For Palestinian children of East Jerusalem, the exception is the rule

Jul 29, 2015
Israeli border policemen arrest a Palestinian child during clashes near Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem on May 8, 2013. (Photo:

Ramallah, July 29, 2015—On April 28, Ahmad Zaatri, 9, and his cousin, Mohammad, 12, were walking in an olive field near their houses in Wadi Al-Joz, an East Jerusalem neighborhood near the Old City. At approximately 7 p.m., they noticed 10 Israeli police officers running toward them. Police pushed Ahmad and his cousin to the ground. "An officer hit me with his gun on my back, and I was in pain and horrified, but I did not cry," Ahmad said to Defense for Children International - Palestine.

During the course of their detentions, the two cousins were subjected to physical attacks and verbal insults. Neither boy was informed properly of his right to remain silent, consult a lawyer, or have a parent or family member present during questioning.  

After denying the accusation of throwing stones, Ahmad was released at 2:30 a.m. to his father. "On our way back home, I was exhausted, terrified, hungry and thirsty," Ahmad said to DCIP.   

Meanwhile, Mohammad was interrogated at 3 a.m. for a four-hour period. He was then transferred to Mascobiyya detention center, where he appeared before the court. On May 3, the court ruled to release Mohammad on a 2,000 NIS (US $520) bail and banned him from entering Jerusalem for a week.

The treatment of Ahmad and Mohammad — both East Jerusalem residents — illustrates a gross misapplication of the Israeli Youth Law, which, theoretically, applies equally to Palestinian and Israeli children. Unlike the West Bank where Israeli military law is administered, East Jerusalem falls under Israeli civilian law.

The legal distinctions between East Jerusalem and the West Bank trace back to 1967, when Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, following the Six Day War. Contrary to principles of international humanitarian law and international law, Israel established a de facto annexation of East Jerusalem on June 28, 1967.

Today, in theory, the Israeli Youth Law provides special safeguards and protections to children in conflict with the law during the whole process — arrest, transfer, interrogation and court appearances. These protections include: the use of arrest as a last resort, advance notice before questioning takes place, minimal use of restraints, and the presence of a legal guardian or adult family member during questioning.

Since January 2015, Israeli police’s poor implementation of the law has been depriving Palestinian children in East Jerusalem of their rights during the arrest and interrogation processes, DCIP research reveals. The primary vehicle for this is the overuse of exceptions in the absence of the necessary accompanying circumstances. In other words, for East Jerusalem children, exceptions have become the rule.

“Israeli police employ exceptions to the Youth Law for Palestinian children and therefore do not enable them to enjoy their rights,” said Iyad Misk, attorney at DCIP. “Systematically excluding Palestinian children from protection is a grave violation of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed by Israel in 1991.”  

DCIP’s findings are based on sworn testimonies of 30 children, aged between 9 and 17, who were arrested and interrogated by Israeli police between January and June of 2015. In the previous year, Israeli authorities arrested 700 Palestinian children in East Jerusalem.

Of the 30 cases analyzed by DCIP, Israeli police summoned three Palestinian children for questioning (10 percent). The majority, 27 Palestinian children, were arrested directly from their homes or nearby streets (90 percent). Fifty percent of children were arrested between midnight and 6 a.m. from their homes.  

These statistics fly in the face of the Youth Law, which states that police should summon children ahead of questioning. The intent behind this law is to protect the mental well-being and development of the child. Advance notice enables children to prepare themselves and also allows time for parents to make the necessary arrangements to accompany their children during questioning.

Additionally, the law states that a child should not be arrested if it is possible to achieve the goal of arrest through less damaging means. Effectively, the arrest of a child is intended as a last resort.

As an exception to this rule, the Criminal Procedures Law permits the arrest of a suspect when it is impossible to summon the suspect at a later date or when it is essential to investigate the suspect immediately. However, DCIP analysis revealed that Israeli police officers arrested and interrogated Palestinian children for offenses that had happened weeks before the arrest, or without specifying the date of the offense.

