In the Occupied Palestinian territory,
Israel arrest each year around 700 palestinian children aged 12 to 17.
According to the report of the UNICEF, palestinian children are subjects to
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in violation of the
Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against torture, both
signed by Israel. The prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman and
degrading treatment are also prohibited by customary international law which
Israel must respect. This prohibition is anyway universal and absolute. There
are no exceptional circumstances in which such treatments are permitted, not
even security considerations or the
threat of acts endangering the security of State or its population.
Many children are arrested in the
middle of the night, awakened at their homes by heavily armed soldiers.
Many of the children arrested at home
wake up to the frightening sound of soldiers banging loudly on their front door
and shouting instructions for the family to leave the house.
For some of the children, what follows is
a chaotic and frightening scene, in which furniture and windows are sometimes
broken, accusations and verbal threats are shouted, and family members are
forced to stand outside in their night clothes as the accused child is forcibly
removed from the home and taken away with vague explanations such as “he is
coming with us and we will return him later”, or simply that the child is
“wanted”. Few children or parents are informed as to where the child is being
taken, why or for how long.
transfer to the interrogation site
Many children are subjected to
ill-treatment during the journey to the interrogation centre. Some endure
physical or verbal abuse; some suffer from painful restraints or from being
forced to lie on the hard floor of the vehicle. The transfer process can take
many hours and often includes intermediate stops at settlements or military
bases where further ill-treatment is reported, including in some cases
prolonged exposure to the elements and a lack of water, food or toilet
During these intermediate stops, many children
are brought before medical staff and asked a series of general questions
about their health. The blindfold is usually removed, but the child’s hands
remain tied. Very few children are physically examined. Some children report
informing the doctor about their ill-treatment, but there is little evidence
that these medical personnel provide medical attention even when the children
have marks on their bodies from beatings or from the plastic ties. After this
medical interview, which lasts about 10 minutes, the blindfold is replaced
before the child is taken outside.
The most common sites for interrogation
of children from the West Bank have been the police stations in the settlements
of Gush Etzion and Ari’el, as well as Ofer Prison and Huwwara Interrogation Centre. In a
few cases, the children have been transferred to Al Mascobiyya Interrogation Centre
in Jerusalem or A Jalame Interrogation Centre, near Haifa in Israel. The
children are interrogated soon after their arrival.
The children are questioned by men
dressed in civilian clothes or military uniforms, or sometimes in Israeli
police uniforms. No child has been accompanied by a lawyer or family member
during the interrogation. The interrogation mixes intimidation, threats and physical
violence, with the clear purpose of forcing the child to confess. Children are
restrained during the interrogation, in some cases to the chair they are
sitting on. This sometimes continues for extended periods of time, resulting in
pain to their hands, back and legs. Children have been threatened with death,
physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves
or a family member.
Most children confess at the end of the
interrogation. The interrogator prints out some forms and orders the child to
sign them, though the child often lacks a proper understanding of their
contents. In most cases the forms are in Hebrew, which the overwhelming
majority of Palestinian children do not understand.
hearing and the sentence
After the interrogation children are
generally brought before a military court for a hearing. Children enter the
courtroom in leg chains and shackles, wearing prison uniforms. Most children
see their lawyers for the first time when they are brought to the court. Not all
lawyers have easy access to the applicable military orders as they are not
always made available in Arabic, as is required under international law.
Further, some Israeli criminal legislation, which also applies in the military
courts, has never been translated into Arabic.
the majority of cases, the principal evidence against the child is the child’s
own confession, in most cases extracted under duress during the interrogation.
Sometimes the child is implicated in a confession given by another child. In
some cases the children unknowingly sign a ‘confession’, written in Hebrew
(which most Palestinian children do not understand), after being advised that
‘confessing’ is their only way out of the military detention system. Although
many children reported providing confessions as a result of ill-treatment, few
raise this matter before the court for fear that their complaints would lead to
harsher sentences, even though international law prohibits the use of evidence
obtained under duress by a court.
Ultimately, almost all children plead
guilty in order to reduce the length of their pre- trial detention. Pleading
guilty is the quickest way to be released. In short, the system does not allow
children to defend themselves.
And after all that Israel stages a semblance of trial, in which an arab child is convicted for having signed a confession in Hebrew, a language he does not even know.
Small Steel Blog launches The Elder Brother Campaign. Because these children are our children as well as each child is a responsibility of all of us.