The Israeli occupation authorities detained more than 9,000 Palestinian children between 2015 and the end of March 2022, including 1,300 last year alone, an increase of 140 per cent on the figure for 2020. Indeed, since the outbreak of the Aqsa Intifada (Uprising) in September 2000, around 19,000 Palestinian children have been arrested by the Israeli occupation state, including children under 10 years old.
The details are in a report released on Monday by the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club to mark the occasion of Palestinian Children’s Day, which falls on 5 April every year. It pointed out that 160 Palestinian children are currently held by Israel in Ofer, Damon and Megiddo Prisons.The Prisoners’ Club says that arresting children is a regular tactic of the occupation security forces, usually using British Mandate-era regulations covering what is known as “administrative detention”. This allows the authorities to detain people with neither charge noir trial for an indefinite, renewable period. Such cases involve children from towns and areas near illegal Israeli settlements established on Palestinian land. The largest percentage of detained children come from occupied Jerusalem.
Since 2015, the arrest of children has escalated, especially in occupied Jerusalem. This has coincided with fundamental amendments to Israeli juvenile law, most notably the reduction of the age of criminal responsibility for children from 14 to 12 years old. However, this does not mean that the years prior to 2015 were free of such arrests and unfair sentences given to children. Hundreds were arrested between the 1987 and Al-Aqsa Intifadas.
The Director of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Centre for Studies, Dr Ra’fat Hamdouna, has confirmed that the occupation authorities commit dozens of violations against child detainees, including psychological and physical torture, exploiting the child’s fragile physique, threats, abuse and intimidation, sometimes with dogs. The authorities also resort to deception, false promises and cruelty. The children held by Israel are tried in hostile military courts using unjust laws, and face fines, solitary confinement, the use of force, detention in places unfit for children and provocative searches. They often sign “confessions” written in Hebrew, a language which they don’t understand. Trials are far from fair and are well below international standards.
Odai Haddad, aged 12, was summoned by the Israeli police recently for “throwing stones” at some illegal Israeli settlers. Rejecting the charge, his father Alaa said, “This is the fourth time that my child has been summoned by the occupation authority since he was nine years old. Each time they make different accusations.” The authorities, he explained, once charged Odai with playing with a ball that hit one of the ubiquitous Israeli surveillance cameras on every wall. He complained bitterly that his child and the other children in Bab Al-Amoud neighbourhood in occupied Jerusalem have been deprived of their childhood by restrictive Israeli policies. They are scared to play outside or with other children.
Palestinian children in Israeli detention suffer poor health, lack cultural and psychological care — there are no counsellors in the prisons — and are often held alongside Israeli criminals. Their arrests are frequently at night and often involve intimidation and abuse, as well as inhumane means of restraint and transport intended to destroy their spirit. The whole process has a profound psychological, physical and social effect on them.
Ahmad Manasra is an example of the extent of Israeli cruelty and injustice against children. He was a healthy child before his imprisonment at the age of 14 in 2015. He has been subjected to continuous punishment and abuse ever since, including physical, psychological and social torture. The latter sees the denial of family visits, for example, and all kinds of communication with his parents and brothers. Recently, Ahmad has been held in solitary confinement for up to four months, and is now suffering from psychological disorders due to the isolation and extreme prison conditions. According to his mother, he is being held under very harsh conditions. She has called on the international community and human rights organisations to take direct action and help her son to get appropriate medical and psychological support before she loses him for ever.
Despite his deteriorating condition, the apartheid Israeli courts have rejected pleas to shorten his sentence. They have also refused to allow him to be treated in a mental health unit outside the prison. This is indicative of the way that Palestinian children are treated inside Israeli prisons on Palestinian Children’s Day 2022.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.