Yousef Mesheh was sleeping when Israeli forces stormed into his home at three o’clock in the morning. Israeli soldiers hauled the 15-year-old Palestinian and his 16-year-old brother, Wael, out of their home in Balata refugee camp in the northern West Bank.
The Israeli military arrested and interrogated hundreds of Palestinian teenagers in 2022 in the occupied West Bank. A report by the Israel-based human rights organization HaMoked says the military did so without issuing a summons or notifying the young people’s families.
The charges against those arrested range from being in Israel without a permit to throwing stones or homemade explosives called “Molotov cocktails.” Some teens say they were arrested to obtain information about neighbors or family members.
The Israeli army argues it has the legal authority to arrest minors at its discretion during late-night raids. Lawyers and advocates say the tactic goes against Israel’s legal promises to alert parents about their children’s alleged offenses. Rights activists believe such tactics are meant to create fear.
According to figures reported to Israel’s Supreme Court, the army summoned Palestinian parents to question their children only a handful of times in 2021. Last year, no families received a summons in nearly 300 cases HaMoked tracked in the West Bank.
Petty offenses and cases in which children were released without charge were no exception. HaMoked believes many similar cases are never reported.
The Israeli military says it tries to summon Palestinian children suspected of minor offenses who have no history of serious criminal convictions. But, the army argued, this policy does not apply to serious offenses or “when a summons to an investigation would harm its purpose.”
HaMoked found most cases were soon dropped, like Yousef’s. But the memory of the late-night arrests stay with youth.
“I feel like I’m always being watched,” Yousef says. “I’m frightened when my mother wakes me in the morning.”
A long history of conflict
Conflict between Israel and Palestine has gone on for a century. Both sides want the land for their own state. There is distrust and hatred between the two peoples.
Israel says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks. Many Palestinians see them as punishment aimed at cementing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Some half-million Israelis now live in about 130 settlements across the West Bank. Palestinians view those settlements as an obstacle to peace.
Last year Israeli forces killed at least 146 Palestinians, including 34 children, Israel-based rights group B’Tselem reports. That made 2022 the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank in 18 years. According to the Israeli army, most of the Palestinians killed were militants. But protesting youths and bystanders have also died.
Palestinian attacks killed at least 31 Israelis last year. Israel faces terrorism threats and attacks from groups like Palestinian nationalist Hamas and Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah.
The need for peace
In the Old Testament, we read that God chose Israel to be His people. With the coming of Jesus, God’s salvation and blessings were opened up to all people, not just the Jews. In Jesus, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) Christians brothers and sisters live in both Israel and Palestine.
There is no easy solution to the problem of conflict between Palestine and Israel. But Christians can seek justice and safety for all people. And we can pray that Israelis and Palestinians will find unity in the kingdom of the Prince of Peace.
Why? While the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians may not be repaired in this life, God promises to make all things new. He may use Christians, His people, in that work.