RAMALLAH, West Bank — “Your Excellency the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, greetings from the Palestinian people. We ask you that all detainees, prisoners and bodies of innocent martyrs be handed over because they have the right to freedom of education and to play rather than be tortured in Israeli prisons.”
With these words, Mariam Hashem al-Mahatina, a 14-year-old student in Hawaa High School for Girls in south Hebron, addressed Ban. Her letter was among half a million other letters that Palestinian students wrote Nov. 7 as part of the campaign launched in solidarity with detained children.
The letters were handed to the UN human rights official at the UN headquarters in Ramallah through the campaign organizers — the Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs and the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education.
According to the figures of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, there were 350 children, including 12 girls, in Israeli prisons up until Nov. 7. The boys are detained in Israel’s Megiddo and Ofer prisons, while the girls are held up in Hasharon prison.
These figures accompanied the letters that were submitted to the UN headquarters, in addition to details about the arrest of children. More than 2,000 cases of children being arrested have been recorded since early October 2015, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club.
Israa Wahid, a 13-year-old student at Ain Munjid School in Ramallah, said that she wanted to study nursing, but after seeing Israel’s torture of children, she gave up her dream out of fear of having to face a case like Ahmad Manasra’s. Ahmad was arrested in Jerusalem on Oct. 12, 2015, after being shot and injured by Israeli settlers and police on the grounds of having allegedly attempted a stabbing attack.
She wrote in her letter to Ban, “When I saw the video in which Ahmad was tortured, I cried my eyes out.”
Rami al-Rumhy, the head of Ain Munjid Elementary School, told Al-Monitor that his school’s participation in the campaign stems from the students’ deep interest in Ahmad’s case and that of other detainees. He said, “We distributed the letter templates to grades 7 and 8 at the school, and we noticed that the students reacted to the issue and showed interest and solidarity with Ahmad, who is close to their age and other detained children.”
Rumhy added, “The students showed interest in this event and expressed their feelings toward their detained fellows. Each of them wrote from the heart, knowing that they could be among those detainees.”
Qadura Fares, director general of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, told Al-Monitor, “We did not send the letters to count numbers. It was an attempt to show the international organization [UN] its responsibility toward protecting children.”
He added, “We addressed the Ministry of Education and sent letter templates. Each child wrote his own letter alone without any help or dictation from anyone. By addressing Ban, the students challenged the international organization morally, as they are children asking for the UN’s protection.”
Fares said that these letters might not alter international opinion now, but cumulatively and with ongoing efforts, change will happen. He noted, “Solidarity through such letters, in addition to political and diplomatic efforts, might get things moving.”
Fares added that this event aims at stirring the Palestinian people. The international stance is frozen and stagnating because of the absence of comprehensive Palestinian militancy.
He noted, “The political road is blocked, and there are no horizons for activating the international community to protect these children through politics. Our only choice is to rely on the Palestinian street as a militancy tool based on harmony and unity among all factions and on the persistence of these events to shake the international community.”
These events and other potential ones might be the first step in a long journey for Palestinians to alter international opinion so children under occupation are protected by human rights laws.