Israel Arrests Hundreds of Palestinian Minors in Jerusalem, Violating Children's Rights

One 13 year-old boy says police officers broke into his house while his parents were not home and hit him on the head before arresting him

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Two Palestinian schoolboys walk past a graffiti painted on a wall in the northern Gaza Strip, 2016.
Two Palestinian schoolboys walk past a graffiti painted on a wall in the northern Gaza Strip, 2016.Credit: THOMAS COEX / AFP
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The use of force, nighttime arrests, questioning not in the presence of their parents, rides in patrol cars for intimidation and unnecessary handcuffing – these are just some of the violations of the rights of minors arrested by police in the Isawiyah neighborhood of Jerusalem over the past few months.

More than 600 residents have been arrested since the launch of regular police raids in Isawiyeh, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said. Residents and lawyers say about a third of those who have been held are minors.

>> Read more: Israel's collective punishing exacts price from this East Jerusalem neighborhood | Analysis ■ Israeli police bully East Jerusalem neighborhood over clashes with youth, Palestinians say

In a case reported by B’Tselem, a 13-year-old boy said police officers broke into his house even though they were told that his parents were not at home.

“The policeman pushed my head against the sofa and then hit me in the head with something hard. I think it was a tear gas grenade. I was really scared. They pushed my hands forward, and handcuffed them with plastic cuffs and took me outside while my little brothers were screaming and crying,” the boy said. He was questioned and released a few hours later after his father was summoned to the police station.

By law, minor suspects have a long list of rights. For example, minors may not be arrested or questioned at night, they may not be arrested in educational institutions, or by plainclothes police officers, and may only be arrested “if it is impossible to achieve the purpose of the arrest in a way that is less harmful.”

The police systematically violate the rights of minor suspects in Isawiyah, ACRI says. The law may allow the police to not follow these rules in extreme cases, but the association says it is unfeasible that such exceptional circumstances existed in all these cases, and in any case the police have never presented evidence of such a need.

Three weeks ago, another boy, aged 11 and 10 months, beneath the age of criminal responsibility of 12, was arrested. The police officers put him in a police car, took him for a ride around the neighborhood and then took him to the police station. A video clip of the arrest spread on social media, the child’s great fear and anxiety on display.

Samar, the boy's father, was summoned to the police station. “I arrived there and told the officer that if you think he threw rocks – prove it to me. The policeman showed me a video and said that’s my son, and I told him it’s not him. Only then did they look and it turns out there was nothing. They released him,” Samar said.

Palestinian children protest a fellow pupil's arrest in Jerusalem, 2019.Credit: Oren Ben Hakun

Another minor was arrested along with his brother. In this case too, the police drove both boys around the neighborhood in a patrol car and then released them. When he was summoned for investigation, the boy was asked to sign a document in Hebrew, a language he does not know how to read.

About a month and a half ago, two brothers, aged 12 and 16, were arrested after their home was searched, without their parents being present. The boys were taken out to the street surrounded by policemen, in violation of the law that states the detention of minors needs to be conducted as discreetly as possible.

“Regretfully, the law is abandoned on the road to Isawiyah,” wrote ACRI lawyer Tal Hassin, in a letter to the police’s legal adviser, Ayelet Elisher. “We are aware, of course, of the exceptions the law allows for the broad protections it provides for minors, but they are supposed to be implemented only in rare and exceptional cases. In Isawiyah, as the examples above and reality shows – day after day, night after night – the exception has become the rule,” Hassin wrote.

In a letter of reply to Hassin, Superintendent Lines Hemed, the deputy legal advisor to Jerusalem District Police, said the police are careful to protect the rights of minors.

“When a suspect who looks like a minor is caught, without any identifying documents, an attempt is made in the field to locate his parents … if it is ascertained that the minor is beneath the age of criminal culpability, he is released and his parents receive a summons for questioning. At the same time, there are cases in which conditions in the field do not allow the identification of the minor in real time … In these cases, immediately upon clarification of the identity and age of the minor, contact is made with the parents,” Hemed wrote. In addition, the police actions in Isawiyah are necessary to reduce the amount of violence in the neighborhood, he said.

The Israel Police said it has acted over the past few months in Isawiyah “to provide a response to the hundreds of violent incidents and riots against civilians and security forces. In 2019, a dramatic increase occurred in the number of violent disturbances in the neighborhood, while the Israel Police identified clearly nationalist activities of violent and inflammatory nature. Alongside the operations, the Israel Police established an integrated policing center for making police services accessible to the residents of Isawiyah, and has done intensive work to create partnerships for the benefit of the residents.”

The police said further that all the incidents included in the report that included a video clip, the footage showed only the arrest and not the incident that led to the person taken into custody.

In the latest development in the neighborhood, five Isawiyah residents have been arrested after violating an administrative arrest warrant from the homefront commander. As reported by Haaretz two weeks ago, Gen. Tamir Yadai issued an administrative order barring nine residents from leaving their homes after dark.

The order was issued without presentation of any evidence. Five of the youths demonstrably violated the order and were arrested. A court ordered them released on bail on Tuesday but they have refused to pay the bail saying the detention order is illegal as no evidence of any violations on their part have been made presented.

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