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PM: Israel has turned our homeland into a 'large prison'

April 17, 2016 1:10 P.M. (Updated: April 17, 2016 7:25 P.M.)
Palestinian children in the northern West Bank add pictures to wall of Palestinians held in Israeli jails on 16 April 2012, the eve of Prisoners' Day (Photo: AFP - Saif Dahlah)

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah marked Palestinian Prisoner’s Day Sunday, highlighting the record number of children being held in Israeli jails. "The Israeli occupation has transformed our homeland into a large prison,” he said.

In a press release published Sunday, he urged the international community to “protect the human rights of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, especially the children who are subject to psychological and physical harm.”

Among the 7,000 total Palestinian prisoners, 68 are women, 438 are minors, and 98 are children under the age of 16, according to prisoner’s rights group Addameer.

Six of the 700 Palestinians in administrative detention are children, being held for indefinite periods without charge or trial.

Israel also remains the only known country in the world with a juvenile military court in operation, where Palestinian children are systematically tried and subjected to torture and inhuman treatment and punishment, according to UNICEF.

A report released last week by Human Rights Watch documented -- again -- cases of Palestinian children detained in the occupied Palestinian territory being abused by Israeli forces and “routinely” interrogated without the presence of their parents, in violation of international law.

“Palestinian children are treated in ways that would terrify and traumatize an adult,” said Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine country director for HRW.

Interrogations of Palestinian children can last up to 90 days according to Addameer, during which they are beaten, threatened, sexually assaulted, and placed in solitary confinement to elicit confessions, the prime minister’s office added, noting that the confession documents they are forced to sign are in Hebrew -- a language most Palestinian children do not speak.

According to Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCIP), three out of four Palestinian children experience physical violence during arrest, transfer, or interrogation by Israeli forces.

Human rights group B’Tselem documented a 250 percent increase in Palestinian minors in custody during the last three months of 2015, in tandem with a wave of violence that has spread across the Palestinian territory since October. During the same period, Israel detained some 1,500 minors.

Since October, the age of Palestinian children in custody have also dropped, B’Tselem noted. The proportion of minors in custody under the age of 14 rose from 0 percent to 1 percent, and of minors between the age of 14 and 16 rose by 11.7 percent.

"Israel's policies of detention and imprisonment violate all international legal standards, and are intended to obstruct the daily lives of Palestinians, in order to oppress an entire population," the prime minister said.

The Arab League also issued a statement Sunday to commemorate Prisoner’s Day, noting that Israel’s disregard for international law at the expense and suffering of Palestinian prisoners and detainees hinders the peace process in the region.

The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council commemorated the day, calling for the end to collective punishment by Israel and an investigation by the International Criminal Court.

“Israeli mass incarceration of Palestinians is an inextricable part of the ongoing violence of occupation,” the statement read.

“It is important that on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, we all stand united to call for an end to Israeli violations of Palestinian rights.

“As Israel acts with ever growing contempt for international law and the will of the international community, action is now needed more than ever. We demand that the Israeli government refrain from abuses against Palestinians, including sweeping arrest campaigns and violations of prisoners’ rights.”

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