The imprisonment of Palestinian children is a common feature of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Defence for Children International (DCI) estimates that since 2000 around 7,500 Palestinian children have been prosecuted by Israeli military courts. Many expected the 164 children (aged 12-17) being held by Israel to be among the 1,000+ Palestinians released in exchange for Gilad Shalit; they weren’t. Most (62%) have been detained for “stone throwing”.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
Article 37(b) of the convention adds: “The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child… shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”
The Israeli authorities continue to arrest and detain Palestinian children, often limiting access to families and lawyers. Confessions are extracted in Hebrew in a majority of cases and, DCI reports, in 95% of cases children plead guilty whether the offence has been committed or not.
The rights of child prisoners
- Despite the protection of children’s rights by the UN, when arrested Palestinian children find their rights to safety and protection ignored by the Israeli authorities.
- A child’s rights include the right not to be subject to indiscriminate arrest, the right to know the reason for arrest and detention, the right to legal counsel, as well as the right to contact family members, amongst others.
- A majority of the children arrested originate from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with most held at the Hasharon Prison.
- The ill-treatment of the child often begins at the moment of arrest, which often happens in a night time raid, with the child being removed from the family home with no knowledge of where they are going; the families are not told.
- The child is questioned at an interrogation centre, alone and without access to family or legal representation.
- Interrogation continues to be particularly arduous with threats of intimidation and physical violence; “confessions” are given to the child to sign. Many of these “confessions” are written in Hebrew, which few Palestinian children can read.
Detention and treatment
- The majority of Palestinian children detained by the Israeli authorities are held in Israel in contravention of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer of prisoners from the occupied territories.
- The prisons and detention centres where Palestinian children are held often fail to meet the international standards of children’s rights and more generally the rights of prisoners.
- The detention facilities are particularly overcrowded, sometimes with little ventilation and reports of poor hygiene and insect infestation.
- Reports have claimed that the children also face a lack of adequate food, drink and medical attention.
- Reports of physical, verbal and, on occasion, sexual abuse of Palestinian children have surfaced. From their arrest the children are intimidated by threats of and actual abuse.
- During detention children are often exposed to sleep deprivation, extreme heat or cold, and denial of access to toilets and washing facilities.
- The Public Committee against Torture reported that, “Out of a sample of 100 sworn affidavits collected by lawyers from these children in 2009, 69% of the children reported being beaten and kicked, 49% reported being threatened, 14% were held in solitary confinement, 12% were threatened with sexual abuse including rape and 32% were forced to sign confessions in Hebrew.”
- All Palestinian children are “tried” by military courts in the occupied West Bank, which do not have any obligation to follow Israeli legal requirements, let alone international legal obligations.
- During military trials, the court proceedings are overseen by Israeli occupation forces but are not recorded.
- Israeli military courts generally regard Palestinians as minors from 12 to 16; in Israel a child is a minor until aged 18. Following increasing international pressure, notably from British parliamentarians as well as the British government, the Israeli military has agreed to recognise minors as individuals under the age of 18.
- Access to legal representation is minimal and often families struggle to obtain knowledge of where their child is being held, with visit permits being hard to obtain.
- Lawyers often advise children to plead guilty as this can often lead to release after 3 months detention; a plea of innocence can see children held for up to a year.
- It is estimated that 81% of Palestinian children have confessed during interrogation; these “confessions” are then used during the military trials.
- Whilst in detention the children are deprived of their right to education.
- A study by Save the Children estimated that the average length of child detention is 147 days.
- Save the Children also reported that 90% of children went on to suffer from psychological trauma and stress post-imprisonment.
- Ahmad F, 15, was arrested on 6 July 2011 in the Buring village, West Bank. He was accused of stone throwing and arrested at 2.00 am when Israeli soldiers stormed his family home. Ahmad was bound and blindfolded in transit. He was exposed to extreme cold, denied food for over 8 hours and was strip-searched at the prison.
