The number of Palestinian children held in solitary confinement, subjected to harsh interrogation and general mistreatment in Israeli prisons is increasing, according to a report released on Monday by an international non-governmental organization.
The report was released by Defense for Children International - Palestine (DCI-P), a monitoring organization that focuses on the treatment of children in areas of conflict, and details the treatment of Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 in the occupied West Bank throughout last year.
The report found that solitary confinement was used as a form of interrogation and intimidation in nearly 22 percent of recorded cases — a 2 percent increase since 2012. The average length of solitary confinement was 10 days, with the longest period being 29 days.
In addition to solitary confinement, the report also found that more than 76.5 percent of Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons experienced some form of physical violence, 74.5 experienced verbal abuse, and 98 percent were not informed of the reason for the arrest.
Between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are detained every year in the Israeli military prison system. Since 2000, approximately 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and prosecuted in Israeli military courts.
The overwhelming charge brought against Palestinian youths is stone throwing, which can lead to a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
In 85 percent of these cases children are taken from their homes in the middle of the night during raids carried out by Israeli soldiers, according to the report, which states that the children are then blindfolded and forcibly brought to a detention center inside Israel, where they are interrogated by the Israel Security Agency, (or Shin Bet), the Israeli equivalent of the FBI.
Dual System of Laws
Although the systematic use of solitary confinement and physical abuse against minors is arguably an offense in and of itself, it is part of a much broader issue of the system of laws that govern the region.
Since the West Bank is an occupied territory, Israeli military law is the legal system that governs it. But this legal system solely applies to the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank, and not the 600,000 Israeli citizens that live there in illegal settlements.
“There is a dual legal system that exists in the West Bank,” George Bisharat, a professor of criminal procedure and law at University of California Hastings College of Law, told VICE News. “Israel citizens are subject to Israeli civil law, while all Palestinians, both adults and juveniles, are subject to Israeli military law.”
This legal framework is not only discriminatory, but actively in violation of international law. Arresting children in the West Bank and bringing them to Israel for interrogation and detainment violates Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that forbids the transfer of detainees outside the occupied territory. Article 76 even specifies, “proper regard shall be paid to the special treatment due to minors.”
Up until 2009, Palestinian children were charged in the same courts as adults, another violation of international law. It was not until immense international criticism that Israel created separate courts for Palestinian minors.
Last July, Israeli soldiers arrested a five-year old Palestinian boy for stone throwing. The video of the arrest, captured by Israeli human rights group B'tselem, quickly spread and provoked outrage.
Although there are several detention centers inside the West Bank, the vast majority of detainees are usually brought to centers inside Israel to face a military trial. This trial is almost always the first time the detainee sees their family or a lawyer.
Nearly 100 Percent Conviction Rate
The overall conviction rate for Palestinians in Israeli military courts is 99.74 percent. Of the 853 youths charged with rock-throwing between 2005 and 2011, only one was acquitted.
More than 650,000 Palestinians have been arrested by Israel since 1967, when its occupation of the Palestinian territories began, according to the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR). Therefore, 40 percent of all Palestinian males have at one point been arrested by Israel.
About 20 percent of Palestinians arrested by Israel occurred during the first intifada, or uprising, between 1987 and 1992. During this period 120,000 Palestinians were arrested and detained in Israeli jails, making Palestinians one of the most imprisoned populations in the world.
A spokesperson for the Israeli military told VICE News that the reason for the high number of arrests amongst Palestinians is because the IDF faces extensive violence on a daily basis from Palestinian minors — violence that is encouraged by the surrounding culture and an institutionalized public support system.
"The IDF strongly rejects the claims that Palestinian minors are systematically mistreated in any way after being detained for involvement in violent acts or terror activity," said the statement from the IDF.
But the reason for the high number of arrests and convictions among Palestinian adults and youths is not necessarily due to a high rate of criminal activity or violence inherent in Palestinian youths or culture, Bisharat pointed out.
“One of the more troubling aspects of the mistreatment of juveniles is the way in which the Israeli legal system has been used as a tool of pressure to recruit collaborators,” he said. “Children are one of the most vulnerable populations to be recruited.”
DCI-P’s report echoes this with regards to the use of solitary confinement.
“The use of solitary confinement by Israeli authorities does not appear to be related to any disciplinary, protective, or medical rationale or justification,” the report states.
This is not the first time Israel’s treatment of Palestinian child prisoners has received attention and international condemnation.
In February 2013, UNICEF released a report detailing similar human rights abuses towards Palestinian children detainees. The report found that the ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system was “widespread, systematic, and institutionalized” and recommended that Israel implement a “series of practical safeguards that would improve the protection of children under military detention.”
This report follows another vocal denunciation of Israel’s policies toward Palestinian children prisoners.
“Israel’s use of solitary confinement against children flagrantly violates international human rights standards,” said Richard Falk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, in 2012. “This pattern of abuse by Israel is grave. It is inhumane, cruel, degrading, and unlawful, and, most worryingly, it is likely to adversely affect the mental and physical health of underage detainees.”
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