Madaa Center launches an international campaign against the arrest of Jerusalemite children
Madaa Center launched on Monday an international campaign against the arrest and torture of children entitled “Room Number 4” in the Center’s headquarters in Silwan and in the attendance of representatives from several consulates, diplomatic missions and international and Palestinian human rights organizations. The first part of the campaign included a photo exhibition, photographed by Ashraf Dowani and directed and produced by Tamer Nafar. The pictures reflected what children are exposed to in the Israeli investigation center knows as “Room Number 4”, and the torture and physical and psychological abuse they face in order to extract confessions. Jawad Siam, director of Madaa Silwan Creative Center, explained during the press conference that the campaign is a result of the increasing number of child arrest operations from all over the city of Jerusalem. He pointed out that the number of children detained in Israeli prisons had gradually increased in the last few years and since the beginning of the year, 351 children have been arrested. Jawad also explained that the campaign was named “Room Number 4” to refer to the room where all Jerusalemites of all ages (men, women, and children) are investigated. It is also known as the “minorities’ section” and is one of Al-Maskobyeh departments in West Jerusalem where children are exposed to verbal and physical abuse in addition to psychological pressure in order to extract confessions by force and thus, convict and imprison them. Tamer Nafar explained that the goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of the local and international community regarding child arrests in East Jerusalem which are carried out by the Israeli occupation who signed the international conventions on the rights of children. Tamer said: “Israel is violating the international laws on a daily basis in East Jerusalem by arresting children in ways that are against all international norms and under different reasons and pretexts.” He explained that several Palestinian artists from Jerusalem, the West Bank and 1948 lands participated in the photos and among them Saleh Bakri, Reem Talhami in addition to artists from the program Watan A’a Watar and others. Each picture reflected what the children are exposed to inside “Room Number 4”. They quoted what the children talked about in the report published by Madaa Center in 2012 entitled “The Impact of child arrest and detention” which explains the harsh investigation methods used that violate international and Israeli laws such as investigating children without a companion (one of their parents) and the use of verbal and physical abuse. Tamer noted that nicknames were used for the children who were interviewed in order to maintain their safety. Tamer added that the campaign will launch a website on Thursday night that is specialized for child arrest (www.roomno4.org) and the photo exhibition will be moved to the French Cultural Center in Salah Eddin Street at the same time where it will stay for a month in cooperation with “War Child” organization. Photographer Ashraf Dowani explained that the idea of images is inspired by the reality of children’s lives in Jerusalem who are denied to live freely and safely, and said: “I concentrated on the idea of hands in the photos because I interviewed a child who was previously detained and he told me that the first thing he saw in “Room Number 4” was hands and then he didn’t see anything.” Ashraf also pointed out that the use of dark background was used to add a dramatic feeling to the isolation experienced by the children in those rooms. During the press conference, lawyer Ahmad Yassin from Wadi Hilweh Information Center explained that Israel tried to make an exception for arresting children since the Israeli laws prohibit the arrest of children between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. He noted that most of the arrests in East Jerusalem take place in the early morning hours and the children are investigated alone without the presence of their parents and that arresting children should be the last method used and not the first as it is the case in East Jerusalem. He also said that Israeli authorities can call the child for investigation with one of his/her parents as the first step. He added that the Israeli laws require the presence of a companion with the child during investigation in addition to the presence of a specialized children investigator but “room number 4” don’t follow these rules and the police claim that they only do so for the benefit of the investigation and not to disrupt it. Amer also said that Israeli laws prohibit handcuffing children in public and during investigation but in East Jerusalem children are being handcuffed in order to psychologically pressure them. He pointed out that lawyers submit appeals and legal report to official authorities regarding the Israeli violations of laws during arrests and investigation. Sahar Baydoun, head of children and women affairs in Madaa Center, talked about the report that was published last year and was entitled “The Impact of child arrest and detention”. The report focused on the psychological effects children suffer during arrest and a year after. She said: “the effects differ from one child to another. Younger children suffer from fear and involuntary urination in addition to the need of medical follow-up due to back aches. Effects on the long-run include isolation –withdrawal from life- and excessive violence in addition to a drop in school-grades and the possibility of a dropout from school within the first year. Um Mohammad Shyoukhi talked about the experience of arresting her four children when they were under the age of 18 and were detained for a few days in Al-Maskobyeh. The arrests took place in the early morning hours and they were investigated alone in “room number 4”. She talked about her 14-year old son Abdelkarim when he was arrested a day after undergoing a surgery “appendicitis”. He was detained for a few days despite his critical medical condition and was investigated during that period; note that he was never checked up by a doctor while being detained.