Since 1967, Palestinian children in the Occupied Palestinian Territory have been living under Israeli military law and prosecuted in military courts.
In the West Bank, there are two separate legal systems operating in the same territory. The sole factor in determining which laws apply to a person is his or her nationality and ethnicity.
Israeli military law, which fails to ensure and denies basic and fundamental rights, is applied to the whole Palestinian population. Israeli settlers living in the West Bank are subject to the Israeli civilian and criminal legal system.
Israel is the only country in the world that automatically prosecutes children in military courts that lack basic and fundamental fair trial guarantees. Since 2000, at least 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and prosecuted in an Israeli military detention system notorious for the systematic ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children.
Around 500-700 Palestinian children are arrested, detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system each year.
The majority of Palestinian child detainees are charged with throwing stones, and three out of four experience physical violence during arrest, transfer or interrogation. No Israeli child comes into contact with the military court system.
Arrest, transfer and interrogation
The majority of children are detained from their West Bank homes during the middle of the night by heavily armed Israeli soldiers. Several hours after their arrest, children arrive at an interrogation and detention center alone, sleep deprived and often bruised and scared. Interrogations tend to be coercive, including a variety of verbal abuse, threats and physical violence that ultimately result in a confession.
Unlike Israeli children living in illegal settlements in the West Bank, Palestinian children are not accompanied by a parent and are generally interrogated without the benefit of legal advice, or being informed of their right to silence. They are overwhelmingly accused of throwing stones, an offense that can lead to a potential maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years depending on a child’s age.
In 2013, 199 children, on average, were being held in military detention every month, the highest average since 2010.
Post-arrest, a child’s initial appearance in the military court is usually when he first sees a lawyer and his family. Although many children maintain their innocence, most plead guilty because this is the quickest way out of a system that rarely grants bail.
Israeli military court judges, either active duty or reserve officers in the Israeli army, rarely exclude evidence obtained by coercion or torture, including confessions drafted in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian children do not understand.
In 23% of cases in 2013, children were either shown, or made to sign, documentation written in Hebrew, a language they do not understand.
After sentencing, nearly 60% of Palestinian child detainees are transferred from occupied territory to prisons inside Israel in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The practical consequence of this is that many of them receive either limited or no family visits due to freedom of movement restrictions and the time it takes to issue a permit to visit the prisons.
International juvenile justice standards, which Israel has an obligation to implement after signing 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.
DCI-Palestine works to end this abuse of children's rights by demanding that:
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.