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Accueil > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2012 > July 2012 > Child Prisoners in Palestine

Child Prisoners in Palestine

Sunday 1 July 2012, by Houda Chergui

The World Social Forum Free Palestine is taking place this year from November 28 to December 1 in Porto Allegre, Brazil. An echo of the World Social Forum’s opposition to neo-liberal hegemony, Free Palestine is searching to promote the rights of the Palestinian people, and to enforce international laws. One of the many topics to be discussed is the plight of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, some of which are children.

Every year, between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are arrested by the Israeli army—some as young as eleven years old—for throwing rocks at Israeli settlers, a form of civil disobedience that originates from the first Intifada in 1987. Although most of the charges are for stone throwing, some minors are arrested for more serious offences such as membership in gang organizations or for using weapons. The Israeli army categorizes rock throwing as a serious offence that can cause injury or death. “It sounds like the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) is just arresting kids, but people don’t understand that these kids are very violent […] they are endangering the lives of Israelis," said Arye Shalitar, a spokesperson for the Israeli military in a Reuters interview.

The important issue is not the fact that the children are punished for their crimes, but rather the way in which they are captured, interrogated, and detained. Military law, the legislation to which officials in occupied territories prescribe, holds several inconsistencies with international or Israeli law. Minors have a separate legal system in Israeli law; however, they are often not respected, as children are accused with adult charges in the occupied territories. The age of criminal responsibility is twelve years under the Israeli justice system, as stipulated by Israeli military order 1651, and minors under the age of fourteen can face up to a maximum of six months in prison. "The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child [...] shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time,” a fact underlined in article 37(b) of the most internationally recognized primary document protecting the rights of children, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted by the UN in November 1989, and ratified by Israel in 1991. Another inconsistency in military law is in its definition of a minor, in which a child reaches the age of majority at sixteen rather than eighteen, the international norm.

The most common way of arrest is by abducting the children from their homes at night. “They are captured at night, blindfolded and sent to prison, where they are interrogated for hours, cuffed by their hands and feet, and most of the time without an adult present,” says field researcher for Alternatives News, Ahmad Jaradat. Unlike in Israeli and international legislation, military law makes no reference to the presence of a parent during questioning. According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories’ 2011 study on Palestinian child prisoners, out of 50 minors who were interviewed for the report, only two were accompanied by an adult during interrogation. The report also indicates that these minors rarely have a lawyer present during, or even after interrogation.

During the interrogation process, children are often subjected to informal questioning which could be used as a reference point for officials during real interrogations, subjecting them to two rounds of different questionings. They would occasionally be left handcuffed in a room alone for hours, until they were forced to confess, even if they did not commit the crime.

According to the charity Save the Children, over 98 percent of detained children reported some sort of abuse, verbal or physical. Most of these children are reported to be suffering from anxiety and nightmares, says the charity. There are even cases where minors are held in solitary confinement, in cells such as Cell 36 in Al Jalame prison in Northern Israel. Since 2008, NGO Defence for Children International (DCI) has gathered testaments from 426 minors that were imprisoned in the Israeli military justice system. Around 9 percent of them claim to have been held in solitary confinement, and this number rose to 22 percent in late 2011.

"If detainees believe they have been mistreated, especially in the case of minors […] it’s very important that these people, or people representing them, come forward and raise these issues,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu in British news source, the Guardian. UNICEF declared that it would be supervising arrests and imprisonment of children and that it is currently in dialogue with the Israeli authorities to better protect child detainees. Despite these statements, the detainment of minors continues to be an ongoing issue, as just last year, 2301 children were taken into custody, and reports of mistreatment persist. B’Tselem featured a list urging fast change in Israel’s military justice system’s practices at the end of their report on the imprisonment of minors. They pressed it to set its age of minority to conform with international and Israeli norms immediately; outlaw night arrests of children; restrict interrogation times to daytime, with the presence of a parent; the opportunity to consult with a lawyer, among others.