Israeli forces detain unknown number of Palestinian children from Gaza

Number of child detainees from Gaza is unknown; location is unknown; treatment of prisoners is unknown. (Photo: AFP)  

Ramallah, April 24, 2024—Israeli forces have detained an unknown number of Palestinian children from the Gaza Strip since October 27, 2023.

Israeli forces have detained around 3,000 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip since October, according to estimates by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights. Around 1,650 Palestinians, including children, from Gaza are currently detained by Israeli forces under the Unlawful Combatants Law, according to Al Mezan. The number of Palestinian children from Gaza detained by Israeli forces is unknown.

“While news media has reported Israeli forces detaining and torturing Palestinian men, women, and children from the Gaza Strip, little to no information is available about these detainees, their locations, or when they will be released,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability program director at DCIP. “There are an unknown number of Palestinian children detained from Gaza, likely being tortured by Israeli forces at Israeli prisons in southern Israel.”

Israeli forces have released 1,506 Palestinian detainees, including 43 children, back to Gaza through the Karem Abu Salem crossing as of April 4, according to UNRWA. Testimonies collected from released detainees included reports of sexual violence, attacks from military dogs, strip searches, extended time in stress positions, severe beatings, and other forms of ill-treatment and torture. In addition, detainees reported that Israeli forces deprived them of food, water, sleep, medicine, and access to the bathroom. Many detainees suffered injuries from tight handcuffs.

The ill-treatment and torture reported by Palestinian detainees from Gaza is consistent with the treatment of Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank, according to documentation collected by DCIP. 

The testimony recounts a harrowing incident in the Al-Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City, where a man was detained by Israeli soldiers from their home, along with his wife and two young children, ages four years and six months. While the man was eventually released, the fate of his wife and two children remained unknown. According to his account, his wife endured abuse by the Israeli soldiers, who separated her from her children, according to Euro-med Monitor.

The soldiers justified their actions by claiming that the children were potentially Israeli detainees, and thus subjected them to analysis. Additionally, this claim was repeated with parents of a 12-year-old girl, who attempted to oppose her arrest by Israeli soldiers. Despite the fact that the girl spoke Arabic, she was taken under the false pretense that she was an Israeli hostage, according to Euro-med Monitor.

Due to the intensity of the bombardment and the fear for their lives, many families fled to protect themselves and their children to hospitals and schools. Although it is considered that such places are safe places from Israeli targeting, they were not exempt from any form of attacks, thus were targeted and the males who were sheltering there were arrested between the ages of 16 and 60, according to Al Mezan Center.

The conditions in Israeli prisons have deteriorated rapidly since October 7 as Israeli forces crowd Palestinian children into cells, serve rotten food, and deprive children of family visits, according to documentation collected by DCIP.

The Palestinian Prisoner’s Society indicated that the number of child prisoners from Gaza in Megiddo prison reached 24 children, who were detained in two cells alongside 70 other children.

The primary focus of DCIP involves offering legal assistance to children detained by the Israeli military and to collect accurate data on the number of children in detention facilities. The Israeli Prison Service (IPS) and Israeli army-run temporary detention facilities are two of the many sources from which the monthly totals of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons and detention centers are compiled.

Whether they are civilians or combatants, Israel is holding Palestinians, including children in Gaza under Israel’s 2002 "Unlawful Combatants Law." This Israeli civil law permits the state to detain as claimed “enemy fighters” for extended periods of time without following the standard legal procedures, and to hold them without granting them the status of prisoners of war. Therefore, for those imprisoned under this law, a detention order may only be issued within 45 days following their arrest. Furthermore,the law permits Israeli authorities to forbid detainees from meeting with a lawyer and postpone judicial review for up to 75 days, or up to six months with a judge's approval.

According to the 2006 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the “enforced disappearance” is considered “to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty ... followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person ...” and actions that resemble forced disappearance are considered international crimes punishable by law, depending on its extreme seriousness.

According to the Convention, forced disappearance qualifies as a crime that rises to “crimes against humanity” if it is carried out extensively or systematically on a large scale, which is exactly what the Israeli army forces are practicing by penetrating in all areas of the Gaza Strip, where they have arrested hundreds, and continue to held many of them in Israeli military prisons, along with thousands of Palestinian people whose fate is still unknown.

The enforced disappearance of Palestinian children amidst the ongoing war in Gaza is a serious breach of international law. The Israeli practice of forcibly disappearing against the Palestinian children is prohibited under the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which Israel has not ratified, but is still bound by customary international law. However, Israel has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which forbids the ill-treatment of Gaza-based Palestinian children during times of wars. 

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