'I was often beaten': Palestinian child prisoner back home after nine months in Israeli jail

Tawfic Odeh and his son Jihad, 17, after Jihad's release.

By Leila Sansour, ITV News Producer

Jihad was one of the lucky Palestinian child prisoners to be released on Saturday as part of the prisoner exchange deal.

He was taken brutally from his home at night on February 11 2023 when he was only 16, his father, Tawfic Odeh, told ITV News.

"More than 10 armoured vehicles stood outside. 25 armed soldiers broke down the main door, isolated Jihad in a separate room, beat him up until his shoulder got dislocated, smashed his head on the cupboard door, put a sack around his head and dragged him bleeding down the staircase," Mr Odeh said.

The scene happened in front of his younger siblings and grandmother.

Soldiers stood pointing their guns at members of the household so no one could approach him. He was then taken away and interrogated.

The courts would not issue a verdict so he was kept in administrative detention. He turned 17 in jail.

Administrative detention is incarceration without trial or charge, alleging that a person plans to commit a future offense. It has no time limit, and the evidence on which it is based is not disclosed, according to Israeli human rights organisation B'tselem.

Jihad Odeh before his arrest.

The family lost all contact with him since Hamas' attack in southern Israel on October 7.

Jihad, 17, was one of the detained Palestinian children released on Saturday as part of the prisoner-hostage exchange deal between Israel and Hamas.

The Israeli government and Hamas agreed to a four-day ceasefire starting November 24 to allow for an exchange of Israeli hostages and detained Palestinians.

The fragile pause in fighting was then extended by a further two days and is set to expire on Wednesday.

An Amnesty official told ITV News: "Sadly, it is very common for children to be arrested in circumstances similar to what Tawfic describes.

"As part of Israel’s system of apartheid on Palestinians, in the occupied West Bank Israeli children are subject to civilian law while Palestinian children are prosecuted in military courts.

"This allows Israel to arrest Palestinian children without charges and trial and to hold them as administrative detainees for undefined periods of time- as detention orders can be renewed multiple times".

According to the Israeli Prison Service ( June 30 2023), approximately a quarter of Palestinians detained by the Israeli military authorities are held without charge or trial under Administrative Detention orders. This number included 18 children.

Jihad's younger brother, Yasser, 9, waiting for his sibling.

On Saturday, Jihad's father, accompanied by Jihad's younger brother, Yasser, 9, waited for 25 hours outside the municipality of Al Bireh for his release.

The happiness and anticipation was too much for them to sleep. They made their way to Ramallah from the north the moment they saw his name on the list.

After a quick visit to the hospital and a haircut, he was ready to meet his grandmother and the rest of his family.

Now back at home with his family Jihad told ITV News he was beaten and given just 12 pieces of bread to eat for two days.

"I was always interrogated on my own. I didn't understand the charge," he said.

"They told me I was a threat to Israel's security. They showed me photographs of people and asked me to tell them everything I knew about them. I was often beaten up."

He continued: "After October 7, things became much worse. They took away our food. We were given 12 slices of bread each. This was supposed to be our diet for two days.

"Then one of the torture squads like Metzada would come in. This was the squad in charge of beatings. They were always masked. They would scream, ordering us to repeat words of praise for Israel and abuse for Palestine.

Jihad with his siblings.

"I distinctly remember the beatings on October 30. They were particularly bad. They told us: "You know, we have the licence to kill any one of you if we wanted".

Jihad didn't know where he was led on the day of the release. He was surprised to find out when the door of the prison finally opened.

He now has a lot to figure out. He was a good student but he has missed a whole year of school.

ITV News asked him what he would like to do after he finishes school. He tells us he wants to be a baker. He has been baking for several years and is famous for his legendary cakes among kids in the neighbourhood. 

His dream is to own his own bakery.

An Amnesty official added: "Violent arrests, beatings and abusive interrogations of Palestinian children without the presence of a lawyer or guardian, denial of medical care are part of a wider pattern of discrimination against Palestinian children in the Israeli criminal justice system, and in clear violation of international human rights law.”

Jihad's father is relieved but he tells us there will be no celebrations.

"We will offer dates and coffee. That is it. I am delighted that Jihad and other Palestinian child prisoners were able to go back to their families but their freedom came at a very high price. So much blood has been spilt in Gaza. We will be saying a prayer to remember all the fallen there."

ITV News contacted the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and the Israeli Prison Service but have not received a response.

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