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Abuse of Palestinian children in Israeli jails

Aug. 5, 2010 5:05 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 21, 2010 1:15 P.M.)
By: Aaron
Testimonials and events documented by human rights organizations show the abuse of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons to be regular and widespread.

Physical abuse, sexual abuse, torture, threats and intimidation as well as the denial of basic basic human rights, such as access to education are the most common forms of abuse, documents show.

In 2009, a report from the UK-based children's rights group Defence for Children International found, there were 305 Palestinian children being held in Israeli jails. The US-based NGO Save the Children further estimates, that over 6,700 children were arrested between October 2000 and April 2009. Both organizations confirm Israel routinely prosecutes Palestinian children as young as 12, describing the ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children as "widespread, systematic and institutionalised."

Forms of abuse

In 2009, DCI collected 100 sworn affidavits from Palestinian children and teenagers who said they were abused in Israeli military and police custody. Almost 70 percent complained of being beaten, four percent reported being sexually assaulted, and 12 percent said they were threatened with sexual assault.

According to the report, most of the incidents occurred during interrogation and were used against detainees to force a confession.

Physical abuse

The physical abuse of children by soldiers has most frequently been documented as involving "slaps, kicks, punches or blows with a rifle stock or club," DCI stated.

Nearly all children surveyed by DCI, 97 percent, were held for hours with their hands cuffed, and 92 percent were blindfolded for long periods of time. Twenty-six percent said they were forced to remain in painful positions.

In 2010, Palestinian lawyer Hiba Masalha reported the case of Muhammad Rashid Abu Shahin, 16, from the Balata refugee camp. After being arrested, the youth said he was manhandled and beaten by soldiers using rifle butts. He was then transported to the Huwwara detention centre where where he was beaten with a plastic pipe to force a confession. The child is suffering chronic back pain as a result of being hit on the spine.

Sexual abuse

Fourteen percent of child prisoners surveyed by DCI said they were sexually abused or threatened with sexual assault to pressure them into confessions.

In May 2010, the Dubai-based Al-Jazeera news network published the testimony of an unnamed Palestinian child released from an Israeli jail.

"There was a dog barking outside the room… The soldier told me he would bring it in to f**k me if I didn't confess… I was so scared… The guy then took out a stick; he whipped it forward and it got longer. He told his friends, who were looking on and laughing at me: "This boy doesn't want to talk. Let's pull down his pants so I can shove this stick up his a**."

"I tried to hold on to the chair; he kept poking me, groping my privates with the stick, trying to get me off the chair."

Threats and intimidation

Many Palestinian child prisoners testify to being forced into confession by threats and intimidation, including threats against family members, threats of prolonged imprisonment and threats of physical and sexual abuse.

Abuse by other prisoners

Palestinian child prisoners are reportedly confined in close quarters with adult prisoners and become the subject of physical and sexual abuse.

Denial of basic services

Palestinian children in Israeli detention only received limited education in two out of five prisons and no education whatsoever in any of the interrogation and detention centers. According to Save the children, in 2009, Israel prevented 1,821 detainees from writing the high school certification exam, known locally as the Tawjihi.

Typical scenario

According to Save the Children, Palestinian children are typically arrested between midnight and 4a.m. without their families being notified where the child is being taken. The children are normally handcuffed, blindfolded, and subjected to physical abuse in addition to humiliating treatment during arrest and can be detained up to 90 days without access to a lawyer whilst being interrogated. Children can be detained for two years from the time charged until the trial.

Stone throwing is the most common offense Palestinian children are charged with under Israeli military law accounting for 26.7% of cases. The maximum penalty is 20 years imprisonment. Save the Children reports that in 91 percent of cases involving Palestinian children, bail is denied. The group also says that currently, 32.9 percent of sentenced children are 15 years of age or younger and that 21.25 percent are sentenced for a one-year period or longer.

Effects on the child

A 2009 report by Save the Children says most detainees develop Post Traumatic Stress symptoms as a direct result of their abuse in prison. The psycho-social consequences of detention affect the immediate behavior of children, the way they think including their analysis of the outside world.

International and domestic law

The UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty states imprisoning children should only be a "last resort and for the minimum period and should be limited to exceptional cases" further stating that "fundamental international law must be respected at all times with no exceptions" and "the welfare, special needs, best interests, and human rights of juveniles "shall be a primary consideration".

Despite being a State member of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Israel identifies a "child" as any person below the age of 12, "youth" as any person between 12 and 14, "young adult" as any person between 14 and 16 and "adult" as any person above 16. Israeli citizens however, are legally considered an adult at 18. This denies Palestinian children many of the basic services granted to Israelis of the same age.

Israeli accountability

Reports by groups such as B'Tselem, Save the children and DCI are regularly dismissed by the Israeli military as "inaccurate" and are rarely investigated. A 2009 report from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, says that from 600 complaints regarding abuse of children all were dismissed without a single criminal investigation.

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