When 15-year-old Silwan resident Mahmoud Jamal Tufiq Gnaith was summoned by police to be questioned in connection with throwing rocks for the second time in 10 months, he wasn’t worried.
He knew the drill. In January, when was awakened at 3 a.m. by four policemen and brought to the Russian Compound police headquarters in downtown Jerusalem, that’s when he was scared. He ended up being held for a week before the court sentenced him to four months of house arrest at his uncle’s home in Beit Hanina, in northeast Jerusalem.
Gnaith’s story is just one of many being played out in the streets of the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, the scene of some of the most intense rock-throwing incidents. Silwan averages about four rock-throwing attacks a day, or 450 in the four months from July to October.
In a report to be released on Monday, B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, slammed the Jerusalem Police for “systematically violat[ing] the law” for treatment of east Jerusalem minors being investigated for their role in stone-throwing.
B’Tselem accuses the police of waking boys as young as eight in the middle of the night and taking them to the police station for interrogation, not allowing parents to attend their questioning, and using extreme violence and handcuffs on children.
B’Tselem said these rights for children were protected by the Youth Law, an Israeli law that adopts most of the UN’s positions on children’s rights.
The Jerusalem Police dismissed the report.
“It is known that the role of the police is to maintain public order and defend the peace, including in instances when the public order is disturbed by children,” the police said in a statement. The police said that they always gave parents the option of attending interrogations, and that children were only awakened in the middle of the night for questioning “for accepted operational reasons related to the good of the investigation.”
According to B’Tselem, from November 2009 to October 2010, 81 minors from Silwan were arrested or detained, many of them more than once. Nearly 40 percent of these boys were arrested or detained in the month following the September 22 death of Silwan resident Samer Sirkhan, who was killed by an Israeli private security guard.
Statistics from previous years were not available from either B’Tselem or the police, though police agreed there was a “worrisome increase” in violent incidents, especially rock-throwing, in the past year in east Jerusalem. The widespread problem was captured by the international media when Elad (Ir David Foundation) head David Be’eri ran into two youths who were throwing rocks at his car on October 8.
At a meeting of the Knesset’s Committee on the Rights of the Child following the Be’eri incident, police said they were frustrated that their hands were tied when dealing with younger and younger boys who were throwing rocks. In October, police examined the idea of holding the parents responsible for their children’s actions, but have not finalized any new plans.
B’Tselem interviewed 30 minors who had been arrested by the police in the past year, including Gnaith, to explore how the police was treating east Jerusalem youth.
“You will not find any boy or student who will say, ‘I throw stones,’” said B’Tselem’s east Jerusalem field worker, Amer Aruri. He spent twothree hours interviewing each youth.
“Ninety percent of the students who go to jail, they throw stones, I can read their eyes... But we’re a human rights organization. We’re not here to prove if they throw them or not, just if the police are using the right procedures or not,” Aruri said.
Gnaith denied throwing stones both time he was questioned by police. The soft-spoken 10th-grader squirmed uncomfortably in his seat when he spoke to The Jerusalem Post
about his arrests last Thursday, as his friends waited around the corner for him to play soccer. Gnaith is usually the goalie. The second of six children, he is a fan of Egyptian films and hopes to one day work in his cousins’ aluminum factory.
One night last January, four policemen arrived at his house at 3 a.m., gave him 10 minutes to get dressed, and brought him, without his parents, to the Russian Compound, Gnaith said. There, he was forced to stand with his face to the wall for 50 minutes, after which he spoke to a civilian investigator named Moshe.
He was kept in detention for a week, where the food was terrible, he said. He was in court every day during the week, waiting for his case to be heard. His parents could come visit him during the day, but could not talk to him.
Finding him guilty of throwing rocks, the court sent him to live for four months at his uncle’s house in Beit Hanina, plus a month of community service cleaning his school, and 10 days of house arrest at his home in Silwan.
According to the ruling, Gnaith was still able to attend school at the West Silwan Municipal School during his four months in Beit Hanina, but his uncle had trouble bringing him across the city every day and Gnaith missed almost the entire semester. He said that the four months felt like four years. When he finally got back to school, he failed the year-end examinations, though the school let him go on to 10th grade anyway.
In October, police called Gnaith’s father to tell him to report with Gnaith at the police station the next day for an investigation into a second stone-throwing incident. Gnaith was kept in detention for one day, and released after his parents left a NIS 5,000 guarantee, a check that the police did not deposit but will hold in case Gnaith is arrested again.
Gnaith’s story is just one of hundreds. According to B’Tselem, the
Jerusalem District Police opened 1,267 criminal files against Arab
minors living in east Jerusalem who were accused of throwing rocks.
Though the police only took action in a fraction of these cases, 32
youths from Silwan were arrested or detained in October 2010 alone. Some
have been arrested several times.
The question remains, if the youth in Silwan are suffering so badly from
the punishments and harsh treatment by police, why do they continue to
throw stones at cars driving through their neighborhood every day.
“Even after the punishment, they still live in the same situation –
there’s an occupation, there are settlers...there’s the wall,
checkpoints, no work,” Aruri said.
The children will continue to throw stones, he said, because there’s no
other action they can take. “There’s no hope in the future,” he said.