Israel arrested 9,000 Palestinians last year, 700 of them children
It takes great bravery to speak out, especially when you come right out in public and show your face as you do this. Mr.Eran Efrati who served in the occupied West Bank as a commander in Israel's army is such a man. He was a commander and member of the IDF “Child Killing Unit”.
In this interview, Mr. Efrati exposes Israel’s long standing policy of killing, torturing, and jailing children. He told the BBC that Palestinian youngsters are routinely ill-treated by Israeli soldiers while in custody, reports the BBC' s Katya Adler from Jerusalem and the West Bank.
In a discreet park in Jerusalem we meet to discuss allegations that soldiers like him often mistreat Palestinian minors, suspected of throwing stones.
Mr Efrati ~ who left the army five months ago ~ says the allegations are true:
''I never arrested anyone younger than nine or 10, but 14, 13, 11 for me, they're still kids. But they're arrested like adults. Every soldier who was in the Occupied Territories can tell you the same story. The first months after I left the army I dreamed about kids all the time. Jewish kids. Arab kids. Screaming.”
"You take the kid, you blindfold him, you handcuff him, he's really shaking... Sometimes you cuff his legs too. Sometimes it cuts off the circulation.
"He doesn't understand a word of what's going on around him. He doesn't know what you're going to do with him. He just knows we are soldiers with guns. That we kill people. Maybe he thinks we're going to kill him.
A lot of the time they're peeing their pants, just sitting there peeing their pants, crying. But usually they're very quiet.
Yehuda Shaul, of Breaking the Silence, said soldiers treated any Palestinian older than 12 or 13 as an adult: This is because by Jewish custom, this is the time of a young male passing into adulthood with a Bar Mirzah, so they consider Palestinian children to be adult as IF they had the ritual performed.
They dragged me from my home by the scruff of the neck. The more I cried the more they choked me. They pulled me along on my stomach. My knees were bleeding. They beat me their guns and kicked me all the way to the jeep. Mohammed Khawaja,
''Maybe the kid is blindfolded for him not to see the base and how we're working... But I believe maybe we put the blindfold because we don't want to see his eyes. You don't want him to look at us ~ you know, beg us to stop, or cry in front of us. It's a lot easier if we don't see his eyes.
''When the kid is sitting there in the base, I didn't do it, but nobody is thinking of him as a kid, you know ~ if there is someone blindfolded and handcuffed, he's probably done something really bad. It's OK to slap him; it's OK to spit on him; it's OK to kick him sometimes. It doesn't really matter.''
Israel says stones can be deadly weapons
Young Palestinians are mostly arrested for throwing stones at Jewish settlers or Israeli soldiers. This, they say, is their only means of venting their frustration at Israel's military occupation of their home, the West Bank.
Every week in the West Bank village of Bilin, Palestinians organize a demonstration against Israel's West Bank barrier.
Israel says it needs the barrier to stop attacks on its citizens. Palestinians call it a land grab. They say it makes their daily life even tougher.
Of course it complicates their lives, separates families, farmers from their crops, animals from their fields, and it also removes ¼ of the land traditionally belonging to Bilin, effectively putting it in Israeli hands.
Israeli soldiers monitor the protest from the other side of the barrier.
At a recent protest, I watched a gang of Palestinian boys darting amongst the olive trees, picking up stones and rocks to throw at the soldiers. Some used sling-shots. Many had a scarf or shawl wrapped round their face to hide their identity.
Perhaps it is for the tear gas as well?
The soldiers responded with tear gas and sound grenades. Sometimes they have used rubber-coated bullets. Too often after an incident like this, Israeli soldiers raid a West Bank village. Usually in the middle of the night they come in the darkness. The arrests can be brutal.
After he left the military, Mr Efrati said he dreamed about children screaming
''Their faces were painted when they came for him. It was frightening. All those soldiers for one boy. They put iron weights on his back in the jeep and beat him all the way to jail. He couldn't get up for a week.''
Mohammad Ballasi's 15-year-old son, also called Mohammad, was arrested by Israeli soldiers for stone-throwing.
We met him and his wife just outside an Israeli military base in the West Bank. Palestinian youngsters are tried in military tribunals.
The military tribunals regard Palestinians as minors until their 16th birthday, unlike the civil courts in Israel where minors are considered to be minors until their 18th birthday.
Oh my! How did this photo of Israeli settler boys throwing stones at Palestinian children walking to school get in here? I wonder if they get punished or taken to court?
I guess they don't. Here are their fathers and the IDF to make sure those 6 to 11 year old Palestinian children don't throw anything back.
IMPORTANT NOTE HERE: This is quite stunning, because in actuality, the IDF have a policy of allowing and encouraging, the killing of children aged 12. So what we see is Israel has a policy of killing 12 year olds, trying children aged 16 and lower in “Military Tribunals” no less!! Yet, for Israeli “children” Israel decides to use the worldwide legal age of 18 for their own. So, in effect Israel has three policies when it comes to Palestinian children. All of them Illegal.
The first time Mohammad's parents saw him since he was arrested two weeks before was at his trial. He pleaded guilty. ''When you're beaten like that, you would confess against your own mother," said Suad Ballasi, choking back tears.
'He's a child. His friends are playing in the street and he is in handcuffs. I couldn't stop crying in court. My heart feels like it's going to explode.''
The human rights organization Defense for Children International (DCI) has written a report accusing Israel's military of what it describes as the systematic and institutionalized ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children by the Israeli authorities.
Gerard Horton is an international lawyer for DCI. He said Mohammad's Ballasi's story is a familiar one.
''We see these stories again and again. Israel is a signatory to the UN convention against torture. It's also a signatory to the UN convention on the rights of the child ~ and under customary international law, it's not permissible to mistreat and torture, particularly children, who are obviously more vulnerable than adults."
He told me that Israel arrested 9,000 Palestinians last year. Seven hundred of those were children.
Mr. Horton says the military tribunals need to process cases quickly. DCI believes the system is designed so that it is in an adult or a child's interest to plead guilty.
Israeli troops frequently use tear gas against protesters at Bilin
Gerard Horton says Palestinians tend to end up in jail longer if they try to fight their case.
Mohammad Khawaja had just turned 13 when he was arrested.
''They dragged me from my home by the scruff of the neck. The more I cried the more they choked me," he said.
"My mum was screaming. They pulled me along on my stomach. My knees were bleeding. They beat me with their guns and kicked me all the way to the jeep. They cuffed my hands and legs, blind-folded me and left me there for 24 hours. I thought I was going to die.
"Later interrogators wanted me to tell on other people. I wouldn't. They beat me with plastic chairs. They told me to sign a paper written in Hebrew. I don't read or speak it. Because I signed it they put me in jail.''
Israel's military denies any suggestion that the abuse of young Palestinians is routine, but the army says it has to guard against Palestinian children involved in what it describes as "acts of terror". (I.E. throwing rocks)
Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibowitz is a spokeswoman for Israel's military.
''Even though it's just a stone or just a Molotov cocktail, they're deadly weapons. Doesn't matter who did it ~ they're deadly weapons," she said.
So the next time your neighbour’s child throws a stone you have the right to kill him. Let’s see how well that defense works in anywhere else in the sane world.
"This is the situation we live in, and since we are defending ourselves and we want to punish those terrorists, we have no choice but to find them, to punish them ~ and hope that we won't return to this."
Mohammad Khawaja hasn't slept properly since the soldiers came. He says the nightmares will not go away.
Human rights groups are calling on the international community to investigate what they say are Israel's violations of children's rights.