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The right to education is a fundamental human right. However, this inalienable right is being systematically violated by the Israeli prison system when it comes to child prisoners. Rather than a compulsory measure, education is granted to them as a privilege.
This contravenes Israel’s obligations to the Convention against Discrimination in Education (1961) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990), as well as going against every statement regarding the lawful treatment of child prisoners. The OCHRC’s publication on Human Rights and Prisons (2005) notes that, ‘Education shall be compulsory for young people and illiterate prisoners’, adding, ‘The prison authorities should give this aspect of education a high priority’.
One of the central purposes of prison is as a means of rehabilitation. The best tool needed to accomplish this is a quality education. The brutal treatment received by Palestinian child prisoners gives little hope for the emergence of a reformed character. It is easy to see the motives for such treatment of children: disabling the next generation and the future of Palestine.
Security trumps education
The law of the Israeli military detention system states that Palestinian children are entitled to the same education as Israeli child prisoners – a law passed in 1997. However the judge also decreed that the right to education is ‘subject to the security situation’. This is a common response from the Israelis with regards to anything that is conducive to the development of the Palestinian people and their community.
Such a clause has permitted the prison authorities to withhold education entirely in some detention centres and prisons. Girls are frequently detained with adult female prisoners (in contravention of all international legal standards) and are often exempted from any educational participation. Bara’ al-Maliki, who was arrested in December 2008 aged 15 having completed eighth grade, had her application requesting to continue her ninth grade studies rejected by the HaSharon prison authorities. The prison administration informed her that she could take her Tawjihi (matriculation exam) exam as long as she provided a certificate showing she had completed ninth grade prior to her imprisonment – which was impossible.
When education is provided, the quality is very low. Within Palestine it is compulsory that 15 -16 year olds study a wide curriculum of 13 subjects. In comparison the education system at Megiddo prison consists of three Arab-Israeli teachers entering the prison to teach only Arabic and Maths. There are three classes based on age and all resources such as books and pencils must be returned at the end of the class. Arabic and Maths are not considered a ‘security threat’, unlike geography and history. Apparently texts on waters, rivers and climate change are the dogma of history’s greatest terrorists.
Degradation not rehabilitation
Whilst Israeli child prisoners enjoy various educational courses – they alongside settlers and those in East Jerusalem are subject to civilian law – Palestinian children from the Occupied Palestinian Territories fall under military law. Subsequently, the IPS regulations which dictate the right of a child are a product of military orders of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Addameer Prison Support and Human Rights states that these orders aim to:
1) Tighten the grip of occupation on the Palestinian people; and
2) Perpetuate the Palestinian people’s dependence and their economic and social retardation
One may therefore observe the deprivation of an education for children, inter-alia, to be part of a wider agenda to isolate the Palestinian people.
This is also demonstrated by the systematic and widespread inhumane treatment children suffer at the hands of the Israeli forces. Even though Israel is a State Party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (which it ratified in 1991), Harrowing testimonies recorded by Defence of Children International Palestine show the real situation. Malek S, aged 16, described his plastic restraints being so tight they became embedded into his skin. Upon removal pieces of flesh came off. Ahmad F, aged 15, recounts one soldier grabbing his head and placing it against the car engine as another soldier repeatedly stepped on the accelerator. Later on, whilst at Huwwara interrogation centre, soldiers brought a dog and pushed Ahmad F to the ground. ‘I managed to see the dog from under my blindfold. They brought dog food and put it on my head… the dog had to eat it off my head. His saliva started drooling all over my head… I thought he was going to bite me’.
Such abominable revelations are contradictory to Mark Regev’s (Netanyahu’s international spokesman) statement that ‘the test of a democracy is how you treat people incarcerated, people in jail, and especially so with minors’. Prisoners are entitled to basic freedoms and legal rights regardless of the charges brought against them. Israeli forces may be oblivious to this fact. Lest we forget.
Eliminating the Palestinian threat
The trauma that results from both imprisonment and derogatory treatment results in PTSD, flashbacks, low self-esteem, disorientation and loss of control over self-determination. This, Addameer reports, is a major factor in children’s reluctance to return to school upon release. In a country where education is valued extremely highly, with the literacy rate among 15-25 year olds at 98.2% according to one World Bank figure, young people cannot afford to drop out of the system.
It is apparent that the Israeli prison system does all within its power to prevent the Palestinian child from fulfilling their potential of becoming an autonomous individual. Education is the greatest weapon in the Palestinian fight for freedom and the Israeli prison forces are acutely aware of this. However, to retaliate by abusing the rights of children is abhorrent and under no circumstances is it an acceptable tactic. No-one is above International law, Israel included.