Israeli Officials Molest Children at Checkpoints
- Humiliation and Child Abuse at Israeli Checkpoints
By ALISON WEIR
March 15, 2007
Israeli officials have been regularly strip-searching children for
decades, some of them American citizens.
While organizations that focus on Israel-Palestine have long been
aware that Israeli border officials regularly strip search men and
women, If Americans Knew appears to be the first organization that has
specifically investigated the policy of strip searching women. In the
course of its investigation, If Americans Knew was astonished to learn
that Israeli officials have also been strip searching young girls as
young as seven and below.
According to interviews with women in the United States, Israel, the
West Bank and Gaza, Israeli border officials periodically force
Christian and Muslim females of all ages to remove their clothing and
submit to searches. In some cases the children are then "felt" by
Sometimes mothers and children are strip-searched together, at other
times little girls are taken from their parents and strip-searched
alone. Women are required to remove sanitary napkins, sometimes with
small daughters at their side. Sometimes women are strip searched in
the presence of their young sons.
All report deep feelings of humiliation. Many describe weeping at the
degradation they felt.
"I remember crying and pleading with my mother," Gaza journalist Laila
El-Haddad recalls of an experience when she was 12-years-old, hoping
that her mother could convince the Israeli official to allow her to
keep her undershirt on. But parents are unable to shield their
children, El-Haddad and others report.
"They had machine guns," El-Haddad explains. "We just had to submit."
El-Haddad, who holds a Masters degree in Public Policy from Harvard's
Kennedy School of Government, believes that the intention of the strip
searches is to humiliate Palestinians so that they won't return to
Oregon attorney Hala Gores remembers being strip-searched at the age
of 10. Her family, Palestinian Christians from Nazareth, were leaving
Israel because of Israeli discrimination against Christians. Gores has
never returned to her family's ancestral home in Nazareth, she says,
in part because she does not want to repeat the experience of having
no control over what is done to her.
The Israeli policy appears to target only Christian and Muslim
children, and is equally applied to those with Israeli citizenship and
citizenship in other countries, including native-born Americans. There
are no reports of Jewish children being strip-searched.
New Jersey stand-up comedian Maysoon Zayid describes being
strip-searched at Ben Gurion Airport when she was "seven, eight, nine
years old" on family trips to visit her parents' original home in
Palestine. On her most recent trip in July 2006, Maysoon, an American
citizen, had her sanitary pad taken by officials in Ben Gurion
Airport. When the search was completed, she says, the Israeli official
in charge, Inbal Sharon, then refused to return her pad or allow her
to get another.
Zayid, who has cerebral palsy and was sitting in a wheelchair, was
then forced to bleed publicly for hours while she waited for her flight.
Zayid, a former class president and yearbook editor at New Jersey's
Cliffside Park High School known for her irreverent comedy routines
and strong personality, describes sobbing uncontrollably. "No one
spoke up," she remembers. "There were several women, including the
woman who was pushing my wheelchair, none of whom said a word."
When she boarded her flight, Zayid recalls, "The flight attendants
looked at me in disgust." She told them what had happened, and the
attendants then gave her some of their own clothing to use.
In addition to taking her sanitary napkin, Israeli officials also
confiscated medication that Zayid is required to take when flying. As
a result, she vomited repeatedly throughout the 12-hour flight.
Zayid, who founded a program for newly disabled Palestinian youths
many of them permanently disabled from attacks by Israeli forces was
so depressed by her treatment that she determined never to return.
"But that's what they want," she says, "They want us to get to the
point where we don't go back." She says that she is already planning
to return to her volunteer work in the West Bank.
Israeli practices vary and seem to be applied randomly, from elderly
women to small children. In some instances women are taken into a room
alone and are left sitting naked for hours. At other times they are
strip-searched in groups, their clothes thrown in a pile. When they
are finally allowed to get dressed, they describe having to rummage
through the heap of clothing, naked and barefoot, to find their own
Jewish Holocaust Survivor
While these policies largely target Palestinian and
Palestinian-American women and children, some non-Palestinian
Americans also report being subjected to strip searches by Israeli
St. Louis resident Hedy Epstein, whose parents and extended family
perished in Nazi camps, and whose story is featured in the Academy
Award winning documentary "Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the
Kindertransport," reports being strip searched three years ago
following her participation in nonviolent protests in the West Bank.
Epstein, who was 79 at the time, describes being forced to bend over
for an Israeli official to search her internally.
The strip searches appear to be illegal under numerous statutes. The
Geneva Conventions, to which Israel is a signatory, prohibit:
"Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and
degrading treatment" and specifically emphasize: "Women shall be
especially protected against any attack on their honour"
Article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states: "No
child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with
his or her privacy"
In the US, such policies would appear to violate child abuse statutes.
The state of Utah, for example, defines Child Abuse as: "Any form of
cruelty to a child's physical, moral or mental well-being." The
Encarta Encyclopedia defines child abuse as "Intentional acts that
result in physical or emotional harm to children."
While the If Americans Knew investigation focused on practices
concerning women, many interviewees reported frequent random
strip-searching of males as well; including American citizens,
children, and the elderly.
While the practice is widely applied, many people find it too
humiliating to speak of. One 68-year-old Christian businessman, who
had been stripped naked at Ben Gurion airport in 2006 before being
allowed to board his flight to return home, had never revealed his
experience to his family until he learned of the If Americans Knew
investigation. He then explained to his daughter why he had previously
told her that he might never return to his original home, now in the
state of Israel.
Christians, a thriving community that made up approximately 15 percent
of Palestine's population before Zionist immigration and the creation
of Israel (Muslims were 80 percent and Jews 5 percent), have now
dwindled under Israeli occupation to approximately two percent of the
Israeli spokespeople and sympathizers have bristled in recent months
at the title of a book by former President Jimmy Carter, "Palestine
Peace Not Apartheid." In reply, Carter has emphasized that the Israeli
"apartheid" he is describing is limited to the West Bank and Gaza.
Many analysts have disagreed with Carter, providing evidence of
pervasive discrimination within Israel itself. The If Americans Knew
finding that Israel has been routinely strip-searching non-Jewish
citizens of Israel would also indicate a wider policy of Israeli
Since American taxpayers give Israel over $8 million per day, the
Council for the National Interest, a Washington DC-based lobbying
organization, is organizing a campaign to call on Congress to demand
that Israel end these policies.
"We are extremely upset to learn that Israel is using American tax
money in ways that degrade and humiliate women and children," says CNI
President Eugene Bird. "We call on all Americans to help us on this
The organization urges people to begin contacting their Congressional
representatives immediately, and to disseminate the video report by If
Americans Knew as widely as possible.
Alison Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew.
She can be reached at: alisonweir @ yahoo.com
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