Soldiers detain a Palestinian teenager in Hebron, April 2010
Soldiers detain a Palestinian teenager in Hebron, April 2010 Photo by Ma'an
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An Israeli human rights group is accusing the police of arresting Palestinian minors as young as five in East Jerusalem and dealing with them in ways that violate the law.

In a report released on Monday, B'Tselem says Israeli police arrested at least 81 Palestinian minors between November 2009 and October 2010 on suspicion of throwing stones at Israelis in the flashpoint Silwan neighborhood near Jerusalem's Old City.

The report says police arrested many minors in their homes in Silwan at night, seizing some from their beds. Undercover officers nabbed others on the street. At least 30 of the 81 detained were younger than 15, the report said. Four were younger than 12 and the youngest was five.

They were detained from a few hours to a few days and interrogated, sometimes without parents present, the report said. Some said police roughed them up. The report also says some were released after paying fines as high as $1,300. Others were placed under house arrest for up to two months, allowed only to go to school accompanied by a parent.

B'Tselem said arresting and interrogating minors at night or without a parent present violates Israeli laws that protect minors.

Israeli police say the arrests are not only legal but necessary to stamp out stone throwing, which often targets police or West Bank settlers. It's especially common in parts of East Jerusalem, where tensions run high between Palestinian residents and Israeli police, settlers and their security guards.

Earlier this month, sixty Israeli childcare experts and literary figures sent an open letter to the prime minister and attorney general calling on the authorities to monitor more closely police interactions with minors suspected of stone throwing in East Jerusalem.

The letter came amid recent complaints that the police have been making illegal arrests and using questionable interrogation methods in their campaign against stone throwing.

According to the letter, police have acknowledged arresting around 1,200 minors in East Jerusalem on suspicion of stone throwing. But critics say that more troubling than the absolute number is the manner in which youths are being detained and questioned.

"Children and youth have reported being taken from their beds in the middle of the night or apprehended by undercover detectives and special forces in their neighborhoods," the letter said. "They were brought in for questioning without a parental escort and sometimes without having been able to notify their families in time. Some were required to give names or to implicate their friends and relatives as conditions for their release."

The letter also noted a growing trend of underage suspects suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress including nightmares, sleepwalking and bedwetting.

Detainees, it said, were subjected to "threats and humiliation by interrogators, and their transfer and detention were sometimes accompanied by considerable physical violence. Particularly alarming are the testimonies showing that a number of children under the age of 12 - the age of criminal liability - were interrogated by police, who despite their age were forced to endure harsh methods of interrogation."