Israeli security forces detain a Palestinian youth during clashes near Israel's Ofer Prison on March 7, 2017 near the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Photo: AFP/ Abbas Momani)
Ramallah, July 18, 2017—A hike in the number of Palestinian children incarcerated in Israeli prisons left more Palestinian children exposed to a pattern of routine abuses and rights violations during Israeli military arrests in the first half of 2017 than in recent years.
According to data released by Israeli Prison Service (IPS), 331 Palestinian children were detained in Israeli prisons at the end of May 2017, a 62 percent increase by IPS data from 2012 to 2015 where Israel held an average of 204 Palestinian children in custody each month. Defense for Children International - Palestine documentation showed that Israeli forces continued to disregard Palestinian children’s internationally enshrined human rights during arrest through practices such as the use of physical violence, position abuse, and other forms ill-treatment as well as depriving children of access to legal counsel.
“For over a decade, ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system has been widespread and systematic,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCIP. “From the persistent and institutionalized ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children to the systematic denial of their due process rights emerges a system of control far removed from justice.”
Out of 69 children who provided DCIP with sworn testimonies this year, detailing their experiences following arrest, 49 said they endured physical violence at the hands of Israeli forces.
Data compiled by DCIP between January and June showed that Israeli forces subjected two-thirds of the children to verbal abuse, humiliation, and intimidation. Meanwhile, 81 percent were strip searched, and 11 percent were subjected to stress positions, a practice where a child is forced to stay in a position that puts stress on a particular area of their body. Two-thirds also did not have access to legal counsel prior to interrogation and only three had a parent present.
Among the youngest Palestinian children to be detained by Israeli forces since the start of the year was 12-year-old Suheib S., from the Ramallah-area Jalazone refugee camp. He was throwing stones when soldiers knocked him to the ground, beat him, duct taped his hands behind his back and blindfolded him.
Suheib S. endured verbal insults and slapping during transfer to the police station in the Israeli settlement industrial zone of Sha’ar Binyamin, south of Ramallah, where he underwent interrogation. He was held overnight at the police station and denied food for at least 24 hours.
In another case of ill-treatment, Duraid B., 16, was detained from his home in Beita village near Nablus in the middle of the night. Duraid said an Israeli officer threatened to pour hot silicone on him and chop off his head. He was punched in the stomach repeatedly during a 30-minute transfer to the detention center.
In one of a number of cases that may amount to torture, an Israeli interrogator grabbed the neck of 13-year-old Anas M. and attempted to choke him.
Amid escalating violence at the end of 2015, the number of Palestinian children detained in the Israeli prison system spiked dramatically. At the end of March 2016, 444 Palestinian children were in the Israeli prison system, the highest known total since January 2008 when the IPS began sharing data.
Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes between 500 and 700 children, some as young as 12, in military courts each year that lack basic and fundamental fair trial rights.
The majority of Palestinian child detainees are charged with throwing stones. In addition to physical and psychological abuse during arrest and detention, confessions obtained through coercion or torture are routinely used by military prosecutors to reach a conviction, according to DCIP documentation.
International juvenile justice standards, which Israel has obliged itself to implement by signing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1991, demand that children should only be deprived of their liberty as a measure of last resort and the best interests of the child must be a primary concern. The universal and absolute prohibition against torture enshrined in international law means that no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian child detainees has regularly been raised by UN human rights treaty bodies. The UN Committee Against Torture expressed concern in May 2016 at allegations of ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian child detainees.
In June 2013, the Committee on the Rights of the Child reviewed Israel’s compliance with the CRC and found that Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces were “systematically subject to degrading treatment, and often to acts of torture” and that Israel had “fully disregarded” previous recommendations to comply with international law.
Recent amendments to Israeli military law concerning children have had little to no impact on their treatment during the first 24 to 48 hours after an arrest, when most of the ill-treatment occurs at the hands of Israeli soldiers, police, and the security service.