate the Nakba, the Arabic word for “catastrophe,” 17-year-old Nadeem Siam Nuwara and 16-year-old Muhammad Mahmoud Odeh Abu Al-Thahir were shot and killed by the Israeli military. Al-Nakba symbolizes the day that preceded Israel’s declaration of statehood and the day when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled. The two boys were participating in a demonstration near Ofer military prison when they were shot. They had been protesting Israel’s use of administrative detention, a tool used to imprison Palestinian men, women, and children on the basis of “suspicious” behavior, and expressing their support for the Palestinian hunger strikers. The killing of the two innocent boys proves how Israel kills with impunity.

Mass incarceration of Palestinians

Political captivity and mass incarceration are part and parcel to the Zionist settler-colonial regime. Physical and psychological forms of torture have been employed as colonial tools, designed to not only intimidate Palestinians through terror, but to also prevent and stifle all resistance movements, including throwing rocks. According to the Prison Support and Human Rights Association, Addameer, as of April 1, 2014, there were approximately 5,265 Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli prisons and detention centers, including 186 administrative detainees, 20 women, and 202 children. Twenty-four of these children were under the age of 16. Administrative detention is the right to arrest and detain without charge or trial, and Palestinians cannot even view the evidence used against them in these cases.

Israel established their military court system in 1967 in order to govern Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.[1] In the aftermath of the Six Day War, Israeli occupying forces issued their first military order, stating that all legal authority over the Occupied Territories would fall into the hands of Israeli military commanders in the interest of “security” and “public order.” The order granted tremendous power to military commanders by enabling them to incarcerate any person deemed a “security threat” to the State of Israel, which effectively criminalized any Palestinian act of political struggle. Since the majority of the Palestinians whose land had been confiscated and transformed into Jewish settlements were opposed to the occupation, they were all deemed “threats.” The very existence of Palestinians, regardless of gender, age, and religion, is an impediment to preserving a Jewish-only state. Since the issuance of the order, over 700,000 Palestinians have been forcibly detained, many resulting from resisting the occupation through nonviolent protests and demonstrations, or resisting settler violence. Those detained constitute 20 percent of the total Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including 40 percent of the total male population.

Children are not exempt from such military orders. Approximately 700 Palestinian children (under the age of 18) from the West Bank are prosecuted annually through Israeli military courts. Children as young as the age of seven have been apprehended by the Israeli military; throwing stones is the most common charge levied against children and is a crime that is punishable under military law by up to 20 years in prison. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a report on the ill treatment that Palestinian children have experienced in Israeli prisons. The report stated that oftentimes, Israeli soldiers arrested Palestinian youth in the middle of the night, tying their hands painfully and transferring them to numerous detention centers without informing their families. Children are often subjected to violent and abusive arrests and interrogations, and report that they are tortured, sleep deprived, and blindfolded during interrogations. They often suffer from lack of water, food, or access to a toilet, and many have reported being denied the right to have a lawyer or family member present during interrogation. Many times, Palestinian children are even shackled by their hands and feet to one another. In order to “protect” children, Israel issued Military Order 1644 in 2009, which established a separate military court for Palestinian children. While the UN Convention on the Rights of Child defines a child as “every human being below the age of eighteen years,” the Israeli military applies discriminatory standards to Palestinians. The Israeli military tries Palestinians aged 16 and older as adults, while its definition of an Israeli child includes those who are 16 and 17 years old.

Solitary confinement and threats of rape and sexual violence have been used to inflict fear upon children and coerce them into giving confessions. In turn, these confessions are often used to incarcerate other Palestinians. According to the Defense for Children International Palestine, “solitary confinement for detained Palestinian children was used in 21.4 percent of cases in 2013.” The Israeli military has increased the use of solitary confinement among children in their interrogations because children are seen as vulnerable and easily breakable. In 2009, there were at least five cases reported of children who were sexually assaulted or threatened with sexual assault during all stages of their arrest, interrogation, and detention.

