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Jailed at 14, Shot Dead at 17: The Story of Obaida Jawabra’s Childhood Under Israeli Occupation

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Image Credit: Defence for Children Palestine

Israeli forces shot and killed Obaida Jawabra, a 17-year-old boy, earlier this week in the al-Arroub refugee camp located near the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. Obaida was shot in the chest, and witnesses say Israeli soldiers blocked an ambulance from reaching the teenager. He was taken to a local hospital by private car and later pronounced dead. Obaida, who was arrested by Israeli soldiers multiple times and featured in a 2019 short film, “Obaida,” about Israeli soldiers detaining Palestinian children, is at least the fourth Palestinian teenager shot dead by soldiers in the occupied West Bank this year. The killing of Obaida Jawabra “shows the brutality of the Israeli army when they target these children,” says Palestinian writer and researcher Mariam Barghouti. “Obaida — and I say this with complete sorrow — is just one name in a long list of many.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

As Israel and Hamas agree to a ceasefire, we turn to look at the tragic death of one Palestinian teenager this week. His name is Obaida Jawabra. Israeli forces shot the 17-year-old dead Monday in the West Bank’s al-Arroub refugee camp, where Obaida grew up. He was the subject of a short film in 2019 produced by the children’s human rights group Defense for Children Palestine. In the film, Obaida shares his experience as a Palestinian child facing violence under the Israeli occupation. Despite his young age, he was detained at least three times by Israeli forces, starting at the age of 14. This is Obaida in his own words. At the time, he was just 15 years old.

OBAIDA JAWABRA: [translated] My name is Obaida Akram Jawabra. I’m from Arrouub refugee camp north of Hebron. I’m 15 years old, and I like to cook. Arroub refugee camp is full of small houses with big families. When you open your window, you’ll see your neighbor in your face. Its streets are narrow, but its people are friendly and brave. They stand with you when you’re in trouble. Life is tragic for children here. They can’t play like they’re supposed to. There’s no freedom.

I’ve been arrested twice by Israeli forces. The first time was really difficult. I was on my way to the store when they arrested me. When they took me for interrogation, they bound my hands in plastic cords. They used two of them so that I couldn’t move my hands at all. My eyes were covered in a thick blindfold. It also covered my nose and made it hard to breathe. When you’re walking and can’t see anything, you feel dizzy. You’re scared, and you hesitate. The soldiers told me there were steps, but there were none, so I’d fall. The soldiers would beat me in places that would leave no marks, so there wouldn’t be any evidence on my body that I could use to testify against them.

A lot happened to me in prison. And when I left, I noticed a lot changed. I had a lot of schoolwork to catch up on. I didn’t know which subjects I was going to choose. I chose a vocational school, because the schoolwork had piled up. I couldn’t catch up. They gave me exams for two months, and I struggled a lot. Every day I had to finish a book to catch up.

TEACHER: [translated] When it produces a spark, you have to pull your hand back a bit. OK?

OBAIDA JAWABRA: [translated] I wanted high grades to prove to the school administration that the effort they put into me was not for nothing, to show that prison will not affect me now.

RASHID ARRAR: [translated] I’m Rashid Arrar, the vocational counselor at Arroub vocational school.

As you can see, there’s Route 60. Many Israeli settlers use it, and they cause a lot of problems for us. We are located in an area that sees a lot of friction. Sometimes the Israeli forces assault the children. Sometimes there are arrests and raids on the school.

Some of the children have been to prison, and some are arrested while they are students here. In both cases, we find that when these students come back to us, they can have trouble fitting in. It’s not easy for them to interact with others or build relationships. A boy might have an unpredictable reaction to something. We help them restore some balance, get along with others and focus on school, and help them get rid of some of their habits that could have negative effects on them.

OBAIDA JAWABRA: [translated] I started to think, “Why are we so different from other children in the world? Why are we detained when we’re young, and made to suffer, while others are happy playing sports and with many opportunities that we don’t have? Why are they like that, and why are we like this?” To this day, no one can answer me.

