Palestinian Child Prisoners
Since 1967, Palestinian children have been living under Israeli military law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Palestinian children have been detained and prosecuted in military courts, without the special protections for detained minors outlined by international law. Every year between 500-700 Palestinian minors are arrested, interrogated and detained by the Israeli soldiers. According to B’tselem at the end of February 2018, 358 Palestinian children were held as security detainees or prisoners in Israeli prisons. Palestinian children are usually accused of throwing stones, which can end with a 20 year sentence according to Israeli military law. The treatment of Palestinian child prisoners is discriminating because Israeli children are not prosecuted in the military court system and the rights of the Israeli children living in illegal settlements are respected. When Israeli minors are arrested they can be accompanied by a parent and has the benefit of legal advice, which is not the case for two out of three Palestinian children.
In March 2018, 95 children were arrested. Countless arrests of Palestinian children take place in the middle of the night at the minors’ homes, while others happen near the homes at roads used by settlers, or at checkpoints. When they take place at night, the children and their families wake up to heavily armed Israeli soldiers banging loudly on their doors and shouting at them to leave the house. The soldiers frequently break down the front door, along with furniture and windows. The soldiers often beat the children severely, and sometimes shoot them during the arrest, in front of their families. The minors are also shackled or blindfolded, and are not allowed to change to appropriate clothing. The families and children are rarely, if ever, informed as to what will happen to their child or where they are being taken. The families are usually forced to stand outside in the middle of the night watching their child being forcibly taken from the home. This experience is very disorienting and disturbing for the children and their families. The children arrive at the interrogation centers without a lawyer or family members, injured, sleep-deprived, frightened, and often have to wait until after daybreak to be moved into a detention centre.
The Working Group on Grave Violations against Children gathered 208 testimonies from minors on the ill-treatment they experienced in the hands of the Israeli soldiers, ISA, IPS, and Israeli Police while under military detention. 144 children testified that they had been intimidated and verbally abused under arrest, while 171 children reported being subjected to physical violence and abuse during arrest. Human Rights Watch conducted interviews with Palestinian children that were arrested in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and each reported having undergone unnecessary force while being arrested.
The children are often subject to ill-treatment not only during the arrest, but also during the journey to the detention or interrogation centre. Many children have injuries and bruises due to being physically restrained with plastic hand ties and forced to lie on the floor of the vehicle. The journey often takes many hours, and includes stopping at military bases or checkpoints. Medical personnel check on the children at these stops, but they rarely conduct physical examinations, and medical attention is not provided. Further negligence of the children occurs, such as not being given water and food.
The mistreatment of the children continues upon the arrival to the detention centre or interrogation centre. The Institute for Middle East Understanding reported that 70 percent of Palestinian children are strip-searched after their arrest. The interrogation begins soon after they arrive, and the children are not accompanied by a family member or lawyer two out of three times, even though article 37(d) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that children under arrest must have access to “legal and other appropriate assistance.” The minors are not made aware of their legal rights, such as the right against self-incrimination.
Most children report being mistreated and having confessions forcibly extracted from them during interrogation. There is no third-party monitoring or independent oversight of the interrogation process. The mistreatment is varied, with most children reporting experiencing physical violence, including kicking, slapping, and pushing. Children are also restrained during interrogation, sometimes for extended periods of time in painful positions, leading to great back, hand, and leg pain. Verbal abuse, intimidation, and threats are also employed. Children have been threatened with violence, sexual assault, death, or imprisonment of their family members or themselves. Addameer has documented reports of children who have been sexually assaulted or threatened with sexual assault by Israeli soldiers or Israel Securities Authority (ISA) officers. The sexual assaults have many forms, “including the form of grabbing a child’s testicles and threats of rape or sodomy with an object.”
