"They know this kind of treatment is destroying our youth and children. By targeting our children, they are targeting our future”.
On April 28, Mahmoud Ahmad, 17, stepped out of his friend’s car to go to a nearby cafe in the al-Tur neighbourhood of the occupied East Jerusalem.
While his friends waited for him to bring water and food to the car from the cafe, Ahmad was suddenly surrounded by five people dressed in civilian clothes, and in the blink of an eye, he was wrestled to the ground.
Ahmad was arrested by the Israeli police’s undercover unit, the Musta’ribeen.
“They said nasty things to me, cursed me in Arabic, forced me to the ground and hit me with their guns," Ahmad told TRTWorld.
“I thought they were Palestinians, I didn’t know they were Musta’ribeen until they took me to the police station.”
Musta’ribeen is derived from the Arabic word ‘musta’rib’ which means "a non-Arab integrating with the Arabs” by knowing their language and culture. They carry out undercover missions in Palestinian societies disguising themselves as Palestinians. They usually attend their protests or sit-ins in order to arrest them.
Middle East analysts say the unit allows the Israeli military and police to identify Palestinians they wish to arrest or detain. They are given special training to act like Palestinians in order to “gather intelligence and counterterrorism operations”.
They are known to have killed Palestinians as well besides arrests and detainment.
“They put me in their jeep and took me to a police station. I was put in isolation for a few hours, after which they started interrogating me and accusing me of attacking a Jewish settler and breaking his car. I never did that,” Ahmad recalled, who spoke with the consent of his father Ahmad Salah al Din, as he is still a minor.
“My parents were very surprised and upset when they found out I was arrested, they went to the police station to get some information but they were told that I have never been there.”
Ahmad was released a day later on April 29.
According to Ayed Abu Qtaish, the accountability programme director for Defence for Children International – Palestine (DCIP), the Musta’ribeen units were involved in detaining Palestinians during the recent escalation in violence in occupied East Jerusalem over Israel’s forced expulsion of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah. The unit was also operating during the assaults on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.
They played a major role in conducting arrests when thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel protested across towns and cities in Israel in support of Gaza this month, according to Abu Qtaish.
He also pointed out that most children are arrested by Israeli soldiers, not just the Musta’ribeen unit. These children are usually tried in military courts.
As of May, at least 4,400 Palestinians have been detained by Israel, including 39 women and 160 children, according to Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer. Most children arrested are accused of throwing stones — a charge that can land them a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
Abu Qtaish called the arrests of Palestinians by the Musta’ribeen “illegal and unjustified”.
“Their practices are against humanitarian law. It deprives the Palestinians of their humanitarian and basic rights and it must stop.”
According to Sahar Abbasi Baidon, a children's rights activist, at least 50 minors were arrested in the occupied East Jerusalem in April.
“We are not talking about children being punished by the government because they have violated the law, we are talking about torture that our children are exposed to while being arrested and interrogated by Israeli forces,” she told TRTWorld.
“These children are impacted by such arrests. They get nightmares, anxiety and usually perform very poorly in schools. They know this kind of treatment is destroying our youth and children. By targeting our children, they are targeting our future.”
Meanwhile, Ahmad is still receiving treatment for his right eye hit by the members of the Musta’ribeen unit during his arrest.
“My right eye hurts and I can't see well, it is all because they hit me hard,” he said.
And as he reels from the experience of his sudden arrest, he worries about another one.
“When they released me, they said I could go home now but I will be taken back again anytime or any day for further interrogation.”