From Israel to the United States

Israel is not the only country to imprison its youth. Incarcerating juveniles is one method that the United States and Israel have adopted as a means to degenerate African American and Palestinian bodies. Just as the United States has made Black synonymous with “criminal,” Israel deems all Palestinians “terrorists.” The United States and Israel create the binary of innocent (read: the U.S. and Israel) versus violent (read: Blacks and Palestinians) to justify its practices and exempt itself from international accountability. Incarceration has been used as a tool to criminalize minority groups that pose a threat to the dominant order, in the name of “security.”

However, this security only applies to white and Israeli bodies; Black and Palestinian bodies are viewed as expendable and therefore, their lives are not worth protecting. While the number of Palestinian and Black women incarcerated is increasing, the majority of those arrested and incarcerated are men. Currently, one in every three African American men is incarcerated at some point in their lives. They are routinely targeted through certain laws and policies such as Stop-and-Frisk, Three Strikes Law, and other drug-related laws. Black children have the highest suspension rates in school and are most likely to be stopped by law enforcement while walking down the street. In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, more than 40% of Palestinian men experience arrest and detention. This does not include the open-air prison that exists in the Gaza Strip and the numerous barriers in the West Bank that restrict the mobility of Palestinians daily. Palestinian boys and girls are harassed daily through checkpoints on their way to school.

Both Blacks and Palestinians constitute “security threats” to the white patriarchal and Zionist regimes. The only way to preserve these systems is through incarceration or cold-blooded murder, as the United States has shown through the murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, and as Israel has shown through the killings of Nadeem and Muhammad. The criminalization of these bodies creates subjects with what Giorgio Agamben calls “bare life” or those who have a “mere zoological existence” and are “unprotected by philosophical or legal bastions of citizenship or humanity.”[2] Therefore, these cases are not isolated incidents, but echo a power message that Black and Palestinian bodies are “dangerous” and are an impediment to white- and Jewish-majority land. This also sends the message that “civilized” nations such as the United States and Israel can kill without repercussion in the name of “security.”

Trapped in a Cycle of Violence

Whether children are arrested and detained in a violent manner or murdered in the streets, both tactics serve the same purpose: to hinder the growth and development of the targeted population. In the United States, an African American male without a high school diploma is more likely to go to jail than to find a job. Incarceration has not only caused the disintegration of families of color, but it has also created a cycle of violence that has perpetuated poverty in their communities. Similarly, imprisonment of Palestinians, through actual detention centers or restricting mobility through checkpoints and blockades, has created even more poverty for Palestinians. Consequently, children are malnourished, and educational and job opportunities are scarce for them. Targeting children from a young age ingrains in them the notion that they belong to the inferior group and cannot exit this cycle.

Regardless of their age, Palestinians are all part of the collective “enemy.” The belief that every Palestinian child is a potential terrorist has led to a norm of regular arrests and detention of children, without charge. Israel cannot exist as a Jewish State if there is not a Jewish majority. Israel cannot exist so long as the Palestinian population continues to grow. Nadeem and Muhammad were killed, not because they were violent, but because their mere existence was threatening to Israel’s existence — and the deafening silence of the Western world reaffirms that the Jewish State is worth protecting over Palestinian lives.

[1] Hajjar, L. (2005). Courting conflict the Israeli military court system in the West Bank and Gaza. Berkeley: University of California Press.

[2] Agamben, G. (2005). State of exception. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bayan Abusneineh

Bayan Abusneineh graduated from UCLA in 2013 in Political Science and Gender Studies. She will be entering the Ethnic Studies Ph.D. program in Fall 2014 where she plans to study Palestinian and Black women’s social movements, state and gender violence, and transnationalism.


There is one comment

  1. tim74836

    If Ive learned anything about the Kiev takeover from the new thug government, Ive learned the new illegal Apartheid state of Kiev took its initiative from the Zionist Apartheid state of Israel. Violent terrorist acts followed by a deluge of new laws erasing any semblance of the original order. Including the racist act of punishing the natives with mandatory passports because they weren’t real citizens. The parallels are astonishing. I hope the population of Kiev can learn from their expierence and use it to end the colonialist agenda in Palestine.

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