Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank during the first half of 2015 suffered increasing levels of physical violence, according to Defense for Children International Palestine research.Data compiled by DCIP since January 2015 shows that 86 percent of Palestinian children experienced some form of physical violence during their arrest or interrogation, a 10 percent increase from 2014. Unlike their Israeli counterparts, Palestinian children have no right to be accompanied by a parent and, in the majority of cases, no access to legal counsel during interrogation.
Ill treatment of Palestinian children remains widespread and systematic in the Israeli military detention system as children arrested by Israeli forces arrive at Israeli interrogation centers blindfolded, bound and sleep deprived, according to DCIP documentation.
Israeli forces used blindfolds and hand ties on almost all the children interviewed by DCIP, and in nearly 55 percent of cases they succumbed to strip-searches once in custody. Children continued to report they signed documents during interrogation drafted in Hebrew, a language they do not understand. DCIP documented four cases involving the use of solitary confinement for interrogation purposes by Israeli forces, a practice that amounts to torture under international law.
“For over a decade, ill treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system has been widespread and systematic,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCIP. “Recent amendments to Israeli military law simply serve to improve the appearance of the military detention system and have failed to practically address the abuse of Palestinian children.”
A UNICEF report released in February found that ill treatment of Palestinian child detainees remained widespread and systematic despite recent changes to Israeli military law. According to the report, Israeli authorities have, since March 2013, issued new military orders and taken steps to reinforce existing military and police operating procedures related to the detention of Palestinian children. However, evidence collected by a UNICEF-led working group since 2013 shows continued and persistent reports of ill treatment against Palestinian children by Israeli forces.
Lawmakers in both the United Kingdom and United States have recently called on their respective governments to hold Israel accountable for ill treatment of Palestinian child prisoners. In the U.K. House of Commons, a motion was tabled on July 13 condemning the ill treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention. The motion calls on the British government “to demand immediate action from the Israeli government to behave in line with international law.”
In the U.S., 19 members of Congress sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on June 18 urging him to prioritize the issue of Palestinian child detainees in Israeli military detention. The letter noted that “Israel’s military detention system targeting children is an anomaly in the world,” and that ill treatment of Palestinian children is “widespread, systemic and institutionalized” throughout the detention process. A U.S. government human rights report released in June also highlighted ill treatment of Palestinian child prisoners and denial of fair trial rights in the Israeli military courts.
Impunity for violations is a significant obstacle. In June, DCIP filed two complaints to the Israeli Military Police Criminal Investigations Division involving the use of excessive force during the arrest of two Palestinian children. Of nine complaints filed by DCIP in 2014, one investigation was closed without charge and the other eight remain pending.
Around 500 to 700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12, are arrested, detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military detention system each year. The majority of Palestinian child detainees are charged with throwing stones. In addition to physical and psychological abuse during arrest and detention, Palestinian child detainees are overwhelming denied bail and routinely held in pretrial custodial detention for up to several months.
International juvenile justice standards, which Israel has obliged itself to implement by 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. Israel is the only country in the world that automatically prosecutes children in military courts that lack basic and fundamental fair trial guarantees.
Since the occupation of Palestinian territory in 1967 by Israeli forces, Palestinian children have been charged with offenses under Israeli military law and tried in military courts. Israeli military law is only applied to Palestinians even though Israeli settlers live in the same territory. No Israeli children come into contact with the Israeli military court system.
At the end of May, a total of 163 Palestinian children were imprisoned in the Israeli military detention system, according to the Israel Prison Service.