A Palestinian child rides his bicycle in Jenin refugee camp, West Bank, March 8, 2015. (Photo: ActiveStills / Ahmad Al-Bazz)
Ramallah, April 10, 2017—The Palestinian Preventative Security Service (PSS) and General Intelligence Service (GIS) arbitrarily arrested and detained at least 14 Palestinian children in the past 13 months in a non-transparent process rife with abuses, including the use of solitary confinement and torture.
On October 8, 2016, PSS arbitrarily arrested a 17-year-old West Bank child, M.K., on suspicion of weapon possession. Around 2:30 p.m., a group of men in civilian clothing forced him into a car while M.K. was heading to a taxi station in Ramallah, according to his sworn testimony. The car transported M.K. to PSS headquarters a couple of miles outside of Ramallah, in Beitunia. M.K. was not shown a warrant or told the reason for the arrest.
Arrests are considered arbitrary under a set of conditions, as delineated by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Some of these conditions include lack of arrest warrant, if the relevant authority did not order the arrest, or if the arrest is otherwise inconsistent with domestic laws and internationally enshrined rights.
Under the 2016 Palestinian juvenile protection bill—which was signed into law several weeks before the first of the 14 arbitrary child arrests occurred—the juvenile prosecutor is the only party authorized to order a child’s detention, per Article 20. Once an arrest is so ordered, the Palestinian juvenile police force is the singular body legally sanctioned to carry out the arrest.
If a child is arrested by another party while actively committing a crime, Article 18 stipulates that “he shall be handed over to the juvenile police immediately” and brought before the juvenile prosecutor within 24 hours.
As such, arrests ordered by other governmental officials or carried out by PSS and GIS all fall under the arbitrary arrest definition, denying children access to due process and other safeguards afforded to them during legal arrests and detentions. The rights of juveniles processed by the juvenile police are rarely violated, according to Defense for Children International - Palestine’s documentation.
M.K. was detained in a window-less and unsanitary cell, in solitary confinement cell for six days, at the PSS headquarters. He was repeatedly interrogated without access to a legal guardian or lawyer, and his rights were not explained.
“If you think you're a fish, then we're whales,” one interrogator told him, insisting that M.K. was guilty of weapon possession, despite M.K. denying it.
During another interrogation session, four interrogators physically assaulted him, according to the boy’s sworn testimony. “‘You either confess or we'll beat you up,’ one of them said to me,” M.K. told DCIP. “I do not remember exactly how long they kept beating me, but it felt like a year because it was very painful.”
After 14 days of detention at the PSS headquarters, M.K. was transferred to Dar Al-Amal, a juvenile detention and rehabilitation facility in Ramallah. He was detained there while undergoing trial and reported good treatment.
One day after M.K.’s arrest, PSS arbitrarily arrested two more children, aged 16 and 17, from the same West Bank village located between Ramallah and Jerusalem, on suspicion of weapon possession. When DCIP visited the children’s families in February, the two children had already been detained for five months without having been convicted of any charges.
After three initial detention extensions amounting to 90 days, a Palestinian court ordered the boys’ release. However, when their lawyer tried to implement their release, PSS prevented it, bringing new money laundering accusations.
By one child’s father’s account, PSS indicated that the true reason for extending the detention was to protect the children from arrest by Israeli authorities. PSS reportedly told him that coordination on the issue was underway, but provided the father no visibility into the process or timeline.
The father had been visiting his son regularly at PSS headquarters and said his son denied that guards there had beaten him, but remained unconvinced of his son’s safety.
Last summer saw the arbitrary child arrest cases involving the worst forms of abuses. At the time, Palestinian authorities were conducting a Nablus-area manhunt for gunmen involved in the killing of two Palestinian security force members.
Among those arrested were Nael A., 15, and Adham T., 17. GIS arbitrarily arrested the two boys within one week of each other, from the same Nablus governorate neighborhood, Dahiya Al-'Olia, in the northern West Bank.
After his arrest on July 6, 2016, GIS interrogated Nael in Jericho prison using severe methods for nine days, according to his sworn statement. He told DCIP he was beaten and hung upside down for several hours at a time and forced to wear a bag on his head.
Adham told DCIP he was handcuffed to the ceiling, repeatedly beaten with a stick, and choked during interrogation.
“Sometimes they would tie my hands to the back of the chair, as well as my feet to the chair, and beat me with a stick on my feet and hand so hard until I no longer felt anything,” said Adham. “An hour later, they would put my hands and feet in cold water so the marks and bruises would go away.”
Both children had no access to a lawyer or family member during interrogation, as is their right, and said they had to sleep on the floor of a tiny, crowded cell.
Ahmad J., 14, contracted a skin disease in Jericho prison because of squalid cell conditions with little ventillation. He was arbitrarily arrested by order of the governor on February 6, along with 10 other members of his family in the context of a violent inter-family feud taking place in Silat Al Harithiya, in the northern West Bank governorate of Jenin.
Other abuses DCIP documented among the 14 cases involved denial of toilet access, detention with adults, the use of intimidation and verbal threats including threats of a sexual nature, and compelling children to sign documents without knowing their contents.
“The cases that DCIP has documented are shocking and disturbing,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, DCIP's Accountability Program director. “President Mahmoud Abbas signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2014 and the subsequent juvenile protection law in 2016 to close the legal gaps and protect the rights of children. We expect the law to be implemented.”
In 2010, Palestinian ministries and human rights organizations, including DCIP, began formulating the 2012 draft law on juvenile justice, which was adopted on February 4, 2016.
Earlier, Jordanian laws dating back to 1954 governed the West Bank, while British Mandate laws from 1937 were applied to the Gaza Strip. The new juvenile protection law modernized the Jordan and British Mandate laws applied across the West Bank and Gaza to meet international standards for safeguarding children’s rights, with a focus on alternatives to incarceration within a non-punitive framework.
The juvenile law also unified and updated the Palestinian juvenile justice system, recognizing all individuals under the age of 18 as children in need of protection, rehabilitation, and reintegration into society.
Additionally, in 2014, the State of Palestine signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which prohibits the arbitrary or unlawful arrest of children, and more generally, the detention of children, except as a measure of last resort. The CRC further forbids the use of torture, and “other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
By signing the CRC, the State of Palestine obligated itself to allign both the domestic juvenile legal framework and its implementation with international standards.
While these steps showed great promise, the 14 arbitrary child arrest cases demonstrate the simultaneous existence of a shadow Palestinian detention system, operating outside of this promise and childrens’ best interests.