Without enshrined protections, children under Israeli military arrest face rampant abuses

Sep 18, 2018
Israeli security forces detain a Palestinian protester during clashes at the main entrance of the Israeli occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem on December 22, 2017. (Photo: AFP / Musa Al Shaer)

Ramallah, September 18, 2018—In a head count at the end of June, 273 Palestinian children were in Israeli military detention, according to recently released data from the Israeli Prison Service (IPS). Like the 500-700 Palestinian who undergo Israeli military arrest annually, these children encountered a system where rights abuses and violations are institutionalized and routine.

Two children whose cases Defense for Children International - Palestine documented, Osaid M., 15,  and Ahmad S., 17, were among the 273 child detainees IPS counted.

Osaid was arrested along with a friend on February 4, 2018 near his neighborhood of Anabta, outside the West Bank city of Tulkarm. He told DCIP that some 10 Israeli soldiers descended upon them, blindfolding and detaining the boys without informing them of the reason for the arrest at the time.

“The soldiers tied our hands behind our backs using plastic cords and blindfolded our eyes,” Osaid said. “They then started beating and slapping us. They ordered us to walk while blindfolded, and they kept hitting us while we were walking.”

The soldiers transferred the two children to Einav settlement, near the West Bank town of Tulkarm, where they held them for several hours. Around 6 p.m., Israeli forces brought Osaid and his friend to the police station in Ariel settlement, 35 kilometers (22 miles) south of Einav. There, Osaid spent the night, bound and blindfolded, without water or access to a bathroom.

At 2 a.m., Osaid underwent interrogation. “He shackled my feet and did not inform me of my rights, such as my right to remain silent,” Osaid said. “He was shouting and accusing me of throwing stones, but I never confessed.”

Osaid had a brief phone call with his parents prior to the interrogation, but had no parent present during interrogation. Under military law, children do not have the right to a lawyer during interrogation.

At the end of the interrogation, Osaid signed under duress a statement in Hebrew, a language he does not understand.

Most children meet their lawyer for the first time during their initial court appearance. A recent amendment, military order 1798, reduced the maximum period of time permitted before a detained child, aged 16 - 17, can appear before a military judge from 96 to 72 hours.

Children most commonly face the charge of throwing stones, which carries maximum sentences of 10 or 20 years, depending on the circumstances.

Many children maintain their innocence, but plead guilty, as it is the fastest way to get out of the system. Most receive plea deals of less than 12 months. Trials, on the other hand, can last up to nine months in security offense cases and six months in criminal offense cases, according to recent changes introduced by military order 1798. If the court proceedings have not concluded by that time, the case must be brought before a judge of the military court of appeals. This judge can rule to either release the child or extend the child's remand in custody for a period of three months each time. Military law has no stated limit for how many times this extension can be renewed. Military judges rarely grant bail, which leaves most children behind bars as they await trial.

Osaid stood trial in Salem military court on charges of throwing stones and paint canisters. He received a six-month prison sentence and 2,000 shekel (US$549) fine on July 10 and was released five days later with time served in remand.

Including Osaid, DCIP collected affidavits from 76 West Bank children detained and prosecuted under the jurisdiction of Israeli military courts between January and August this year.

The data shows that 80 percent of those children endured some form of physical violence following arrest and 58 percent were verbally abused, intimidated, or humiliated.

Under Israeli military law, children are entitled to consult with a lawyer prior to interrogation, but are not permitted to have an attorney present during interrogation. In cases where children successfully access this right, their conversations with legal counsel are typically brief, often by phone, and are able to be overheard by the interrogator or other police officers.

Out of the 76 children who provided DCIP with sworn testimonies between January and August of 2018, 68 percent of children did not receive legal counsel prior to interrogation. By way of comparison, 66 percent of children in 2017 and 84 percent in 2016 did not receive a legal consultation prior to interrogation.

Access to a parent during interrogation remains exceedingly rare. DCIP documentation found that 95 percent of the 76 children did not have a parent present during interrogation.

With no guaranteed third-party presence to provide oversight of Israeli interrogation methods, Palestinian children are vulnerable to coercion and physical and psychological violence.

Alarmingly, DCIP documented the use of solitary confinement for interrogation purposes during pretrial detention against 11 children for an average period of 15 days between January and August. The period of isolation documented so far this year was 26 days.

“I was detained in a small cell that barely had room for one person,” said Ahmad S., 17. Arrested in early February on suspicion of throwing stones and aiding a fugitive, Ahmad was subjected to high abuses. Among the worst of these was the 22 day he spent in solitary confinement.

“It had a tiny toilet with a bad smell,” said Ahmad. “I used to sleep on a filthy mattress that had a disgusting smell. The light was turned on all the time, causing pain in my eyes. The walls were gray and had a coarse surface. I was not able to lean against them. The cell had no windows, but it had ventilation gaps.”  

Throughout this period, he was frequently interrogated in a stress position. “I was interrogated many times and I was always tied to the metal chair that was few inches above the ground,” Ahmad said.

Ahmad told DCIP in his sworn testimony that the interrogator threatned to physically assault him if he did not confess. Following other coercive methods including the use of informants, Ahmad reported that he eventually confessed. A military court ordered Ahmad remain behind bars until the conclusion of his trial proceedings.

In 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, called for an absolute prohibition on the use of solitary confinement with children, in a report submitted to the UN General Assembly.

Ahmad, Osaid and all the other children detained in the Israeli military court system deserve protections from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and fundamental fair trial rights.

International juvenile justice standards, which Israel has obliged itself to implement by adopting 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 and the best interests of the child must be a primary concern.



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