LAST Wednesday nine children aged 13-17 from the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem were kidnapped by masked Israeli forces, beaten and taken to an Israeli prison where they were held for five terrifying days before eventually being released.
One of these children was 14-year-old Motaz Barakah.
Motaz is no stranger to West Belfast having stayed at the home of the McCarthy family in Almond Drive in Twinbrook in August of this year.
“We very much enjoyed having Motaz stay with us for a few days,” said Conor McCarthy. “Unison were instrumental in funding the trip to Belfast for Motaz who was here as part of a Palestinian dance troupe. They were touring England, Scotland and Wales and we wanted to get them over to take part in the Anti-Racism World Cup.
“The people of West Belfast opened up their homes to these young children, my wife Orlaith really took to them and loved looking after them and my three children bonded with them immediately.
“Motaz stayed with us for two days and we took him on a few trips. We took him bowling, brought him out for dinner and it was the first time that he had seen the sea.”
Conor said that there was absolutely no mention of anything political when the children were visiting but that they were fascinated by the murals of West Belfast.
“It was great seeing kids being kids” said Conor “They stayed up half the night playing the playstation, it was wonderful seeing them without fear or worry. They said they had been all over England with their dancing troupe but that Ireland was their favourite place.”
Over 300 Palestinian children remain in Israeli prisons, Since 2000 at least 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and prosecuted in an Israeli military detention system notorious for the ill-treatment of children.
Conor said: “This ordeal must have been terrifying for Motaz and the other children, they were arrested by plain clothed officers for throwing stones, this is a regular occurrence and it needs to stop now.
“When I was visiting Bethlehem with a Unison delegation I saw first hand a 13-year-old girl being released after three months in prison – it’s heartbreaking. My nine-year-old daughter asked me if she was going to get arrested – it’s unbelievable.
“They were kids here for two days. Unfortunately they can’t be kids in their own homes. Hopefully we can get Motaz over to stay with us again.”
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll who was in touch with Israeli embassy over what happened to Motaz, said: “I wrote to the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, calling on him to put pressure on the Israeli government to confirm the whereabouts of 14-year-old Motaz, and demand that he was released.
“Nobody, especially not a 14-year-old child, should be taken against their will from a refugee camp, away from his family and without any explanation as to where he is. This is unacceptable!”