Israeli authorities imprison Palestinian child with rare autoimmune disease without charge

Jan 28, 2021
Israeli forces rearrested Amal Nakhleh, 17, in January and an Israeli military court extended his detention on January 25 accepting a six-month administrative detention order against him. (Photo: Courtesy of the Nakhleh family)

Ramallah, January 28, 2021—Israeli authorities issued a six-month administrative detention order on Monday against a 17-year-old Palestinian boy with a rare autoimmune disease, extending his detention without charge.

Israeli forces arrested Amal Nakhleh, 17, from his home around 3:30 a.m. on January 21, 2021, in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, according to information collected by DCIP. His detention was promptly extended for 72 hours by an Israeli military court judge at Israel’s Ofer military court, then, on January 25, the six-month administrative detention order against him was issued and accepted. He is currently detained at Israel’s Megiddo prison, located inside Israel, north of the occupied West Bank.

Amal suffers from myasthenia gravis, a rare chronic autoimmune, neuromuscular disease that causes muscle weakness, including in the muscles used for breathing and swallowing. His treatment requires ongoing medical treatment and that he takes medication regularly and without interruption. 

“Israeli authorities must either file charges against Palestinian children or release them,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at Defense for Children International – Palestine. “Administrative detention must never be used to justify the detention of children and amounts to a clear violation of fundamental due process rights. Israeli authorities must immediately end the arbitrary detention of Palestinian children.”

Amal was previously arrested on November 2, 2020, and charged with throwing stones. However, on November 24, 2020, he was ordered to be released on bond by Israeli military judge Sharon Keinan, according to Haaretz. The Israeli military prosecution appealed the ruling to the Military Court of Appeals, arguing a secret file on Amal would justify an administrative detention order against him. On December 10, the Israeli military prosecution appeal was rejected, and Amal was subsequently released. Military prosecutors said that if released on bail, Amal would be put in administrative detention, according to Haaretz.

Administrative detention is a form of imprisonment without charge or trial regularly used by Israeli authorities to detain Palestinians, including children. Palestinian children held under administrative detention orders are not presented with charges, and their detention is based on secret evidence that is neither disclosed to the child nor their attorney, preventing them from preparing a legal challenge to the detention and its alleged basis. 

Military court judges, who are active duty or reserve officers in the Israeli army, have the authority to approve administrative detention orders lasting up to six months. There is no limit to the number of times an administrative detention order can be renewed. As a result, children held in administrative detention face the added uncertainty of indefinite imprisonment, in addition to the ordinary struggles child prisoners face.  

Between 2012-2014, Israeli authorities briefly suspended the practice of detaining Palestinian children under administrative detention orders. However, since October 2015, DCIP has documented a total of 36 Palestinian children held by Israeli authorities pursuant to administrative detention orders.

An average of two Palestinian children are held under administrative detention orders each month, according to Israel Prison Service (IPS) data. In addition to Amal, two other 17-year-old Palestinian boys, Suleiman Q. and Faisal A., are currently detained by Israeli authorities under administrative detention orders, according to information collected by DCIP. 

Individuals with neuromuscular disorders, especially those with autoimmune myasthenia gravis, may be at greater risk of worse outcomes when infected with COVID-19, according to an article published in The Lancet. 

In 2020, DCIP confirmed at least three Palestinian child detainees tested positive for COVID-19 while in Israeli custody. Documentation by DCIP shows that Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system live in close proximity, often in compromised sanitary conditions. They typically have little or no access to resources with which to maintain basic hygiene practices, including practices that reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

Several Palestinian children detained since the outbreak told DCIP that Israeli soldiers did not take precautionary measures to reduce the spread of the virus and did not wear masks or gloves. The children were not medically examined or tested for COVID-19 upon arrival at Israeli facilities and were placed inside rooms, including with other children, that did not contain cleaning supplies, hand soap, or adequate ventilation.

Emotional and physical stress can lead to increased weakness in persons who have myasthenia gravis, according to Amal’s medical report from Shaare Zedek Medical Center. As a result, Amal is increasingly vulnerable to contagious diseases such as COVID-19 that thrive in custodial detention settings. 

The medical report also notes that Amal must remain under constant medical supervision to monitor his health since complications may be sudden and life-threatening. One medication Amal requires to strengthen his immune system has some life-threatening side effects, making regular supervision essential for his health. Due to symptoms of the disease, Amal may be unable to swallow his medication which then requires urgent care at a hospital. 

International juvenile justice standards, which Israel has obliged itself to implement by ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, demand that children should only be deprived of their liberty as a measure of last resort and must not be unlawfully or arbitrarily detained. 

Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes between 500 and 700 children in military courts each year that lack fundamental fair trial rights.

News | Military Detention
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