These various threats and acts of violence serve to extract a confession from the child, who may do this to stop this torture or to protect themselves or their family, as the threats lead them to believe their cooperation will prevent this from happening to their families. Often, the children have to sign forms that contain their confession, but the forms are usually in Hebrew, which most Palestinian children living in the West Bank do not understand. All these interrogation methods go against the international protections for imprisoned minors, including requirements that a child can only be arrested or detained as a last resort and that it is forbidden for children to be compelled to confess guilt. The methods and ill-treatment of the children is also against article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that “no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture stress that solitary confinement used to obtain information, especially in the case of minors, is cruel, inhumane, and degrading. Children in Israeli prisons are forced to undergo extended periods of solitary confinement, which is a method to extract a forced confession in the interrogation process. The Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP) documented 66 cases between 2012 and 2015 of minors being subjected to solitary confinement and found that the average time an individual child spent under solitary confinement was 13 days. The longest amount of time was 45 days. The children are often kept in windowless cells, only allowed to leave for interrogation, during which they are usually bound and restrained.
When the children are brought to court, they are shackled and chained, which goes against the Convention of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners that requires chains and irons never to be used, and to only use restrains as a precaution against escape during transfer, provided that they shall be removed when the prisoner appears before a judicial or administrative body. This is usually the first time the children can see their lawyers.
The military court judge can extend the minor’s initial four-day detention period for another period no more than 30 days. Whenever the period expires, it can be extended again up to 188 days, with a judge reviewing the detention every 30 days. This can keep being extended indefinitely, forcing children to plead guilty to escape the cycle. The evidence used against the child is usually the confession forcibly extracted during interrogation and as a result of being under duress. International law strictly forbids the use of evidence extracted under duress and as a result of ill-treatment by a court. However, rarely will children bring this up in court in fear that mentioning it will result in the judge extending their sentence.
The children are often transferred to prisons in Israel. This makes it very difficult for the minors’ families to be able to visit them, because if they are West Bank residents they will have to apply for a permit, which is time consuming and may not even come through. This breaks article 76 of the Geneva Convention which states that “protected persons accused of offences shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein.” It also breaks article 37(c) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says that a minor in detention “shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits, save in exceptional circumstances.”
DCIP found in the 2017 report that in three out of six documented cases did the children endure torture during police interrogations, and a fourth child was physically abused by police station guards and the adult prisoners who he was sharing a cell with, this provoked the boy’s suicide attempt resulting in his death on September 22, 2017.
Stories of Palestinian child arrests and interrogations
A recent example of imprisonment of a minor became an internationally known story of Ahed Tamimia16 year-old girl who slapped a heavily armed soldier after her cousin was shot in the head with a rubber bullet during stone-throwing clash in December 2017. Ahed declared that during interrogations Israeli military made inappropriate remarks about her looks and harassed her by threatening to arrest members of her family. She also said that she was questioned by a group of men with no women or interrogators specialized in dealing with minors present. Ahed has pleaded guilty to assault, incitement and two counts of obstructing soldiers which gave her an eight-month prison sentence and a fine of nearly $1,500. B’Tselem reported that minors are advised to plead guilty in exchange of a reduced sentence. The conviction rate in Israel’s military court verges on 100 percent.
16 year old Fawzi al-Junaidi was detained for 20 days in December 2017 and later denied to leave the West Bank. After Donald Trump’s decision to recognize the contested city of Jerusalem as the capital of Jerusalem, Fawzi was part of a protest in Hebron in the West Bank on the 7th of December. After the release of a photo showing Fawzi during his arrest, his story went viral. The photo showed Fawzi blind folded surrounded by 22 Israeli soldiers marching him to prison. Fawzi told the DCIP lawyer, Farah Bayadsi, that he had been beaten and verbally abused during the arrest: “When I arrived at the checkpoint, I remember my face bleeding, mostly my lips because of the beating. They took me to a room, knocked me down to the floor and began kicking me all over my body” Fawzi said in a sworn testimony. Fawzi was interrogated without a lawyer or family member present.