By Elham Asaad Buaras
Human rights bodies have voiced their concern at the growing number of Palestinian children imprisoned and abused by the Israeli police and defense force.
Defence for Children International – Palestine Section (DCI-Pal), UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture, the UN Human Rights Committee as well as Israeli groups like Machsom Watch and B’Tselem have all addressed the growing ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children within the Israeli military system.
DCI-Pal estimates that since 2000 alone, around 7,000 Palestinian children have been detained and prosecuted in the system.
According to the latest report released this month by the Palestinian Ministry of Detainee Affairs, 1,100 Palestinian children, mainly from Hebron and East Jerusalem were arrested last year.
B’Tselem says at the end of January, there were 187 children in detention (including 34 under-16s) while DCI-Pal says 222 children were detained in the first month of 2011.
The statistical disparity is due to the fact that DCI-Pal gets the information directly from prisons themselves, whereas B’Tselem relies on the Israeli Prisons Service and the Israeli Defence Force for their information.
On January 29, DCI-Pal submitted a damning report to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
Based on the sworn affidavits of children detained in the military court system In their own Words concluded that: “Each year, approximately 700 Palestinian children from the occupied West Bank some as young as 12 years are arrested, interrogated and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system.”
In the Israeli military court system, children are frequently arrested from their homes by heavily armed soldiers in the middle of the night and are painfully tied and blindfolded before being placed in the back of a military vehicle and transferred to an interrogation and detention centre.
It is rare for a child, or his/her parents to be told the reason for arrest, or where the child is being taken. The arrest and transfer process is frequently accompanied by physical and verbal abuse.
On arrival at the detention centre, the children are questioned without audio-visual recording of the interrogation. “Children are frequently threatened and physically assaulted during interrogation often resulting in the provision of a coerced confession, or the signing of documents which the child has not had a chance to read or understand,” say DCI-Pal.
Children are then brought before a military court which has jurisdiction over children as young as 12 years old.
16 year olds are considered to be adults in the Israeli military court system and “in the overwhelming majority of cases bail will be denied and an order for detention until the end of the legal process will be made.”
To speed their way out of the system most children plead guilty, whether the offence was committed or not. DCI-Pal report says that in 2009, 83 % of the cases in Israeli military courts result in custodial sentences in contrast to only 6.5 % in the Israeli civilian juvenile justice system.
In a statement to The Muslim News DCI-Pal say they are “becoming increasingly alarmed at reports contained in sworn affidavits received from children that they are being subjected to sexual assault, or threat of sexual assault, in order to obtain confessions.”
In a one of the affidavits a 17 year-old who was held at Al Jalame Interrogation and Detention Centre in Haifa told DCI-Pal:
“‘Be straight forward or I’ll f**k you,’ the interrogator started the interrogation. ‘Did you throw Molotov cocktails at the jeep in Abu Dis?’ he asked.
‘No I didn’t and I’ve never thrown anything,’ I said. Once he heard this, he jumped up and turned out the lights and kept me standing there in darkness. He picked up a chair and threatened to hit me with it. Then he put it down without hitting me and turned the lights on … ‘I’ll lock you up here for five years and now I’ll send your dad away because you haven’t been honest with me.’”
Another 17 year-old who was held in Ofer Prison in the occupied West Bank writes, “This time an interrogator named Sami handled the interrogation. I entered the room and sat in the chair. ‘I’ll f**k you and I’ll f**k your mother and sister,’ he said to me. He stood up and came to me and started slapping me across my face and head.”
Last year, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Carina Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva, expressed concern that the legal practices of the Israeli military do not comply with international standards.
Silva said: “The exercise of jurisdiction by a military court over civilians not performing military tasks is normally inconsistent with the fair, impartial and independent administration of justice.
“This should even more evidently apply in the case of children. There appears to be a practice by which Palestinian detainees are being made to sign confessions written in Hebrew. It is reported that once these confessions are obtained, they constitute primary evidence against Palestinians in the military courts.”
On September 3, 2010, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended that Israel refrain from holding criminal proceedings against children in military courts and guarantee that proceedings involving children are audio-visually recorded.
Further, the Committee recommended that all reports of torture and ill-treatment are investigated promptly by an independent body.
However, Israel continues to ignore UN appeals to stop their illegal practices. Israeli web magazine +972 says children from occupied villages have been targeted since January as a means pressuring villagers to end popular unarmed resistance.
The most high profile case involves Islam Tamimi, a 14 year-old child from Nabi Saleh who was pulled out of his bed by invading soldiers at 3 am on January 23; he was held in an undisclosed location and then brought to Shin Bet (Israeli internal security) the following morning.
His lawyers were present when he was brought into the station but denied access to the youngster for over 5 hours. The child remains in prison.
Britain’s Foreign Office did not respond to our request on whether not the Foreign Secretary addressed the abuses at any point since his incumbency last May.
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