Report: No Way to Treat a Child
Ramallah, April 14, 2016 - Today, Defense for Children International - Palestine published a new report, No Way to Treat a Child, detailing the widespread and systematic ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system. From meals prepared in a makeshift kitchen to adult prisoner "caregivers," the report also gives a rare glimpse into Palestinian children's daily living conditions in Israeli prisons.
DCIP based the report on the testimonies of 429 children detained by the Israeli military or police in the occupied West Bank between January 2012 and December 2015.
“International law is clear: children should only be detained as a last resort, for the shortest appropriate period of time, and under absolutely no circumstances should they be subjected to torture or ill-treatment,” said Khaled Quzmar, DCIP general director. “And yet, year after year, we see Palestinian children experiencing widespread ill-treatment and the systematic denial of their due process rights by Israeli forces and the military law framework.”
Amid heightened violence in the fall of 2015, the number of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons skyrocketed to the highest it has been since February 2009. By the end of December, 422 Palestinian children were in the Israeli prison system. Among them were 116 between the ages of 12 and 15, the highest known total since January 2008 when the Israel Prison Service (IPS) began sharing data.
Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes between 500 and 700 children in military courts each year. Since 2012, Israel has held an average of 204 Palestinian children in custody each month, according to data provided by the IPS.
Military law has applied to Palestinians in the West Bank since 1967, when Israel occupied the territory following the Six Day War. Jewish settlers, however, who illegally reside within the bounds of the West Bank, are subject to the Israeli civilian legal framework. Accordingly, Israel operates two separate legal systems in the same territory.
Ill-treatment in the Israeli military detention system remains "widespread, systemic, and institutionalized throughout the process," according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) report Children in Israeli Military Detention Observations and Recommendations.
Out of 429 West Bank children detained between 2012 and 2015, three-quarters endured some form of physical violence following arrest.
In 179 out of 429 cases (41.7 percent), the Israeli military arrested children from their homes in the middle of the night. In 378 out of 429 cases (88.1 percent), Israeli forces arrested children without notifying parents of the reason for arrest or the location of detention.
In 416 out of 429 cases (97 percent), children had no parent present during the interrogation or access to legal counsel. Israeli police also did not properly inform children of their rights in 84 percent of the cases.
Interrogators used position abuse, threats, and isolation to coerce confessions from some of these children. DCIP documented 66 children held in solitary confinement, for an average period of 13 days, during the reporting period. In 2015, Israeli authorities held Abdel-Fatah Ouri, 17, in isolation for 45 days. More than 90 percent of children held in solitary confinement provided a confession.
Israeli military court judges seldom exclude confessions obtained by coercion or torture, even those drafted in Hebrew – 144 out of 429 cases (33.6 percent) – a language that most Palestinian children do not understand. In fact, military prosecutors rely on these confessions to obtain a conviction.
Children most commonly face the charge of throwing stones, which carries maximum sentences of 10 or 20 years, depending on the circumstances. In 235 out of 297 cases closed by DCIP attorneys between 2012 and 2015 involved at least one count of the offense.
Many children maintain their innocence, but plead guilty as it is the fastest way to get out of the system. Most receive plea deals of less than 12 months. Trials, on the other hand, can last a year, possibly longer. Bail is rarely granted and most children remain behind bars as they await trial. Of 297 cases closed by DCIP attorneys between 2012 and 2015, Israeli military court judges released children on bail in only 40 cases (13.5 percent).
Out of 295 cases that resulted in convictions, 151 children (51.2 percent) received a custodial sentence between three and 12 months. All 295 also received suspended sentences. Israeli military court judges also imposed fines in 261 out of 295 cases (88.5 percent).
Israeli authorities transfer nearly 60 percent of Palestinian child detainees from occupied territory to prisons inside Israel in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, according to IPS data. Many parents struggle to obtain entry permits to Israel, and children have limited family visits.
“In no circumstance should children face detention and prosecution under the jurisdiction of military courts,” said Quzmar. “However, as a minimum safeguard, Israeli authorities have an obligation to ensure all procedures from the moment of arrest conform to international juvenile justice standards.”
Israel ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, obligating itself to implement the full range of rights and protections included in the treaty.
Palestinian children living in the West Bank might sometimes envy their East Jerusalem peers for their relatively higher levels of freedom of movement and enshrined legal rights. The latter of these is particularly salient as Palestinian children living in Jerusalem are generally entitled to trials in Israeli civilian courts.
The legal distinctions between East Jerusalem and the West Bank trace back to 1967, when Israel captured that part of the city and declared all of Jerusalem its “indivisible” capital. Since then, Palestinian children who happen to live in Jerusalem fall under Israeli civilian law.
The legal gap between Palestinian children in the West Bank and Jerusalem expanded further—at least, in theory—when Israel amended the 1971 Youth Law (Adjudication, Punishment and Methods of Treatment) in 2008. The amendments promised new protections for children, including East Jerusalemites, in conflict with the law during the entire process— arrest, transfer, interrogation, and trial. These safeguards included the use of arrest as a last resort, advance notice before questioning takes place, minimal use of restraints, and the presence of a legal guardian or adult family member during questioning.
Given the prescribed differences in these two legal systems, one would logically expect fairly different rights outcomes for Palestinian children in conflict with the law based on whether they live in Jerusalem or the West Bank. At least on paper, Palestinian Jerusalemite children are entitled to more protections than West Bank youth.
However, data compiled by DCIP found that, in practice, Palestinian children in Jerusalem are not enjoying their enshrined rights. Out of 65 cases documented by DCIP in 2015, more than a third of Jerusalem youth were arrested at night (38.5 percent), the vast majority (87.7 percent) were restrained during arrest and only a slim minority of children (10.8 percent) had a parent or lawyer present during interrogation.
In fact, in the last year, East Jerusalem children suspected of committing criminal offenses saw rights violations in several categories at comparable rates to West Bank children. For example, cases documented by DCIP showed 69.2 percent of detained Jerusalem children suffered some form of physical violence at the hands of Israeli forces compared to 74.5 percent of West Bank children. For night arrest cases, there was nearly no difference between the two groups.
Although they had better outcomes than their West Bank peers along a few axes, such as rights notifications and access to a toilet between arrest and interrogation, they also suffered much higher rates of position abuse during interrogation. As a whole, it is apparent that Israeli civilian laws, when applied to Palestinian children from Jerusalem do not approach “guarantee” rates. DCIP analysis found that this is because Israel over-applies the exception clause of its Youth Law to Palestinian children—meaning that for East Jerusalem children, the exception is the rule.