Israeli military detention disrupts Palestinian students’ secondary school final exams

Israeli forces detained Saifuddin Najajreh (left), Khalaf Shakarneh, and Amin Al-Sulaibi in early June during Tawjihi exams. (Photo: DCIP)

Ramallah, June 17, 2020—Israeli forces arrested three Palestinian students in early June disrupting completion of their high school degrees.

Israeli forces detained Amin Al-Sulaibi, 17, around dawn on June 1 from his home in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. Saifuddin Najajreh, 17, and Khalaf Shakarneh, 17, were detained from their homes by Israeli forces in separate pre-dawn raids on June 9 in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, according to information gathered by Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCIP). 

All three boys were detained during secondary schools’ final exam period, known as Tawjihi. The series of exams, administered between May 30 and June 17, are required to successfully complete high school degrees in Palestine. 

Najajreh and Shakarneh were detained at Etzion detention center near Hebron and first appeared before a military court judge via video link at Israel’s Ofer military court, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah, on June 11, 2020. During the hearing, at the request of the Israeli military prosecutor, bail was denied, and their detention was extended to June 15 under the pretext of further investigations, according to Iyad Misk, a DCIP lawyer who has been monitoring the cases. Both boys appeared via video link at Ofer military court on June 15, but the Israeli military prosecutor did not file charges against the boys, and they were released on bail. 

“Israeli military law and courts have little to do with justice,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program Director at DCIP. “Israeli authorities understand the significance of the Tawjihi exams. The intention is to detain children knowing they will not be able to complete their education rather than to hold a child accountable for any specific wrongdoing.”

Al-Sulaibi was arrested from his home around dawn by five armed Israeli soldiers, his father told DCIP. Israeli forces did not present an arrest warrant and did not provide any information on the reason for his detention. 

“He was revising and preparing for his Arabic language exam,” Al-Sulaibi’s father told DCIP. “They didn’t explain anything to us. We told them he had an exam that day.” 

On June 7, Al-Sulaibi appeared via video link in Israel’s Ofer military court where he was charged with stone-throwing. Al-Sulaibi is currently detained at Israel’s Megiddo prison, located inside Israel, north of the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.

During their detention, Najajreh and Shakarneh felt distressed and anxious about completing their Tawjihi exams, according to Misk. Both Najajreh and Shakarneh missed three exams and will now have to retake the Tawjihi tests at a later date.

Graduating Palestinian students sit for Tawjihi exams on a variety of subjects over a three-week period, and passing scores are required on all exams to officially graduate. The exams are high stakes because the results determine which universities students can attend as well as their future course of study.

Israeli military detention disrupts education and previously incarcerated Palestinian children often reintegrate back into their schools after their release by repeating a grade, based on DCIP’s research and documentation. 

Between August 2019 and February 2020, DCIP documented 120 education-related violations by Israeli forces and settlers in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, including the detention of children from or near schools and attacks against schools. Palestinian children frequently experience physical violence and harassment on the way to and from school, military and settler raids, hate speech graffitied on school walls, and the total and partial demolition of schools, according to documentation collected by DCIP.

Regardless of guilt or innocence, children in conflict with the law are entitled to special protections and all due process rights under international human rights law. International juvenile justice norms are built on two fundamental principles: the best interests of the child must be a primary concern in making decisions that affect them and children must only be deprived of their liberty as a last resort, for the shortest appropriate period of time.

Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that automatically and systematically prosecutes children in military courts that lack fundamental fair trial rights and protections. Israel prosecutes between 500 and 700 Palestinian children in military courts each year.

Israeli military courts are not impartial and independent as required by international fair trial standards because Israeli military court judges are active duty or reserve duty officers in the Israeli military, subject to military discipline and dependent on superiors for promotion. 

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 the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

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.