A recent report released by the Palestinian Prisoners’ Association details how Israeli troops have been subjecting a large number of Palestinian children to unwarranted arrests and maltreatment. The report discusses one number that has been especially shocking to readers: 6,000 Palestinian children have been detained by Israeli police forces since 2015. After being taken in, minors are often transferred to interrogation or detention centers, where they are reportedly not being given food or water for hours. At these facilities, children also reported having to sign documents in Hebrew, even if they cannot read the language. Children were often unable to have a parent with them to help during this process, a right reserved for minors under Israeli law. The report discusses how, while being detained, 98% of these children were subjected to psychological and/or physical abuse, after usually being shot or wounded by Israeli troops during their arrest. As a result of these various forms of maltreatment, children have suffered nightmares, insomnia, decline in school performance, and increased aggressive behaviors. Palestinian children in occupied East Jerusalem seem to be the most targeted group, especially when tensions are heightened, with dozens of children being arrested each month. According to a study by the Palestinian Authority’s Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs, there are currently 5,700 Palestinians behind bars in Israeli prisons; 250 of them are children, and 48 are women.
In a statement released with the report, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Association urged international human rights organizations and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to “take effective action against the violations committed against children who are detained by Israeli forces.”
The detaining of Palestinian children by Israeli troops is nothing new. In 2017, after President Donald Trump suggested that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel, numerous protests broke out among Palestinians and various religious groups. Though many protesters were prosecuted by Israeli forces, the story of two Palestinian teenagers went viral. One of the teens, Fawzi al-Junaidi, was pictured blindfolded with his hands behind his back, surrounded by numerous Israeli soldiers. Three weeks later, he was released on bail, but not without numerous bruises and a dislocated shoulder. Ahed Tamimi, the other Palestinian activist whose story went viral, was 16 when she was arrested in her home after confronting Israeli soldiers in the streets while they were attempting to arrest her little brother for throwing stones. These two were accompanied by 1,467 other Palestinian minors arrested by the Israeli army in 2017, according to local human rights group Addameer.
But how are so many arrests occurring in areas like the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which are predominantly home to Palestinians? Since 1967, the West Bank, except for East Jerusalem, has been under Israeli military law. As a part of this military law, minors as young as 12 can be arrested by Israeli soldiers. Most of the offenses relate to “throwing stones,” the reason why Ahed Tamimi’s younger brother was arrested. Throwing stones is considered a “security offense” by the Israeli army and can result in up to 20 years in prison, depending on the age of the accused. Arrests are usually carried out as night raids in which Israeli soldiers raid the home of the “criminal” and then bring them to a detention center while they await prosecution in military court. During the month of January 2018 alone, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) documented the occurrence of over 336 night raids performed by Israeli officers.
Once the minors are brought to interrogation centers, it doesn’t get much better. Though most interrogations are required by law to be filmed, Israeli Military Order 1745 waves this requirement for “security offenses” like stone throwing, the most common offense Palestinian minors are charged with. In addition to this lack of documentation, Military Order 1676, which forces officers to tell parents where their children are and why they are being arrested, is often neglected. The Defense for Children-International Palestine (DCIP) reports that most parents were not given any information regarding their children, and when they were it was written in Hebrew.
The DCIP discusses how, while awaiting trial, most minors were subjected to extended periods of solitary confinement and food deprivation. Minors are also often forced to sign confessions during this period, which are written in Hebrew yet can still be used as evidence in court. As a result of these malpractices, military juvenile courts were created in 2009. Despite this, the conviction rate reported by military courts was 99.74% in 2018. Even if minors are tried in these juvenile courts, 16 and 17 year-olds like Fawzi and Ahed are considered adults and tried as such. Ahed, initially indicted on 12 counts, could have served 10 years behind bars.
Two out of the three prisons where minors are held are located in Israeli territory, making it incredibly difficult for family to visit. In addition to cutting off family members, prison often limits the educational opportunities of inmates. Only two courses, Arabic and Math, are allowed to be taught in these prisons, as subjects like Geography are considered a security threat.
After release, studies indicate that most inmates demonstrate a 40% decrease in school performance. A report completed in 2012 showed that more than half of convicted minors were also mentally withdrawn after arrest. In addition, 80% suffered insomnia and 90% showed signs of developing anxiety. Many previously incarcerated minors demonstrate symptoms similar to those associated with PTSD. Many develop one or many of the following: eating disorders, bedwetting, nightmares, increased aggression, and a loss of motivation.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Khader Rasras, director of the Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture in Ramallah, describes how “when these kids are released they feel alienated in their own society… they are watchful and detached from reality.”
Whether you believe in a one-state or two-state solution, consider yourself an Israeli or a Palestinian, this abuse of human rights cannot be tolerated. The facts are there and they cannot be ignored. Though the violence between Israel and Palestine affects all those in its path, it doesn’t have to ruin the lives of innocent children for “stone throwing.” It doesn’t have to be this way and it shouldn’t. Israel, now is the time to acknowledge that Palestinian children are suffering and sitting in prison for misdemeanors that shouldn’t get them more than a warning from local officials. Though this war is built on decades of disagreement, it doesn’t have to continue as war. Ceasefires can take place and children can be treated with fairness and dignity. Both sides need to acknowledge that the abuse of human rights, especially those associated with children, is not something that should be part of reaching an agreement, and it likely won’t. Hatred causes more hatred, depleting the hope of a brighter future for both sides.