This weekend I was invited to accompany a group of concerned Israeli citizens to the Tel Mond prison which is located in the fertile plain of the Sharon valley near the town of Kfar Sava. It is here that over 70 Palestinian children under the age of 16 are imprisoned. About another 50 children are scattered elsewhere throughout Israel's vast prison system. An Israeli lawyer informed me most of these 140 minors had confessions extracted from them under pressure and without consultation with a lawyer. This is illegal and these children are unlawfully detained. Half the children in the prisons have never had a trial and many have been there since October. What brought about 100 peace activists, ranging from 82 to 20 years of age, to Tel Mond, was to protest at the treatment of these children in this prison. Here the children are placed in cells with adult criminal prisoners, and besides being deprived of their freedom, schooling, the help of social workers and time outside their small cells, are experiencing fear of the adult criminals with whom them must live. In protest at these conditions the children began a hunger strike last week. The response by the prison guards was to tear gas the children in their cells, which have little ventilation; then the guards stormed into the cells in riot gear and beat the children. Nine minors were injured and two of them are now in hospital with head injuries. Four children are in solitary confinement. I asked an Arab family about their young boy detained in Tel Mond; what had this child done to be imprisoned there? They said he had thrown stones at the police during a clash along the main road of their village. They said that at three the next morning, five police cars came and surrounded their house and dragged the child out of bed and away from his home. This child did have a trial and was found guilty of throwing stones. He was sentenced to one year and four months in Tel Mond. Israelis assured me of the injustice of this sentence. The peace activists, including two prominent Israeli lawyers, were concerned about the illegality of their government in arresting and holding these Palestinian children in the cells of Tel Mond prison with adult criminal prisoners. They also wanted an end to the violence that was being perpetrated on these children by the abusive treatment of prison authorities. While standing on the road holding protest signs for passing motorists to see, we were approached by an Israeli traffic officer, Itamar Markovitch, in his vehicle, who stopped and blocked the signs from being seen by the passing traffic. When Markovitch was told by an Israeli that the group had a permit to demonstrate and was politely asked if he could move his car, he replied: "Don't speak with me; I hate all Arabs." and demanded to see the Israeli man's identity card. When one lawyer tried to speak with the officer, he was struck in the mouth by Markovitch. Other police who were there watching to see that the group followed the rules of their permit to demonstrate, saw the trouble, and quickly moved in. They handcuffed the lawyer, but when they realized he had been struck by the officer, they released him - not before Markovitch had grabbed a small mathematics professor from Haifa, handcuffed him, and shoved him in the police car. Standing next to the professor, hearing him speak to Markovitch, I realized he was being carted off to jail because of what he said. An Israeli woman told me he had said: "All of us have seen what you have done." I went to the police car and asked if I could or should go along; I was told it wasn't necessary. The demonstration continued for another hour and since the professor wasn't back yet, we went to the jail in Kfar Sava so that the lawyer who was attacked, and the Israeli to whom the police officer made the racist remark, could make a complaint against Markovitch, and also assure the police that the professor who was there in jail, had been totally non-aggressive. At first it looked like the professor was going to spend the night in jail, but after three hours of waiting and giving witness, our friend was released. When I asked the professor about his experience he told me, "Thank God Israelis don't simply disappear when they are arrested". I pondered that thought as we got into cars and headed back to our homes. When I meet Israelis like these who speak out for justice and are concerned for all the peoples of this land it does my heart good and restores my faith in these people. May their numbers grow.... Sr Mary is an Ursuline nun working in Israel .
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