Military Detention

Overview

Israel prosecutes between 500 and 700 Palestinian children in military courts each year.

Palestinian children in the occupied 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.

Since 2000, Israeli military authorities have detained, interrogated, prosecuted, and imprisoned approximately 13,000 Palestinian children, according to estimates by DCIP.

Israeli military courts have jurisdiction over any person older than 12 years.

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.

An average of 257 Palestinian children aged 12-17 years old were detained by Israeli authorities at any one time between 2014 and 2019, based on data released by the Israel Prison Service (IPS). During this period, an average of 48 young Palestinian children (12-15) were detained.

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.

A child is considered any person under 18 years, according to international norms.

Between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2019, DCIP collected sworn affidavits from 752 child detainees, describing their arrest, interrogation, and detention experiences. Of these,

Nearly 3 out of 4 Palestinian child detainees experience physical violence at the hands of Israeli forces. 

  • over half were arrested at night

  • 87% were not informed of the reason for their arrest

  • 95% had their hands and feet bound

  • 84% were blindfolded

  • 72% were subjected to physical violence 

  • 61% were subjected to verbal abuse, humiliation, or intimidation during or after their arrest

  • 48% were transferred from the place of their arrest on the floor of a military vehicle

  • 75% were strip searched

  • 46% were denied food and water

  • 32% were denied access to a toilet

  • 70% were not properly informed of their rights

  • 96% were interrogated without a family member present

  • 52% were shown or made to sign a paper in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian children do not understand

  • 35% were threatened or coerced

  • 21% were subjected to stress positions

  • 18% were detained in solitary confinement for interrogation purposes for a period of two or more days

In 1991, Israel ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which stipulates 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 various degrees of engagement by U.N. human rights bodies including the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee Against Torture, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, as well as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children in Armed Conflict, and numerous governmental and non-governmental organizations, Israeli authorities have persistently failed to implement practical changes to end its unlawful practices towards Palestinian child detainees. Reforms undertaken thus far have been largely cosmetic rather than substantive.

What We Do

Since 1991, our lawyers have provided legal representation to Palestinian children prosecuted in Israeli military courts. We defend and protect Palestinian child detainees and work to end the military arrest and prosecution of Palestinian children by Israeli forces.

  • Provide free legal representation to Palestinian children charged in Israeli military courts
  • Document ill-treatment and torture by Israeli forces
  • Pursue accountability by exposing violations and demanding action by policymakers

What You Can Do

In 2015, we created the No Way to Treat a Child campaign as a joint project with the American Friends Service Committee. The campaign seeks to end Israel’s prolonged military occupation of Palestinians by organizing and supporting an extensive network of people demanding immediate protections and an end to the Israeli military detention and prosecution of Palestinian children in Israeli military courts

  • Join our No Way to Treat a Child campaign for information, actions, and events
  • Follow the campaign on Twitter and Facebook 
  • Contact your elected officials to demand an end to Israeli military detention of Palestinian children

Solitary Confinement

Since 2016, Israeli authorities held at least 108 Palestinian children in solitary confinement for interrogation purposes.

Israeli authorities routinely detain Palestinian children in isolation solely for interrogation purposes, a practice that amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

Between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2019, DCIP documented the solitary confinement of 108 Palestinian children for a period of two or more days during a period of interrogation. Children were held for an average period of 14 days, and 43 children endured a prolonged period of isolation of 16 or more days. The longest documented period of isolation was 30 days.

Palestinian children are typically subjected to solitary confinement following a military arrest and transfer by Israeli authorities. While in isolation, these children experience minimal human contact and commonly report significantly worse cell conditions than in other periods of detention.

Report: Isolated and Alone

The solitary confinement of Palestinian children within the Israeli military detention system takes place almost exclusively during pre-charge and pre-trial detention. Evidence collected by DCIP overwhelmingly indicates that it is practiced solely to obtain a confession for a specific offense or to gather intelligence under interrogation. DCIP has found no evidence of the legally justifiable use of solitary confinement of Palestinian children. 

International law prohibits the use of solitary confinement and other practices constituting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against children. The practice of solitary confinement, in addition to corporal punishment, placement in a dark cell, or any other punishment that may compromise the physical or mental health of the child may, in some cases, amount to torture.

Administrative Detention

In 2015, following a three-year suspension of the practice, Israeli authorities began arresting and detaining children under administrative detention.

Administrative detention is a form of imprisonment without charge or trial. Children held under administrative detention orders are never presented with charges, and their detention is based on secret evidence that is neither disclosed to the detainee nor the detainee’s attorney. Therefore, children held in administrative detention and their attorneys have no legal means of challenging the detention and the alleged basis for it. This amounts to a denial of a fundamental due process right.

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.

According to Israel Prison Service (IPS) data, an average of two Palestinian children are held pursuant to administrative detention orders each month.

East Jerusalem

On June 28, 1967, Israel captured and carried out a de facto annexation of East Jerusalem, a move unrecognized by the international community.

Consequently, children in East Jerusalem are generally subject to the Israeli Youth Law, which theoretically applies equally to Palestinian and Israeli children. However, evidence collected by DCIP clearly demonstrates that Israeli authorities implement the law in a discriminatory manner, denying Palestinian children in East Jerusalem of their rights from the moment of arrest to the end of legal proceedings.

In 2015, the Israeli Knesset passed a law enabling Israeli authorities “to imprison a minor convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder or manslaughter even if he or she is under the age of 14.” The actual serving of the sentences would be deferred until the children reach the age of 14. Israel’s civilian criminal justice system previously prohibited custodial sentences against children under 14 in accordance with international juvenile justice standards. 

For Palestinian children living in the occupied West Bank, Israeli military law already allows for any person 12 years and older to be imprisoned. Under both Israeli civilian law and Israeli military law, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 12 years old.

Other amendments to the Israeli penal code in 2015 included stricter penalties in mandatory sentencing laws such as a 10-year sentence for throwing a stone or other object at traffic, without intent to cause injury, and 20 years for throwing a stone or other object at traffic with intent to cause injury. While the 20-year maximum sentencing existed prior to 2015, the word “stone” was added to specifically target Palestinian children.

The Knesset also instituted mandatory minimum sentences of no less than one-fifth of the potential maximum sentence and amended the national insurance law to deprive children convicted of “nationalistic-motivated” offenses and “terrorist activities” from social benefits during their imprisonment. Another amendment allowed juvenile courts to fine the families of children convicted of offenses under Israel’s penal code, such as stone throwing, up to 10,000NIS (US$2,950).

Recommendations

Children should not be tried in military courts under any circumstances.

In no circumstance should children be detained or prosecuted under the jurisdiction of military courts. However, as a minimum safeguard while Palestinian children continue to be arrested and prosecuted within the Israeli military court and detention 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 U.N. 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 detained 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 an 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.

  • Children must not be transferred out of the occupied West Bank in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

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