Ramallah, September 30, 2020—A 14-year-old Palestinian boy detained by Israeli forces from the occupied West Bank in mid-September tested positive for COVID-19 after spending two days in Israeli custody.
Israeli forces detained the 14-year old Palestinian boy* around noon on September 15 in the Bab al-Zawya area of the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. He was transferred to an Israeli police station in Kiryat Arba, an illegal settlement in the southernmost West Bank governorate of Hebron. After he was interrogated and accused of stone-throwing, Israeli authorities transferred him to Etzion detention center around 8 p.m.
Around 1:30 a.m. on September 17, Israeli authorities transferred the boy from Etzion detention center to Megiddo prison located inside Israel, north of the occupied West Bank. He arrived at Megiddo prison around 4 a.m. and was placed in a room with two other Palestinian child detainees.
On September 17, Israeli authorities administered a COVID-19 test after breakfast, the child told DCIP. Two days later, on September 19, Israeli prison authorities informed the boy he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. It is unknown whether the boy contracted the virus prior to his detention or while in Israeli custody. Israeli authorities moved him to a separate cell and later transferred him to an Israeli police station in the northern Israeli city of Akka, which has been used as a prisoner quarantine site.
“Israeli authorities have exhibited near-complete disregard for Palestinian child detainees’ health and well-being amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCIP. “By continuing to detain and subject Palestinian children to custodial detention by default, Israeli authorities are recklessly endangering children and exhibiting their inability to adequately protect child detainees from the virus. Israeli authorities must immediately release all child detainees.”
On September 24, the child attended a court session via a video link from Akka police station. He was represented by Iyad Misk, a DCIP lawyer. During the hearing, in an atypically accelerated process likely due to his test result, the boy was sentenced to time served for a stone-throwing offense and ordered to pay a 2000 NIS ($580 USD) bond, which would be forfeited if he were to be detained again by Israeli forces.
Palestinian children imprisoned by Israeli authorities live in close proximity to each other, often in compromised sanitary conditions, with limited access to resources to maintain minimum hygiene routines, according to documentation collected by DCIP. COVID-19’s impact is exacerbated by these living conditions, making Palestinian children in Israeli prisons and detention centers increasingly vulnerable.
This is the second case confirmed by DCIP involving a Palestinian child detainee testing positive for COVID-19 in Israeli custodial detention. In August, DCIP reported that a 15-year-old Palestinian boy detained from Al Jalazoun refugee camp in late July was the first confirmed case of a Palestinian child detainee in Israeli custody infected with the novel coronavirus.
After initially containing the virus in May, cases began to rise in June in Israel and across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. On September 18, in an effort to slow the virus’ spread, the Israeli government implemented a three-week lockdown in Israel and East Jerusalem, which is likely to be extended. To date, Israel has recorded at least 239,806 cases with a total of 65,511 active cases, and 1,547 deaths, according to Haaretz. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, there have been at least 50,541 total cases, including 426 new cases recorded on September 30, and 368 deaths, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
At the end of June, 151 Palestinian children were detained in Israeli prisons and detention centers, an increase of six percent from May, according to data released by the Israel Prison Service (IPS). 48 percent of Palestinian child detainees were held in pretrial detention, according to IPS data. Israeli authorities held 79 percent of Palestinian child detainees at prisons and detention centers inside Israel, which amounts to unlawful transfer in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
On March 19, DCIP called on Israeli authorities to immediately release all Palestinian child detainees in Israeli prisons due to the rapid global spread of COVID-19.
In May, three United Nations officials also called on Israeli authorities to release all child detainees and to end arrests during the pandemic, declaring in a joint press statement, “[t]he best way to uphold the rights of detained children amidst a dangerous pandemic, in any country, is to release them from detention and to put a moratorium on new admissions into detention facilities. We call on the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to do so immediately.”
Globally, the World Health Organization, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and U.N. human rights experts have all issued guidelines and statements highlighting the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in detention settings.
Israel ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, obligating itself to implement the full range of rights and protections included in the treaty, including that the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration in all decisions affecting children, and detention must only be used as a measure of last resort for the shortest period necessary.
Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that automatically and systematically detains and prosecutes children in military courts that lack fundamental fair trial rights and protections. Israel detains and prosecutes between 500 and 700 Palestinian children in military courts each year. Nearly three out of four Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces experiences some form of physical violence, according to documentation collected by DCIP.
*The boy's name is known to DCIP but is not disclosed here due to privacy concerns.