'They have stolen his childhood'

father holding a picture of his son Aziz

Akram holds a photo of Aziz, his 16 year old son. Aziz was arrested after a demonstration for throwing stones at a fence near an illegal settlement.
 

Akram drives between two walls

Akram and Aziz live in Biddu, a village in the West Bank surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements and the Apartheid Wall. Biddu has lost much of its land to the settlements and the Wall. The only way to reach the village is a single road between two parts of the Wall.
 

Apartheid Wall

Biddu residents hold frequent demonstrations against the Apartheid Wall and the settlements. The Israeli authorities often target children in arrest raids after demonstrations. The raids are used to discourage popular and civic resistance to the occupation. Aziz was arrested in one such raid along with two of his friends, accused of throwing stones.

Aziz and his dog

Akram worries about the psychological effect of Aziz’s arrest and detention. Aziz was beaten during his arrest. Children are often pressured by interrogators to sign confessions in Hebrew, a language they often cannot read or understand. Akram says:

“The interrogators were pushing him, scaring him, so that he would eventually just sign anything to stop the interrogation.”
 

Akram looks at Aziz

Under Israeli military law, early release from prison is possible for sentences of less than 3 months. Aziz was sentenced to 3 months and 1 day. The military court offered Aziz plea bargains which included hefty fines on top of prison time. Akram refused them at first: 

“I am not going to give them any money to buy more bullets to shoot us with.”
 

Aziz looking

Aziz's education was disrupted while he was in prison. Very limited provisions are made for education of children in prison, leading to reintegration problems, with many children dropping out of school upon release. The physical conditions of the prisons are harsh. Aziz was held in a cell with 10 children, some as young as 14 years old. 

"We didn't have enough blankets or clothes and it was really cold at night, we couldn't keep warm."

 

 

children on a bus

Family visits to prisoners start with early morning bus trips from the West Bank into Israel where the prisoners are held. These visits are only possible if family members are granted permits from the Israeli authorities. Aziz’s family members were never granted permission to visit him.
 

Aziz and Qusay

Aziz’s 2 year old cousin, Qusay, was affected deeply by Aziz’s absence. He refused to get his hair cut whilst Aziz was in prison because it was Aziz who used to take him to the barber, and he wouldn't go without him. Akram says:

"He used to come and tell me to bring Aziz home. He knew that I was the head of the family so he thought I could fix anything."
 

Israeli soldiers

Akram is worried about how Aziz has changed since his release from prison. He says:

"Aziz doesn't want to talk at all, he is very quiet. He used to be out in the streets all the time but now he doesn't go far. The Israeli soldiers come in to the village every night and you can see the stress and fear it causes. They have stolen his childhood."