Israeli forces’ transfer of Palestinian child detainees amounts to war crime

Israeli forces detain Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank town of Hebron on November 24, 2019. (Photo: AFP / Hazem Bader)

Ramallah, January 20, 2020—Israeli authorities transferred dozens of Palestinian child detainees outside the occupied West Bank to a prison inside Israel last week, amounting to a war crime.

The Israel Prison Service (IPS) transferred 33 Palestinian children on January 13 from Ofer prison, located southwest of Ramallah inside the occupied West Bank, to Damon prison, located inside Israel near Haifa, DCIP confirmed. International humanitarian law and international criminal law prohibit the transfer of persons part of an occupied civilian population outside of an occupied territory, including prisoners. 

“The transfer of Palestinian child prisoners outside the occupied West Bank is a war crime,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program Director at DCIP. “Israeli authorities must only detain children as a measure of last resort for the shortest necessary period of time without transferring them outside the occupied West Bank.” 

Five of the children transferred to Damon prison are currently represented by DCIP lawyers. Four of them have not yet been sentenced and appeared in Ofer military court today where they met with their lawyer for the first time since being transferred from Ofer prison last week. 

The children told their lawyer they were transferred without their clothes and bed sheets, and remained in the same clothes for three days until their belongings arrived. The children described being detained at Damon prison in basement rooms with terrible conditions, including mice. During the first three days at Damon prison the children refused meals to protest the transfer and prison conditions. 

The immediate practical consequence is that the trip to Ofer military court is now a three-day journey, as children are transferred to Al-Ramleh prison before and after they appear in the military court. The children are more severely separated from their families as parents face undue obstacles when attempting to visit children detained at prisons inside Israel.

At the end of December 2019, at least 186 Palestinian children aged between 14 and 17 years old were detained in the Israeli military detention system, according to the most recent data released by the IPS. The overwhelming majority of Palestinian children detained by Israeli authorities are held in Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank or unlawfully transfered to Megiddo prison located inside Israel, according to IPS figures. 

While a child is in detention, families may apply for visitation permits through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which coordinates the permit process. Israeli authorities unilaterally approve or deny the family visit applications. In the absence of exceptional circumstances, only immediate family members who have not been previously incarcerated are eligible to apply.

In addition to permit delays, the unlawful transfer of Palestinian children to prisons inside Israel, such as Megiddo and Damon, presents an undue obstacle to family visits. Families must travel long distances and pass through checkpoints in order to visit their children, according to evidence collected by DCIP.

Some families also cite harassment and security checks as a barrier to visitation, since each person must undergo a thorough screening—which may include a strip search—before entering Megiddo. Once they have completed their security checks, family members may visit with child prisoners in Megiddo through a glass barrier for a maximum of 40 minutes.

The Israeli military detention system consists of a network of military bases, interrogation and detention centers, and police stations in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and inside Israel. Palestinians, predominantly from the West Bank, are initially taken to one of these facilities for questioning and temporary detention. Some of these facilities are inside Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank.

Palestinians, including children, are held at these facilities for interrogation purposes, pre-trial detention, or prior to appearing in the military courts. Following an initial appearance in one of the military courts, Palestinian child detainees are transferred to prisons, some located inside Israel, where they sit in pre-trial detention, wait to be sentenced, or serve their prison sentence.

Transfer of Palestinian detainees, including children, to prisons and interrogation and detention facilities inside Israel, even for brief periods, constitutes an unlawful transfer in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and constitutes a war crime in violation of Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Israel’s practice of unlawfully transferring Palestinian prisoners out of occupied territory has been challenged twice before the Israeli Supreme Court. In both instances, the court held that when in conflict, primary Israeli legislation overrides the provisions of international law.

Defense for Children International - Palestine (DCIP) is a local, independent Palestinian human rights organization committed to securing a just and viable future for Palestinian children in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.