Palestinian Children in Israeli Jails

I was surprised to see the mainstream press reporting on this. Here’s a Yahoo News/Time Magazine report on the mistreatment of Palestinian children by Israeli soldiers and the Israeli system.

Under Israeli military law, which prevails in the Palestinian territories, the crime of throwing a stone at an Israeli solider or even at the monolithic 20-ft.-high “security barrier” enclosing much of the West Bank can carry a maximum 20-year-prison sentence. Since 2000, according to the Palestinian Ministry for Prisoner Affairs, more than 6,500 children have been arrested, mostly for hurling rocks.

Human-rights groups in Israel and elsewhere have also condemned the punishment meted out to Palestinian children by Israeli military justice. Most onerous, says Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human-rights group B’Tselem, is that inside the territories, the Israeli military deems any Palestinian who is 16 years and older as an adult, while inside Israel, the U.S. and most other countries, adulthood is reached at age 18.

The report states that “the ill-treatment and torture” of Palestinian child prisoners “appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized, suggesting complicity at all levels of the political and military chain of command.” The group’s director, Rifaat Kassis, says the number of child arrests rose sharply in the past six months, possibly because of a crackdown on Palestinian protests in the West Bank in the aftermath of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.

The Geneva organization’s report alleges that under Israeli military justice, it is the norm for children to be interrogated by the Israeli police and army without either a lawyer or a family member present and that most of their convictions are due to confessions extracted during interrogation sessions or from “secret evidence,” usually tip-offs from unnamed Palestinian informers. If so, the practice may violate the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which Israel ratified in 1991. In response to TIME’s queries, a lawyer for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that under “security legislation” and Israel’s interpretation of international law, no lawyer or relative need be present during a child’s interrogation.

According to the Israeli human-rights group Breaking the Silence, a few Israeli soldiers are alarmed by their own troops’ behavior. The group cites the testimony of two officers who complained before a military court that during an operation last March in Hares village, soldiers herded 150 male villagers, some as young as 14, into a schoolyard in the middle of the night, where they were kept bound, blindfolded and beaten over the course of more than 12 hours.

But Khalid Quzman, a defense lawyer at the Israeli military courts, says, “We don’t complain anymore because it’s a waste of time.” More than 600 complaints of torture and ill treatment were filed between 2001 and 2008, he says, “and not a single criminal investigation was ever carried out.”

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