A pointed example of the misapplication of rule-exception is the arrest of Tareq Mohammad, 13, from the Palestinian neighborhood of Isawiyya in East Jerusalem. On June 10, at 2:30 a.m., Israeli police arrested Tareq while he was asleep in his home. The police rejected his father’s request to surrender his son at 8 a.m. to the police.

Once in custody, Tareq was held until 8 a.m., and then brought into an interrogation room. The interrogator accused Tareq of throwing stones and firecrackers on May 15 at a police car.

"I told the interrogator I do not remember what I was doing on that date, it has been a while, and I may have been at school, or preparing myself for school exams," Tareq, said to DCIP. "Then the interrogator informed me that May 15 was a Friday [day-off at schools], I responded that I was with my father praying in Al-Aqsa mosque."

Another safeguard enshrined in Israel's Youth Law is the right to have a parent or other family member present during interrogation. Parental presence may be prevented during interrogation in particular circumstances — such as if requested by the child, or when interrogation could expose personal details of another minor.

The decision to deny parental presence, whether requested by the child or the authorized officer, must be justified in written form.

Out of the 30 cases analyzed, a parent was present during the interrogation in only three cases. Israeli police interrogated 27 children in the absence of a parent (90 percent). The affidavits indicated that no justification for their absence was provided.

Besides the legal mandate, DCIP research found that parental presence during interrogation may protect children from other forms of ill-treatment and violations. In eight cases where parental presence was denied, interrogators did not properly inform the children of their right to remain silent.

Significantly, 16 children were subjected to physical violence during interrogation in the absence of a parent. The violence reported consisted of choking, punching, and slapping.

On May 11, Israeli police arrested Rami Natsheh, 14, at 5 a.m., from his home in Palestinian neighborhood of Thawri in East Jerusalem. Musa, Rami's father, accompanied his child to the Mascobiyya police station. Upon arrival, police informed him that the authorized officer had elected to interrogate Rami without his parent.

Israeli police interrogated Rami for five hours. During questioning, the interrogator forced Rami to carry out painful physical exercises while threating and shouting at him.

"As a result of that and because I no longer could endure the pressure and because I was extremely tired and scared of the interrogator, who kept insulting me and shouting at me all the time, I eventually burst into tears and told him I would confess to anything he  wanted me to confess to," Rami said to DCIP. 

A further protection extended by the Youth law is a prohibition against shackling an arrested child, if the same goal can be achieved through other measures. When restraints are used, Israeli police are obliged to handcuff a child for the shortest duration possible.

Evidence compiled by DCIP indicates that Israeli police handcuff and shackle Palestinian children frequently during the transfer and interrogation phases. Of the cases studied, police hand-tied 27 children during their arrest (90 percent) and 14 children during interrogation (47 percent).   

Following a series of rights violations in the arrest and interrogation processes, 86 percent of the children in the examined cases signed documents in Hebrew, a language they do not understand. The Israeli police did not explain the content of the documents to them.

Israeli police practices in the analyzed cases demonstrate a lax interpretation of the Youth Law and liberal use of rule-exception for Palestinian children in Jerusalem. Palestinian children in East Jerusalem are subjected to discrimination based on their identity and abuses despite the legal safeguards.

“Despite the difference between the legal systems — civil law and military law, Palestinian children in East Jerusalem and the West Bank fall victims to the same ill-treatment during the arrest and interrogation processes” said Iyad Misk, attorney at DCIP. 

Table: DCIP Findings on Israeli police arrest and interrogation practices toward 30 Palestinian children in East Jerusalem, January – June 2015 



Summoning  children  for questioning

10 percent

Arresting  children  from houses or nearby streets

90 percent

Arresting  children  between midnight and 6 a.m.

50 percent

Handcuffing  children  during arrest

90 percent

Interrogating  children in the absence of a parent

90 percent

Not informing children of their right to remain silent

27 percent

Children subjected to physical violence during interrogation

53 percent

Shackling  children  during interrogation

47 percent

Children signing documents in Hebrew

86 percent



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