During the first Intifada in Israel-Palestine, one of the most controversial aspects of the Israeli reaction to the uprising in 1987 was Yitzhak Rabin’s reputed policy of ordering soldiers to break the bones of those throwing rocks, as shown in this video. While Rabin denied having soldiers break the bones of demonstrators, he did admit to ordering the extra-judicial application of ”force, might and beatings” upon civilians. Since that time, whether it be an official policy or not, such practices–emphatically illegal under international human rights law–continue unabated. What has recently been brought into the public eye is that such illegal beatings and other acts of violence continue to be aimed not only at adults, but also at Palestinian children, some as young as 11 years old.
Reports from international human rights organizations, from the United Nations, and from the U.S. State Department are presenting a set of mutually confirming data that shines a bright light on the physical and psychological harm the Israeli state has perpetrated upon Palestinian children, in the vast majority of cases in violation of international human rights law, covenants and conventions. For anyone concerned about the welfare of children, especially children who stand defenseless against the actions of a powerful state that the U.S. has pledged its allegiance to and to which we contribute more than $3 billion of our tax dollars to annually, it is well worth considering some of the key findings of these reports.
First, Human Rights Watch has just issued a report on the systemic abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli security forces, finding widespread practices of chokeholds, beatings and coercive interrogations:
Human Rights Watch interviewed four boys, ages 11, 12, and 15, from different neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, and a 14-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy from elsewhere in the West Bank, whom Israeli forces arrested or detained in separate incidents for allegedly throwing rocks from March to December 2014. They and their parents gave accounts of abuses during arrest and interrogation that caused the children pain, fear, and ongoing anxiety. Human Rights Watch has seen photos and marks on the body of one of the children, consistent with the accounts he and his parents had given; the children’s accounts were also consistent with each other…
Rashid S., 11, said that Israeli border police forces officers threw a stun grenade (a non-lethal explosive device that produces a blinding light and intensely loud noise causing loss of balance) at him and put him in a chokehold when they arrested him for throwing stones in November. He said that officers put a black bag over his head, threatened him with beatings, and kicked him in the shin while taking him for interrogation. The border police forces pulled his coat and shirt off during arrest, but kept him outside for about an hour despite cold temperatures, he said. Human Rights Watch observed photographs of police arresting him and marks on the boy’s leg consistent with his account.
The report goes on to note that:
Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Israel ratified in 1991, requires court procedures to take into account the age of child defendants and “the desirability of promoting their rehabilitation.” The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Israel also ratified in 1991, elaborates on this requirement and directs states to ensure that children are “not compelled … to confess guilt.”
And yet over and over again in the testimony we find Israeli police forces using physical abuse to wrest confessions out of children.
One of the most active groups fighting these abuses is Defense for Children International (Palestine), which notes:
Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank last year fell victim to a pattern of abuse designed to coerce confessions.
Among the most troubling experiences were prolonged periods of solitary confinement, a correctional tactic primarily reserved for adult prisoners—and, even then, only after they are convicted. In 2014, the average time an individual child spent in solitary confinement for interrogation purposes was 15 days, according to DCIP research. In one case, Israeli authorities kept a child in isolation for 26 total days.
Between 2012 and 2014, Israeli military, police and security agents held 54 Palestinian children in solitary confinement for interrogation purposes prior to charging them with any offense.
Data compiled by DCIP from 107 affidavits of Palestinian children, ages between 12 and 17, detained in 2014, showed the vast majority had to fend for themselves. Unlike their Israeli counterparts, Palestinian children have no right to be accompanied by a parent during an interrogation. In 93 percent of cases, children were deprived of legal counsel, and rarely informed of their rights, particularly their right against self-incrimination.
Besides these reports by international human rights groups, the U.S. government has also conducted its own investigation and issued a report:
The annual country reports on human rights practices, which include a specific section covering the situation of human rights in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), raises a number of issues related to ill-treatment of Palestinian child prisoners and denial of fair trial rights in Israeli military courts. It notes other grave violations against Palestinian children, including the killing and maiming of Palestinian children and attacks on schools in Gaza by Israeli forces. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry released the annual report at a press conference in Washington.
Last week, nineteen members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary Kerry urging him to prioritize the issue of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention. The letter, initiated by Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN), noted that “Israel’s military detention system targeting children is an anomaly in the world,” and that UNICEF has found ill-treatment of Palestinian children is “widespread, systemic and institutionalized” throughout the detention process.
The lawmakers urged the Department of State to prioritize the human rights of Palestinian children and “address the status of Israel’s military detention system’s treatment of Palestinian children in [the] annual human rights report.”
The UNICEF report notes that while Israeli authorities have, since March 2013, issued new military orders and taken steps to reinforce existing military and police standard operating procedures related to the detention of Palestinian children; evidence collected by a UNICEF-led working group since 2013 shows continued and persistent reports of ill-treatment against Palestinian children by Israeli forces. The report provides an update on the implementation of previous recommendations made by UNICEF in a March 2013 report.
“Despite an ongoing dialogue with UNICEF over nearly two years, Israeli authorities have persistently failed to implement practical changes to stop violence and ill-treatment against Palestinian child detainees,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCIP.
“Israel is the only nation in the world that automatically and systematically prosecutes children in military courts lacking basic fair trial guarantees,” said Brad Parker, attorney and international advocacy officer at Defense for Children International Palestine. “Often in the international community there is this notion that Israeli military courts are ‘broken’ and can be improved, however this mistakenly accepts the premise that Israeli military courts exist to and are interested in administering justice. The military court system is not a ‘justice system’ but more correctly characterized as a tool of prolonged occupation that acts to legitimize control of the Palestinian population, including children. Widespread and systematic ill treatment and torture of Palestinian kids furthers the control objective of the occupation.”