Six Palestinian minors have been handed prison sentences between five and twelve years by an Israeli military court in the West Bank.
Hassan Shobeitaah, the Palestinian official responsible for monitoring Israeli aggression against prisoners, said that an Israeli Military Court in the West Bank city of Jenin has charged six minors aged between 14 and 16 and given them each a large fine of NIS5.000 (£900).
Mr Shobeitah noted that these minors had been in detention awaiting prosecution since April 2011, when some of the minors were younger than 13. "Their prosecution was postponed several times without known reasons," Mr Shobeitah said.
Khalid Abu-Haneyya was given the longest sentence of 12 years; Ali Imran was sentenced to nine years; Ayham Meshal was sentenced to eight years; and Saji Imran, Mohammed Haneyya and Saed Haneyya were each sentenced to five years behind bars, the Palestinian official said.
In addition to their prison sentences, they were each given a five thousand NIS (£900) fine, which must be paid before the 12th of August. "If this fine is not paid on time, Mr Shobeitah said, each minor will have an extra year and a half added on to their sentence."
Detention of Palestinian minors by the Israeli military has been severely criticised by Palestinian officials as well as by numerous domestic and international human rights bodies. As a result, on 1st October 2009, Israel established its military juvenile courts as a part of the military court system under which Palestinian residents of the West Bank are prosecuted.
However, a British Foreign Office-backed delegation of UK lawyers said recently in a report that Palestinian minors are mistreated by the Israeli military as a result of the Israeli belief that every Palestinian child is a potential terrorist.
Volunteers for No Legal Frontiers (NLF), an Israeli human rights organization, observed the trials of Palestinian minors in the military juvenile court in Ofer Camp last year and said that the children convicted in this court were between 13 and 18, but that the overwhelming majority were 15 year olds.
NLF said in a report published on its website that the act which systematises the work of juvenile military courts divides Palestinian minors into three categories: children - those younger than 12 years old; youths - those older than 12 but not yet 14 years old; and young adults - those over 14 but not yet 16 years old. Anyone over 16 years old was no longer considered a minor, and was treated as an adult in every respect.
The report described the minor's night arrests and interrogations, beatings, threats and extreme violations of their right to consult lawyers and to remain silent. "In no case did the court take any measures concerning such allegations brought before it," the report said.
UN convention violated
The delegation of UK lawyers, led by former high court judge Sir Stephen Sedley and including Britain's former attorney general, Lady Scotland, found that "undisputed facts" pointed to at least six violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, alongside numerous cases in which ‘Israel' violated the Fourth Geneva Convention.
NLF said that in 96% of the cases, a fine is imposed in addition to a prison term and the court sentences the minors to additional time in prison if the fine is not paid within a specified period.
With regard to the length of sentences, the NLF report said that it is a "default punishment imposed as a first rather than a last resort." In some cases, the court does not have the right to impose prison sentences; therefore "prison terms or fines are imposed but suspended as deterrence for the future."
The findings of the NLF report showed that in many of the cases they monitored, "there was no appropriate proportionality between the severity of the offense and the punishment, and long prison terms were imposed." Non-proportionality also stems from the extensive use of fines and imprisonment interchangeably.
According to the report, the widespread use of detention "undermines the presumption of innocence and, in the vast majority of cases, dictates conviction and punishment by imprisonment."
The delegation of senior British lawyers found that Israeli mistreatment of Palestinian minors, based on the belief that every Palestinian child is a potential terrorist, may lead to a "spiral of injustice" and breaches of international law.
According to the report, up to 700 Palestinian minors are detained each year and up to 94% of them are held in pre-trial detention.
Download the full report of Children in Military Custody - A report written by a delegation of British lawyers on the treatment of Palestinian children under Israeli military law.