AMY GOODMAN: Those are the words of Obaida Jawabra in a short film made by Matthew Cassel for Defense for Children Palestine. At the time, Obaida was 15 years old. Israeli military shot him to death on Monday, just a month shy of his 18th birthday. In the short film, Obaida said he had dreams about becoming a chef, after learning to cook while in Israeli military detention.

OBAIDA JAWABRA: [translated] They brought in a cook from the other section of the prison, and he was looking for two or three to be his assistants. So we worked with him, and he taught us step by step. I learned how to cook and to work with others and how to be polite and respectful.

I feel freedom, but it’s not complete freedom. We first have to be liberated from the occupation, before I can feel I am truly free. I feel freedom in that I can come and go, hop in a taxi, talk to anyone I want, argue with anyone I want. You have personal will. You can do whatever you want. This was something that I missed when I was in prison. But we’re not liberated, so how can I be fully happy? Only a part of my happiness has been fulfilled.

AMY GOODMAN: The words of Palestinian teenager Obaida Jawabra, speaking when he was 15 years old. Israeli forces shot him dead Monday, just a month shy of his 18th birthday.

We go now to the West Bank, where we’re joined by Mariam Barghouti, a Palestinian writer and researcher.

Mariam, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you tell us more about Obaida and what happened to him?

MARIAM BARGHOUTI: Hi. Thank you for having me, Amy.

Obaida was shot near al-Arroub refugee camp in Hebron, and he was shot to the chest with a bullet by an Israeli soldier from not a very — the distance was not very far. And it kind of shows you the brutality of the Israeli army when they target these children, especially after having been arrested multiple times by the Israeli army.

Obaida later succumbed to his wounds, but he is not the only Palestinian that was killed by the Israeli army and settlers. Since 2008, 1,220 Palestinian children were killed. And this is just from 2008. Of that, 1,152 were from Gaza. They were killed with the bombings that kept falling, that Israel keeps claiming as Hamas.

We need to also remember Obaida is in Hebron. He lived in an area that is notorious for the settler violence that happens there. Hebron in 1994 witnessed a brutal massacre at the Ibrahimi Mosque, where an Israeli settler, Baruch Goldstein, went and fired at worshipers at dawn, under the protection of the Israeli army. Obaida — and I say this with complete sorrow — is just one name in a long list of many.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you put that into the context of what we’re seeing today — what’s being hailed around the world, a fragile ceasefire; the deaths in Gaza alone, it looks like 243, about a quarter of them children, over 60 children; and then, as a result of Hamas and other militant groups, 12 people dead in Israel, two of them children, two Thai workers?

MARIAM BARGHOUTI: Right. I mean, with this argument about Hamas, let’s remember, before 2007 and the takeover of the Strip by Hamas, Israel was still killing Palestinian children. Since 2000, 2,191 Palestinian children were killed. The Israeli army constantly targets Palestinian youth and children, but that’s inevitable, because we are a youthful population. More than 45% of Palestinians in Gaza are under the age of 18, most of them under 15 years of age.

The Israeli brutality in Gaza was unprecedented, and this comes after many aggressions. The ceasefire right now, we celebrate it. We welcome it. We are so sick of counting the names of our dead, being killed in the most savage way. But let’s remember that this is a pause. What the ceasefire is is a pause.

Right now we need accountability for children like Obaida. We need accountability for all the children that were killed in Gaza. If it’s too difficult for the world to call for accountability for the killing of us adults, then at least the children. Let’s focus on that maybe a little bit.

Palestinians who are detained by the Israeli military experience brutal torture and repression. I was detained in 2014 — and I was 20 years old — for just a week, and it still lingers with me. That experience still lingers with me. So imagine a 10-year-old, a 12-year-old, a 13-year-old, going through that experience. So, I really think right now let us hesitantly celebrate the ceasefire, but let us know that this is just one step in accountability for Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: Mariam Barghouti, we want to thank you for being with us. And, of course, we’re going to continue to cover what is happening in Israel and Palestine. We will also link to your piece in The Washington Post that you co-wrote, headlined “Sheikh Jarrah highlights the violent brazenness of Israel’s colonialist project.” Mariam Barghouti, speaking to us from Ramallah in the West Bank.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the Reverend William Barber.

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