Palestinian children arrested and prosecuted by...
Early on the morning of Sept. 20, 2017, around 2 a.m., Israeli soldiers entered the home of Laith, a 17-year-old from Kafr Ein village in the West Bank. Laith was bound, blindfolded, and physically assaulted – and was never presented with a warrant or told why he was being arrested. Over the next 11 hours, Laith was transferred to multiple locations and interrogated about throwing stones, which is considered a “security offense” under Israeli military law.
He denied the allegations against him. Laith would spend 46 weeks – nearly a year – in detention. He would have multiple court appearances, but never be charged with any crime. And on Aug. 16, 2018, he would be released without explanation, having missed his final year of high school. Laith is just one of the 10,000 Palestinian children in the West Bank who, since 2000, have been arrested and held in the Israeli military detention system that denies them their basic rights.
Palestinian children in the West Bank, like adults, face arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment under an Israeli military detention system that denies them basic rights. Israel applies civilian criminal law to Palestinian children in East Jerusalem. However, no Israeli child comes into contact with the military courts. "Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that automatically and systematically prosecutes children in military courts that lack fundamental fair trial rights and protections." quoted Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP). Israel prosecutes between 500 and 700 Palestinian children in military courts each year.
From the moment of arrest, Palestinian children encounter ill-treatment and torture at the hands of Israeli forces. Three out of four experience physical violence during arrest or interrogation. Ill-treatment in the Israeli military detention system remains “widespread, systematic, and institutionalized throughout the process,” according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report Children in Israeli Military Detention Observations and Recommendations.
Children typically arrive to interrogation bound, blindfolded, frightened, and sleep deprived. Children often give confessions after verbal abuse, threats, physical and psychological violence that in some cases amounts to torture. Israeli military law provides no right to legal counsel during interrogation, and Israeli military court judges seldom exclude confessions obtained by coercion or torture.
There is a campaign, Our No Way to Treat a Child, which is calling on the United States government to use all available means to pressure Israeli authorities to end the detention and abuse of Palestinian children . First and foremost, that means prohibiting U.S. taxpayer money from funding the military detention of children by any country, including Israel.
Israel in 1991 ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that children should only be deprived of their liberty as a measure of last resort, must not be unlawfully or arbitrarily detained, and must not be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Despite sustained engagement by UNICEF and repeated calls to end night arrests and ill treatment and torture of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention, Israeli authorities have persistently failed to implement practical changes to stop violence against child detainees.
In no circumstance should children be detained or prosecuted under the jurisdiction of military courts. However, as a minimum safeguard while Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation continue to be arrested and prosecuted within the Israeli military court system, Israeli authorities must respect and ensure basic due process rights and the absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment. From the moment of arrest, operations and procedures must be carried out in accordance with international juvenile justice standards, specifically the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In recent months, the number of Palestinian child detainees in Israeli prisons and detention centers increased despite the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) and widespread calls to decrease the number of people in custodial detention globally. Palestinian children imprisoned by Israeli authorities live in close proximity to each other, often in compromised sanitary conditions, with limited access to resources to maintain minimum hygiene routines. COVID-19’s impact is exacerbated by these living conditions.