Two-thirds of Palestinian Minors Testify to Abuse in Israeli Detention

The incidence of reported physical violence against child detainees has risen since a 2013 UNICEF report on the matter. Other aspects of detention, such as access to a lawyer, have improved

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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File photo: Israeli border police detain a Palestinian demonstrator following clashes at the entrance of the Jalama checkpoint, near the West Bank city of Jenin.
File photo: Israeli border police detain a Palestinian demonstrator following clashes at the entrance of the Jalama checkpoint, near the West Bank city of Jenin.Credit: SAIF DAHLAH / AFP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

About two thirds of the 70 Palestinian minors who testified about their arrest and incarceration in 2017 reported that they were subjected to violence and physical abuse by soldiers during their custody.

The kinds of violence reported were slaps, kicks, pinches, blows with various objects, pushing and being forced to sit in painful positions, according to the October report published by Military Court Watch, a group of lawyers and social activists that monitors the treatment of children in Israeli military detention.

The 70 minors, ages 12 to 17, are but a sample of the hundreds of Palestinian minors arrested this year by the Israeli army. The final figures for 2016 and this year haven’t been submitted yet.

According to Israel Prison Service figures, by June 2017, 318 Palestinian minors were classified as security detainees in Israeli prisons. Since 2013, when the survey was first taken, the number of arrested minors who reported physical abuse against them rose from 60 percent to 64 percent.

The 540 minors whose testimonies were taken from the beginning of 2013 to the end of November 2017 represent about 14 percent of all the minor detainees during those five years.

In 2013, UNICEF published a report on Palestinian children arrested by Israel, concluding that “the ill treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest to indictment of the child, the conviction and issuing of the verdict.”

The report confirmed claims of Palestinian child protection organizations that children in custody were systematically abused. Night arrests, cuffing and blindfolding, failure to inform detainees of the right to remain silent, denial of access to lawyers and parents prior to interrogation were part of the routine, in addition to violent treatment of the children by soldiers, the report found.

After the UNICEF report’s release, Israeli officials promised to improve the situation. The Military Advocate General distributed a memorandum among brigade and battalion commanders, reminding them of the proper arrest rules. Among other things the memorandum stressed that using physical violence was prohibited.

The IDF reported to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel in 2014 that the memorandum says the commander of an arrest unit must make sure the detainee is held in “reasonable conditions,” including a place protected from intense heat or rain, provision of food and water and access to toilets, with a prohibition on physical and verbal violence, as well as other forms of abuse.

Following the report’s release, a number of lawyers and activists set up Military Court Watch to check whether the army was upholding the international standards for the arrests of minors.

As the organization’s monthly reports have shown, some improvement has taken place since then only in a few procedures – 21 percent of the minors whose testimonies were taken in 2017 said they were allowed to consult with a lawyer – compared to 0 percent in 2013 and 12 percent in 2016. In 2013 none of the detainees received a summons prior to his arrest, compared to 10 percent who received a summons in 2015 and 7 percent this year.

However, no improvement was made regarding the minors’ physical abuse. The children reported slaps (51 percent ), kicks (19 percent), pinches (14 percent), being beaten with various objects (9 percent) pushing (6 percent) and painful sitting positions (1 percent). The number of minors who reported verbal violence on the soldiers’ part declined from 49 percent in 2013 to 41 percent this year.

Most of the children, 61 percent, reported this year that the soldiers and policemen threatened them, compared to 47 percent in 2013 and 38 percent in 2014; more than half, 56 percent, reported that they were made to sit down on the jeep floor when they were driven from their home to interrogation, compared to 78 percent last year. Almost all, 93 percent, reported that their hands were cuffed and 79 percent reported that they were blindfolded. The large majority, 79 percent, reported that they were made to sign documents written only in Hebrew – another procedure branded by human rights organizations as illegal.

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