“My Home is Now my Jail” Silwan partner brings school and support to children under house arrest

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The number of Palestinian children under house arrest has increased in the past few years, especially in East Jerusalem and the neighborhood of Silwan, where MECA has been working in partnership with the Madaa Creative Center for several years.

Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 and employs a variety of ways to terrorize Palestinian residents and force them out as part of a plan to “Judaize the city.” In Silwan, Israeli police, security forces and border agents use laws, regulations and military orders to confiscate homes, destroy businesses and arrest people almost daily.  Meanwhile, nearby settlers and their private security personnel attack and harass residents as they wish. Children in Silwan are especially vulnerable. Hundreds of small children, some as young as six, and teenagers have been arrested, interrogated without a parent or lawyer present; detained, beaten and sent to prison or placed on house arrest.

Children under house arrest are forbidden from stepping outside their homes, even to attend school (another violation of international law). Suhaib, 14, under house arrest for six months says, 

“It’s worse than jail.  In jail you are far away from your regular life but at home you can look out the window and see other children playing but you can’t go. You can’t go with your family to shop or for a holiday celebration. You see the freedom but you are not allowed to access it.  It is very hard and very painful to be jailed in your home.”

The whole family is punished with house arrest. If the child violates the rules, the family has to pay a very high fine, the equivalent of $3,000-5,000. In other words, the Israelis make the parents the jailers and the child a prisoner of the home, as part of a collective punishment policy.

The Madaa Silwan Creative Center in the Silwan has taken the initiative to organize educational and psychological support for children who are under house arrest or who missed school because they were in jail. For almost a year, MECA has been supporting Madaa’s tutors to visit children every day in their homes to teach reading, math, and other subjects.

Social workers and psychologists also visit the children regularly because they feel angry about being trapped in their house. House arrest is particularly hard on family relationships because the parents have been forced to play the role of jailer to their children. Children under house arrest often have trouble focusing because they can’t go outside or get any exercise. 

The first time Ali was arrested, he was 11 years old. He was beaten by the soldiers and held for hours. Later, when he was 13, he was arrested and put under house arrest, where he remains today. The soldiers or the police come to check at random hours of night or in the morning.

Ali used to be a soccer player. He loves the game. Stuck at home, he fears he’s losing his ability to play. He fights with his brothers and parents, and he’s angry most of the time. The word he hates now is haram [“forbidden” in Arabic]. His family uses this word a lot because he is forbidden to go to school, forbidden to go the cultural center, forbidden to go to the soccer field.

Fortunately, Madaa’s program has resulted in improvement when children have regular classes at home and regular visits from mental health workers. These students, when they are off house arrest and return to school, are usually able to catch up. This compares with last year, when many children under house arrest didn’t return to school afterwards. Ali says he was about to leave school because of the trouble he was facing in most subjects and because he was traumatized. But the program helped him catch up and stay in school. His parents don’t feel alone—they feel supported by the community because of Madaa’s involvement.

Despite this success, Madaa faces challenges. The number of children on house arrest is increasing and the organization’s capacity is limited. Ideally, the program would continue even after the children are off house arrest; the Israelis still harass the children afterwards and many of them have ongoing psychological and educational issues as well. MECA is currently the only funder for this project.