Since early July, 260 minors have been arrested in East Jerusalem on suspicion of involvement in disturbances and violent acts. A significant number of those arrested are 15 or younger, and in the jails one can find children as young as 13.
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The treatment of these minors by the authorities, including the police, the prosecution and the courts, raises tough questions. A Palestinian child suspected of throwing a single stone at an armored jeep has a very slim chance of being released to house arrest, compared to a Jewish child suspected of the same offense or a much more serious one.
Eleven of the 12 Jews charged with the brutal assault of two young Palestinian men in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Neveh Ya’akov in late July were released to house arrest. This happened even though most of the defendants were adults, stood accused of serious crimes, and at least one had a criminal record involving a similar offense.
It doesn’t end there. Remarks by the parents and lawyers of some of the suspects suggest that the police take liberties with juvenile law when it comes to Palestinian minors. For example, Palestinian teenagers and even children are arrested late at night and questioned for hours, sometimes without their parents present.
It’s hard not to conclude that the justice system has decided to deal harshly with these young suspects at the expense of their rehabilitation, in the hope that this will help calm the situation. But this is likely to have the opposite effect. As parents and educators in East Jerusalem have indicated, the chance of recidivism is very high for a child who has been incarcerated for even a few days.
Above all, children’s involvement in violence exposes the fecklessness of Israeli policy in East Jerusalem. After nearly 50 years of occupation, disinheritance, annexation and settlement — and years after the separation barrier was put up, cutting off East Jerusalem from the West Bank — young people in the Arab neighborhoods are willing to gamble with their future and express anger and frustration with their living conditions.
It’s too early to predict whether the events that began in Jerusalem early this summer will develop into an intifada. But the involvement of so many children suggests that this is not a planned uprising directed from above. Rather, it’s an expression of anger rooted in despair.
The city and national governments’ continued failure to address the problems of the eastern part of the city, under the slogan of “Jerusalem United forever,” certainly won’t calm the situation.