Child prisoners swell in numbers amid reports of poor jail conditions
Ramallah, December 16, 2015—The number of Palestinian children held in Israeli custody doubled in October as child detainees reported physical violence, strip searches, and poor conditions at an Israeli prison opened to accommodate the increase.
In October, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) opened a juvenile section at Givon prison, near the central city of Ramle, to house Palestinian minors from the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Based on sworn testimonies obtained by Defense for Children International - Palestine, children said their numbers had reached around 60 at one point. The conditions described were inadequate and failed minimum standards for a prison. Children, sometimes as many as 12, stayed in cells with six beds only. The building lacked proper heating and shower facilities. Children also complained of poor quality and inadequate amounts of food.
In one incident documented by DCIP, a prison guard stormed 17-year-old Ibrahim Manasra’s cell in the middle of the night, strip searched the teenager, and beat him. He then left Ibrahim handcuffed to his bed for nine hours. Ibrahim, from the Beit Hanina neighborhood of East Jerusalem, had been arrested on October 12 and transferred to Givon prison in early November.
“International law demands that juvenile justice systems protect children from violence and focus on rehabilitation and reintegration, not punishment,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCIP. “As violence has escalated in the past few months, we see Israeli authorities completely disregarding these obligations and instead implementing policies and practices that are flagrant violations of international law.”
At the end of October, 307 Palestinian children were imprisoned in the Israeli military detention system, an increase of 79.5 percent from September, according to Israel Prison Service (IPS) data. This is the largest number of Palestinian child detainees in Israeli military detention since April 2010. Nearly 60 percent were held in prisons inside Israel in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of prisoners from occupied territory into the territory of an occupying power.
Over the past nine weeks, amid escalating violence in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank, Israel has pushed forward a slew of harsh policies that target Palestinian children.
The latest bill, approved by the Israeli Ministerial Committee for Legislation, proposes custodial sentences for children, as young as 12, convicted of “nationalistic-motivated” violent offences under Israel’s civilian legal system. The actual serving of sentences would be deferred until the child reaches the age of 14.
A first reading of the bill in the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, on November 25, resulted in a vote of 64 in favor and 22 against. Israel’s current criminal law prohibits custodial sentences against children under 14 in favor of rehabilitation and reintegration.
In the occupied West Bank, where military law applies to the Palestinian population only, Israeli Military Order 1651 permits the imprisonment of children as young as 12.
On November 3, the Knesset passed a series of amendments to the Israeli penal code and youth law. They imposed 10-year prison sentences for throwing stones or other objects at moving vehicles with the possibility of endangering passengers or causing damage. Those convicted of throwing stones with the purpose of harming others would receive double the sentence.
The amendments reduced judicial discretion, instituting mandatory minimum sentences of no less than one-fifth of the potential maximum sentence and restricting suspended sentences to special circumstances only.
The Knesset also amended the national insurance law to deprive children convicted of “nationalistic-motivated” violent offenses and “terrorist activities” from social benefits during their imprisonment. It further allowed Israeli juvenile courts to impose fines on their families up to NIS 10,000 (US$2,580).
Since the start of October, DCIP has confirmed 23 child fatalities, including 17 shot dead while carrying out alleged stabbing attacks, of which 12 bodies remain withheld by the Israeli authorities. At least 283 Palestinian children have sustained injuries since the start of October, based on DCIP’s initial data.
International juvenile justice standards, which Israel has obliged itself to implement by signing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, demand that children should never be deprived of their liberty arbitrarily and their detention must be a measure of last resort.