Mondoweiss / August 5, 2022
Ahmad Manasra’s childhood was stolen from him by Israeli military courts. His life mirrors those of thousands of Palestinian children who have been targeted by Israel since birth.
After months of appealing to Israeli authorities, Ahmad Manasra was permitted to meet with an Arabic-speaking psychiatrist for the first time on Sunday, July 31. Manasra has been illegally held in solitary confinement at Eshel Prison since November of last year, by decree of the Israeli Prison Services.
The 20-year-old boy’s access to an Arabic-speaking psychiatrist is a major development, offering a ray of hope for Manasra, whose mental well-being has continued to deteriorate at the behest of the Israeli Prison Services (IPS) and judicial courts.
According to psychiatric doctors from the Palestinian Global Mental Health Network (PGMHN), Manasra was communicative and displayed hope at the mobilization calling for his release. “Help me, help me get out of here, because I am being driven insane,” Manasra reportedly told the doctors.
Beyond these entreaties, and despite having faced the trials and difficulties of solitary confinement and torture, Manasra also made a point to extend his thanks and gratitude to all those that have continued to advocate for his release, his psychiatric team shared with Mondoweiss.
On August 6, Manasra, whose entire teenage years were spent in prison under abusive conditions, is scheduled to have another court hearing, where his defense team persists in demanding for his release.
International outcry to save a tortured child
Since March of this year, the PGMHN launched a campaign demanding the release of Manasra. The campaign garnered world-wide support and momentum with almost half a million signatories.
Yet despite these appeals to safeguard Manasra’s precarious mental health and prospects for a healthy future, Israeli authorities have been adamant in refusing the appeals to remove Manasra from high security isolation, which he has been kept under since last year.
Moreover, in June of this year, the Israeli Parole Board denied Manasra early release despite evidence of the harm that solitary confinement and imprisonment has caused to his health. Manasra has only 2.5 years left on the sentence he received when he was merely 14 years old in 2015.
“It shouldn’t take a village to rally for Ahmad Manasra,” Mohammad al-Kurd, a writer and journalist from Jerusalem told Mondoweiss.
Indeed, Manasra’s case has long ceased to be an issue of one child and family, becoming a blatant testament of the extent to which state-sponsored crimes against children will be tolerated, supported, funded, and permitted by the global community.
Israel’s exemption from accountability sets a dangerous precedent for the harm of children across the globe, especially in light of the growing awareness that solitary confinement is considered de facto torture under international law. Manasra was subjected to violent and illegal interrogation by Israeli intelligence at the young age of 13 and 14 — without the presence of lawyers or guardians, and with total disregard to the head injury from which he was still recovering.
“It’s quite telling that in order to rile people up for Ahmad Manasra we have to create a campaign and that’s such a high effort,” Al-Kurd told Mondoweiss. “It tells you how normalized oppression and the ‘un-childing’ of Palestinian children has become. It shouldn’t be this normal.”
“Systematically targeted for your own childhood”
Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, who is a Lawrence D. Biele Chair in Law at the Faculty of Law-Institute of Criminology and the School of Social Work and Public Welfare at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as the Global Chair in Law at Queen Mary, University of London, has been following Manasra’s case attentively, and her coining of the term “un-childing” has become synonymous with it.
“What is happening to Ahmad is a prototype, a reflection, of the criminality of the state,” she explained to Mondoweiss. “If you go back to the protocol of the Knesset when they changed the law, you can see clearly how our kids are not considered kids, but terrorist adults.”
Indeed, Manasra continues to be held in solitary confinement and imprisoned under a “terrorism” clause within Israel’s legal framework. However, the legitimization of incarcerating a child who was interrogated under duress was a result of a legal clause specifically evoked by Israeli law-makers and authorities during the Manasra trials. This allowed for creating a legal explanation to justify the imprisonment and torture of Palestinian children as young as 12.
The concept of “terrorism” is intentionally manipulated to legitimize the torture that Manasra endured and to which he continues to be subjected. It was that same justification under the pretext of fighting “terrorism” that allowed for Manasra, then as a 13-year-old child, to lie bleeding on the ground from a brain injury brutally inflicted upon him by Israeli settlers that continued to scream “die, you son of a whore, die!”
It was that same justification that allowed Manasra to continue to be terrorized after that incident through the physical distress and psychological warfare he suffered at the hands of Israeli security personnel during his interrogation, where Manasra was threatened that “they will kill him, demolish his house, and imprison him,” according to his former lawyer, Tareq Barghouth.
“The Israeli government…they think of us as fertile ground for terrorism,” Al-Kurd explains while recollecting his own childhood in Jerusalem, the city where Manasra was born and spent 13 years before his imprisonment. “They call our resistance terrorism, and so they start trying to disarm us at a young age.”
In 2013, just two years before Manasra was taken into prison, Israeli authorities detained 931 Palestinian children. The Israeli army and police continue to target Palestinian children, including strip searching them at checkpoints, calling minors and attempting to recruit them as informants for the Israeli Police and intelligence units, and employing them as pressure points to threaten and coerce Palestinian political detainees in order to coerce confessions out of them.
In reflecting on the dynamics and processes by which the Israeli state operates, Shalhoub-Kevorkian further elaborates: “Ahmad had the best lawyers, and the lawyers tried to stress the context of Ahmad.”
In a harrowed tone, she continued: “by complicating and contextualizing, the judges became more stubborn and they wanted to teach all the kids in Jerusalem a lesson.”
Al-Kurd echoes a similar sentiment as he calmly recalls his childhood: “to grow up a child in Jerusalem is to be systematically targeted for your own childhood.”
Palestinian kids in Jerusalem: a life made impossible
Manasra was subjected to conditions that would destroy the physical and mental well-being of any adult, let alone a child in a vulnerable position. The practices inflicted on him showcase a collective judicial, military, and civilian network that publicly enforce state-sponsored child abuse.
“To be an eight-year old in Jerusalem is to be a 22 year-old in White suburbia America, you see this in the way children behave and operate in this country,” Al-Kurd opined.
Mulling over that observation, he continued: “they don’t necessarily behave as children, they behave like people who have been tasked with obligations and responsibilities that are too hefty for them to bear.”
Almost half of the Palestinian population are children under the age of 18. Within this context, Israel’s targeting of children is also seen as a direct assault on a large stratum that represents the future of Palestinians. The infliction of long-term traumatic experiences, coupled with the prolongation of Israeli military rule, must therefore not be seen solely as a string of present crimes, but as a tactic to arbitrate the future fate of an entire generation.
Shalhoub-Kevorkian emphasized the importance of taking children’s contexts into account, emphasizing that in Manasra’s case: “You need to take into consideration that it was 2015, a year packed with child arrests, packed with the abuse of children. A year when Mohammad Abu Khdair was burned alive.”
Indeed, in 2014 three Israeli settlers kidnapped and burned alive 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem as they chanted “mangal,” which means grill. That same year, an Israeli border policeman, Ben Deri, was found guilty of killing 17-year-old Nadeem Nuwwara near Ofer Military camp, and was sentenced to only nine months by the Israeli courts.
“Israeli society and the Israeli government views Palestinian children as projects for de-fanging, for de-clawing,” Al-Kurd said.
“You find yourself as a child in Jerusalem constantly confronting military presence and police presence that is created to entrap you,” he continued. “It’s not only the tension and the suffocation of growing up in Jerusalem, but it’s also by design.”
Mariam Barghouti is the Senior Palestine Correspondent for Mondoweiss