Harassment of schoolchildren and tales of summary beatings are just some of the alleged human rights abuses Holmfirth mercy missionary Ken Hodgson came across in Palestine this and last month.
Ken, a Quaker, is on a three-month aid mission in the West Bank, a disputed territory inhabited by Palestinians but occupied by Israel.
In his latest newsletter Ken tells how he saw a 19-year-old man blindfolded and led away by Israeli soldiers after allegedly being given a ‘good hiding’.
Ken, part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), saw a Palestinian pupil arrested on the way home from school. And he also photographed a live grenade, bearing Israeli writing, which had been discarded outside a school. He writes: “The students face daily hazards, not only from road traffic, but also encounters with (Israeli) settlers and the army.
“Recently the settlers have been relatively quiet but in the past the school has been attacked several times; in October 2010 classrooms in the school were set on fire.
“The headmaster told us that in 2013 there were 25 reported incidents of soldiers harassing and intimidating boys at the school.
“He cites the example of a 12-year-old boy who was stopped by soldiers when leaving school and subjected to both personal and bag searches, after which they made him stand against the wall for an hour before they let him go... When I talk to a class of 18-year-old boys, 15 out of 17 of them report having been directly subjected to army intimidation. They feel ‘surrounded’ and ‘endangered’; one of them says: ‘I sometimes don’t want to come to school. “I feel that I might go to jail’...
“At Burin Secondary Coeducational School a live grenade was found by a parent on a parcel of land immediately outside the school gate, and the army often provokes the students into stone throwing by arriving during the lunch break... Further down the road four soldiers are standing immediately outside the school gates. One of them enters the schoolyard and a fracas develops with the teachers. The soldiers are very aggressive. “Eventually they leave after warning the headmaster that they will be back.
“And they are. “The next day they arrest a 16-year-old boy as he leaves the school to walk home, allegedly for throwing stones.... We interview the eye witnesses only 45 minutes after a young man, aged about 19, is arrested whilst waiting for the bus to Ramallah outside the As-Sawiya Secondary Girls’ School, 300 metres up the road from the boys’ school.
“Six of the teachers at the girls’ school saw the young man being brutally assaulted by four soldiers and then taken around the corner for another ‘good hiding’.”