Approximately 2.9 million Palestinians live in the occupied West Bank, of which around 45 percent are children under the age of 18.
Palestinian children in the West Bank, like adults, face arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment under an Israeli military detention system that denies them basic rights.
Since 1967, Israel has operated two separate legal systems in the same territory. In the occupied West Bank, Israeli settlers are subject to the civilian and criminal legal system whereas Palestinians live under military law.
Israel applies civilian criminal law to Palestinian children in East Jerusalem. No Israeli child comes into contact with the military courts.
Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that automatically and systematically prosecutes children in military courts that lack fundamental fair trial rights and protections. Israel prosecutes between 500 and 700 Palestinian children in military courts each year.
Ill-treatment in the Israeli military detention system remains “widespread, systematic, and institutionalized throughout the process,” according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report Children in Israeli Military Detention Observations and Recommendations.
Children typically arrive to interrogation bound, blindfolded, frightened, and sleep deprived.
Children often give confessions after verbal abuse, threats, physical and psychological violence that in some cases amounts to torture.
Israeli military law provides no right to legal counsel during interrogation, and Israeli military court judges seldom exclude confessions obtained by coercion or torture.
From testimonies of 739 Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces from the occupied West Bank and prosecuted in Israeli military courts between 2013 and 2018, DCIP found that:
- 73 percent experienced physical violence following arrest
- 95 percent were hand tied
- 86 percent were blindfolded
- 49 percent were detained from their homes in the middle of the night
- 64 percent faced verbal abuse, humiliation, or intimidation
- 74 percent of children were not properly informed of their rights
- 96 percent were interrogated without the presence of a family member
- 20 percent were subject to stress positions
- 49 percent signed documents in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian children don’t understand
Since 2000, an estimated 10,000 Palestinian children have been detained by Israeli forces from the occupied West Bank and held in the Israeli military detention system.
Israel in 1991 ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that children should only be deprived of their liberty as a measure of last resort, must not be unlawfully or arbitrarily detained, and must not be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Despite sustained engagement by UNICEF and repeated calls to end night arrests and ill treatment and torture of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention, Israeli authorities have persistently failed to implement practical changes to stop violence against child detainees.
Reforms undertaken by Israeli military authorities so far have tended to be cosmetic in nature rather than substantively addressing physical violence and torture by Israeli military and police forces.
In no circumstance should children be detained or prosecuted under the jurisdiction of military courts. However, as a minimum safeguard while Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation continue to be arrested and prosecuted within the Israeli military court system, Israeli authorities must respect and ensure basic due process rights and the absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment. From the moment of arrest, operations and procedures must be carried out in accordance with international juvenile justice standards, specifically the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including:
Detention must only be used as a last resort, and only for the shortest appropriate time;
Children must not be subjected to physical or psychological violence;
Children must have access to legal consultation and parents prior to and during interrogations;
Children must only be arrested during daylight hours;
Children must be properly informed of their right to silence;
Children must not be blindfolded or painfully restrained;
Children must not be subjected to coercive force or threats;
All interrogations must be audio-visually recorded;
Any incriminating evidence obtained during interrogation where a child was not properly and effectively informed of his or her right to silence must be excluded by the military courts;
Any statement made as a result of torture or ill-treatment must be excluded as evidence in any proceeding;
The practice of using solitary confinement on children in Israeli military detention, whether in pretrial detention for interrogation purposes or as a form of punishment, must be stopped immediately and the prohibition must be enshrined in law;
The practice of using administrative detention orders against Palestinian children must stop immediately and the prohibition must be enshrined in law;
All credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment must be thoroughly and impartially investigated in accordance with international standards, and perpetrators brought promptly to justice; and
- Children must not be transferred out of the West Bank in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.