By Rifat Kassis, Jurist Legal News and Research – 4 Nov 2011
In the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), Israel’s prolonged occupation has led to astonishing detention statistics. Since the beginning of the official military occupation in 1967, over 700,000 Palestinians have been detained: this figure amounts to around 20 percent of the existing Palestinian population in the OPT, which consists of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Among the most egregious aspects of Israeli detention policy is its treatment of child prisoners. Indeed, when one examines the wide range of violations committed against the rights of Palestinian children in conflict with the law, the psychological consequences of the occupation as suffered by children are rendered in stark relief.
The legal apparatus of the Israeli military system does not endeavor to protect Palestinian children’s rights; the military courts, under which children from the OPT are tried, lack comprehensive fair trial and juvenile justice standards. In September 2009, Israel established the Military Juvenile Court, but the situation on the ground remains essentially unchanged. On September 27, 2011, the Israeli military authorities raised the age of majority in the military courts to 18 years old. Until this time, the age had been officially set at 16, which directly defied the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, in practice, children as young as 12 have been and continue to be tried in military courts, with those 14 years of age often being tried as adults.
As of the Second Intifada (which began in September 2000), Israel began to employ administrative detention against children. Since this time the arrest and detention of children has grown more rampant and systemic, with around 700 children detained each year, and frequently held with adults in detention. The most common charge is stone throwing. At the time of this writing, 164 Palestinian children are in Israeli detention, 35 of whom are between the ages of 12 and 15.
In addition to regularly suffering abuse and torture similar to that of adult prisoners (beatings, blindfolding, being painfully shackled, position abuse, solitary confinement, electric shocks, threats of sexual assault, coercion into signing documents in Hebrew despite being unable to read them), children in detention are routinely subjected to tactics designed to exploit their age and intimidate them into confessions. These illegally obtained admissions are often used as evidence in the military courts. In the overwhelming majority of cases before these courts, children are denied bail and ordered to remain in detention until the end of the legal process. Credible allegations of ill-treatment and torture are not investigated.
In September, DCI-Palestine submitted a report to the UN highlighting the particular situation of Palestinian children detained in East Jerusalem between January 1 and June 30, 2011. During this period, DCI-Palestine provided legal representation to 118 children and collected 16 sworn testimonies, which revealed that 80 percent of the children were detained on charges of throwing stones. 100 percent were not informed of their right to silence. 69 percent underwent interrogation without their parents present. 50 percent were subjected to physical violence. 44 percent were threatened. 44 percent were shown or told to sign documents in Hebrew. In addition, 31 percent were arrested in the middle of the night.
The plight of Palestinian child prisoners, and of prisoners in general, is a crisis of particular urgency within the range of human rights violations characterizing life under occupation. It is also crucial to think of this crisis as one manifestation among many of Israeli occupation policy in general. The measures levied against Palestinian children in military courts are an egregious example of the ways in which legal policies implemented in the OPT seek to suppress Palestinian dissent, movement, autonomy and ability to exercise their human rights as sanctioned by international law.
Rifat Odeh Kassis is a human rights activist focusing on non-violent activism is his native Palestine. He founded the first independent NGO focused on the rights of Palestinian children in 1992. Currently, he is the President of the Defence for Children International global movement and the General Director of the Palestinian division of DCI. He is the author of numerous articles and books; his latest, Kairos for Palestine, was released in 2011.