- Mounir Khalifa, 17, was arrested on 12 August 2009 in a refugee camp in Nablus. He was arrested at 2.00 am by soldiers at his home. He was blindfolded and handcuffed and then beaten in the face and stomach in transit. He was transferred to the illegal Israeli settlement of Ariel and was not allowed to use the toilet.
- Amr Imran Hussain, 16, was arrested on 29 March 2011 by 10 soldiers at his home in Qalqilya in the West Bank. During his arrest he was beaten on the head and lost consciousness; he regained consciousness at a medical centre in Ariel.
- Mohammed Jamal Khalil Abu Marya was arrested on 21 February 2011 at 3.00 am by Israeli soldiers at his home in Beit Omar, Hebron. He was transferred to a settlement and was beaten during the journey. He was left to face the cold and rain for several hours prior to being moved to Etzion Prison.
- Ayed Khalil Abu Rahma, 15, was arrested on 26 January 2011 in the village of Bil’in in the West Bank. Four soldiers beat him before and during his transfer to an illegal settlement in the West Bank.
- Zaqiq Jamil Ahmed Hamed was arrested at 3.00 am on 28 March 2011 in the village of Beit Omar near Hebron. He was initially transferred to a settlement and claims that he was beaten and was then transferred to Etzion Prison and threatened by his interrogators.
- Amjad Majdi Haddad, 17, was arrested 15 May 2011 from his home in Hebron. He was beaten by soldiers causing a wound to his head and transferred to an illegal settlement but did not receive any medical attention. He was then moved to Etzion Prison.
- There has been widespread international condemnation of Israeli treatment of Palestinian children.
- The United Nations Human Rights Special Rapporteur, Richard Falk, noted that Israeli detention of Palestinian children ignores the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- European opinion raised concerns, with the Irish Labour MEP Proinsias De Rossa, President of the European Parliament’s Palestine Delegation calling for the release of all 164 Palestinian child prisoners being held by Israel. He also called on the EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton, to raise this matter with the Israeli authorities.
- UNICEF’s Special Representative in the Occupied Palestinian territories, Jean Gough, called on the Israeli government to release all Palestinian child detainees and to abide by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- British MPs have raised the issue of child detention and military trials on a number of occasions, including a debate in the House of Commons. Following this debate and a commitment from the British government to raise these issues with its Israeli counterpart, the Israeli authorities announced that 17 and 18 year olds would henceforth be classified as minors.
- British MPs have tabled Early Day Motions 1195 Detention of Palestinian Children in Israel and, more recently, 2274 Prisoner Exchange and Palestinian Child Prisoners. The latter calls for the release of all 164 child detainees and has already gathered the support of 53 MPs.
Defence for Children International, Palestine Section made the following calls on Israel to…
- Ensure that no child is interrogated in the absence of a lawyer of their choice and family member;
- Ensure that all interrogations of children are video recorded;
- Ensure that all evidence suspected of being obtained through ill-treatment or torture be rejected by the military courts;
- Ensure that all credible allegations of ill-treatment and torture be thoroughly and impartially investigated; and that
- Those found responsible for such abuse should be brought to justice.
- “No Palestinian child should be detained inside Israel in contravention of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
The Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem issued the following recommendations:
- Set the age of minority in the military legislation to conform with the age of minority in Israel and the rest of the world immediately;
- Prohibit night arrests of minors;
- Restrict interrogation to daytime hours, with parents present, and give the minors the opportunity to consult with an attorney in an orderly manner that respects the minor’s rights;
- Prohibit the imprisonment of minors under the age of 14;
- Promote alternatives to detention and find solutions offering alternatives to imprisonment;
- Establish educational programmes in all prisons and offer study opportunities in all subjects to minimise the harm to minors’ studies while they are detained and imprisoned; and
- Facilitate the issuing of permits to visit minors who are detained and imprisoned.
Whilst the 164 children remain detained by the Israeli authorities there are continuous and growing calls for their release and an end to aggressive arrests, military trials and unnecessary detention as a practice of the occupation forces in the West Bank, as well for Israel’s policies and practices in this respect to have regard for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.