The Detained Children of Palestine: Violations Against the Innocent?
On a daily basis, Palestinians whether in Gaza, the West Bank or in Jerusalem are denied many of their basic human rights by the Israeli authorities through a variety of methods. This can include destruction of homes and entire villages as widely reported by Amnesty International, illegally occupying land, restriction of movement, use of human shields and lack of basic services that many of us take for granted. Any resistance or opposition against the denial of rights is rapidly quashed. This post focuses on the arrest and detention of Palestinian children which are regularly targeted by the Israeli police and military.
As all of us strongly feel that the welfare and protection of the rights of all children is of paramount importance, so should be the matter concerning the Palestinian children and the treatment of these children by the Israeli police/military as it is of high concern. Over recent months, there have been some reports released about the treatment of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli authorities. There has been a disproportionate amount of force and interrogation methods used by Israeli authorities who claim these children are a threat through the mere act of throwing stones in defiance of the Israeli army’s illegal occupation.
In February, a European Parliamentary Human Rights Committee held a hearing specifically concerning the issue of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons. It was announced that a further hearing was to be held in the European Parliament (Brussels), on the 15th of March 2011. A conference is also due at the UN headquarters in Geneva with regards to the same issue, highlighting the need for further focus on the matter. It is hoped that through such hearings and conferences there will be justice for those children exploited by the Israeli occupation.
The organisation, Defense for Children International (DCI) is a NGO that works to protect and promote children’s rights. It is has been running a campaign for many years, calling for the release of Palestinian child prisoners. Also in February, Defense for Children International released a report which it also submitted to the UN, detailing the situation faced by Palestinian children, based on sworn testimonies of the children affected.
DCI found that, of the children arrested between Oct-Dec 2010 (on the accusation of “throwing stones”), 77% of children reported to have suffered physical abuse by the military. That is a huge percentage of children being abused, by those with an enormous position of authority over them. In relation to this, it clearly shows that the Israeli military is using disproportionate amounts of so called ‘defense’ against the small scale resistance presented by these children.
It is rare that in these situations a child’s parents are present when they are being interrogated let alone the children gaining access to a lawyer. Often, the parents are unaware of where their child is being taken and held for a number of days. They are only able to establish the whereabouts of their child through the assistance of NGO’s, if that.
According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), specifically Article 37, it states that: “No child shall be tortured or suffer other cruel treatment or punishment. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall only be used as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. Children must not be put in a prison with adults and they must be able to keep in contact with their family”.
It seems that the arrest and detention is not a last resort action as it is happening so regularly, continuously, affecting many children.
Article 40 of the CRC states: “A child accused or guilty of breaking the law must be treated with dignity and respect. They have the right to help from a lawyer and a fair trial that takes account of their age or situation”.
I have come across many credible reports, including media reports, and journalists’ video documentation, where the issue of abuse of children by the Israeli police or military has been raised several times but these illegal acts seem to go unpunished by the Israeli authorities and the International community along with a whole host of human rights violations committed every single day by the state.
In my personal opinion, it seems that there aren't enough British politicians that are willing to speak up and advocate for Palestinian human rights, other than a few that are well known for their support of Palestinian issues.
I came across a very insightful article by a member of parliament, Sandra Osborne who along with other parliamentarians attended an Israeli military court and witnessed the process involving children, which she stated “shocked us to the core”. She mentions that the atmosphere was tense and distressing. She describes that the children are led into the court room wearing jump suits, their legs shackled and hands cuffed. She questioned whether the soldiers around them are threatened by the 13 and 14 year old boys. How can an army be intimidated by a child?
Overall, from the account we can tell that the trial process is very unfair as there are no witnesses called, testimonies are not challenged, and lawyers often meet the children on the very day which indicates a lack of preparation and valuable defence for the child. The Judge did not speak to the children or look at them and the cases tried last only a few minutes.
An upsetting point made in the article is that the children’s only interest in the whole court process is the chance to see their family, as it could be the first time in months. They seem to know that it is unlikely the outcome will be in their favor and that expecting an easy release in pointless. Osborne also mentions that one child actually shouts out to his family the name of the prison of where he is being held, as up to that point, it has been unknown to his family.
There are many interesting points made in the article, I have summarised these below as I feel they are important and worth mentioning:
- “32% of confessions made by children are taken in Hebrew” – As Palestinians on the whole speak Arabic, they don’t even know what they are confessing to as it is not in their language.
- “Interviews take the form of military style interrogations, without video recording. The forms of abuse frequently reported include sleep deprivation, beatings, slapping and kicking, denial of food and water, prolonged periods in uncomfortable conditions, exposure to extreme heat or cold, denial of access to toilets and washing facilities” – This is harsh for any adult, let alone a child.
- “81% of children confess under interrogation” – Not a surprise, considering what they endure.
- “Israel operates a dual legal system for Israelis and Palestinians, with different ages of responsibility and different levels of protection for children” – This is blatantly a discriminatory system, based on the ethnicity of the child, this determines the level of protection that they deserve.
Amnesty International famously began on the founding principle for defending the rights of prisoners of conscience; some would consider these children to be prisoners of conscience too as the main reason for their detention is their ethnicity, but often this is refuted by the authorities. I feel that these child prisoners are also deserving of the same rights and they should demand some of our attention.
If enough of our politicians are unwilling to take a proactive stance on this then it is time for you and I, ordinary members of the public to pressure them to do so. I urge people who believe in human rights, liberal vales and justice to lobby, campaign and educate those around you on the issue of Palestine and also make regular contact with your MPs, MSPs and MEPs to ensure that politicians are made aware of these violations and forced to take a more proactive role as they are supposed to represent the views of their constituents in Parliament.
There will be a lobby of Parliament on Wednesday 11th May, if you are concerned about the issues raised in this blog post, then I request you make an appointment to see your MP and bring the issue of the treatment of these children to their attention and to ask them what they are going to do about it!Thank you for reading.
Further Reading and Useful Links:
• http://www.palestinemonitor.org/spip/spip.php?article1699 (Article and Video)
Amnesty International Reports:
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.