Palestinian Child Prisoners: The Systematic and Institutionalised Ill-Treatment and Torture of Palestinian Children by Israeli Authorities
The Israeli military court system in the Occupied Palestinian Territory has operated for over 42 years almost devoid of international scrutiny. Each year an average of 9,000 Palestinians are prosecuted in two Israeli military courts operating in the West Bank, including 700 children.
From the moment of arrest, Palestinian children encounter ill-treatment and in some cases torture, at the hands of Israeli soldiers, policemen and interrogators. Children are commonly arrested from the family home in the hours before dawn by heavily armed soldiers. The child is painfully bound, blindfolded and bundled into the back of a military vehicle without any indication as to why or where the child is being taken. Children are commonly mistreated during the transfer process and arrive at the interrogation and detention centres traumatised, tired and alone.
During interrogation, children as young as 12 years are denied access to a lawyer and visits from their families. These children will generally not be permitted to see a lawyer until after they have provided a confession to the interrogator. Whilst under interrogation children are subjected to a number of prohibited techniques, including the excessive use of blindfolds and handcuffs; slapping and kicking; painful position abuse for long periods of time; solitary confinement and sleep deprivation; and a combination of physical and psychological threats to the child, and the child’s family.
Most children confess and some are forced to sign confessions written in Hebrew, a language they do not comprehend. These interrogations are not video recorded as is required under Israeli domestic law.
Children as young as 12 years are prosecuted in the Israeli military courts and are treated as adults as soon as they turn 16, in contrast to the situation under Israeli domestic law, whereby majority is attained at 18. In 2008 the most common offence Palestinian children were charged with under Israeli military law, was stone throwing.
This charge was made in 26.7% of cases and under Israeli Military Order 378 carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment. In 91% of all cases involving Palestinian
children, bail was denied.
Proceedings in the military courts disregard many basic fair trial rights and general principles of juvenile justice are simply not applied. In almost all cases, the primary evidence against the children is the confession extracted during a coercive interrogation. With no faith in the system and the potential for harsh sentences, approximately 95% of cases end in the child pleading guilty, whether the offence was committed or not.
Once sentenced, the overwhelming majority of Palestinian children are detained inside Israel, in clear contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Many children receive no family visits whilst in prison and limited education is only provided in two out of five of the prisons used to detain Palestinian children.
The ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities is widespread, systematic and institutionalised. This system operates within a general culture of brutality and impunity. Between 2001 and 2008, over 600 complaints were filed against Israeli Security Agency (ISA) interrogators for alleged ill-treatment and torture. To date, there has not been a single criminal investigation.
Unless and until there is some level of accountability for what amounts to serious breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, both at the domestic and international level, the ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children at the hands of Israeli authorities will continue unchecked.
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