The ill-treatment of Palestinian minors held within the Israeli military detention system is “widespread, systematic and institutionalized,” a report Wednesday by the UN children’s fund found.
UNICEF in the 22-page report that examined the Israeli military court system for holding Palestinian children found evidence of practices it said were “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.”
“Ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized,” it concluded, outlining 38 recommendations to improve the protection of children in custody.
Over the past decade, Israeli forces have arrested, interrogated and prosecuted around 7,000 Palestinian children ages 12-17, most of them boys, the report said; noting the rate was equivalent to “an average of two children each day.”
“In no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights,” it said.
The vast majority of arrests are for throwing stones, which is considered an offence under Section 212 of Military Order 1651.
Although the maximum sentence for children of 12 and 13 is six months, the penalty rises dramatically from the age of 14 when a child can face a maximum penalty of between 10 and 20 years depending on the circumstances, it said.
‘Detainees’ rights violated’
In a step-by-step analysis of the procedure from arrest to trial, the report said the common experience of many children was being “aggressively awakened in the middle of the night by many armed soldiers and being forcibly brought to an interrogation centre tied and blindfolded, sleep deprived and in a state of extreme fear.”
The report claimed that many were subjected to ill-treatment during the journey, with some suffering physical or verbal abuse, being painfully restrained or forced to lie on the floor of a vehicle for a transfer process of between one hour and one day.
In some cases, they suffered prolonged exposure to the elements and a lack of water, food or access to a toilet.
UNICEF said it found no evidence of any detainees being “accompanied by a lawyer or family member during the interrogation” and they were “rarely informed of their rights.
“The interrogation mixes intimidation, threats and physical violence, with the clear purpose of forcing the child to confess,” it said, noting they were restrained during interrogation, sometimes for extended periods of time causing pain to their hands, back and legs.
“Children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member,” it said.
Most children confess at the end of the interrogation, signing forms in Hebrew which they hardly understand, the report claimed.
“Ultimately, almost all children plead guilty in order to reduce the length of their pretrial detention. Pleading guilty is the quickest way to be released. In short, the system does not allow children to defend themselves,” UNICEF concluded.
‘Israel studying report’
Foreign Spokesman Ministry Yigal Palmor issues a statement following the report’s release: “Israel participated in processing the material that served to draft the report in collaboration with the UNICEF team.
“Representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the IDF held working sessions with UNICEF, with the common goal of improving issues related to the subject matter of the report.
“It is important to note that UNICEF has welcomed improvements over the years in the treatment of Palestinian minors, both in detention and in the legal proceedings in the Israeli military judicial system,” Palmor said.
“Israel will study the conclusions and will work to implement them through ongoing cooperation with UNICEF, whose work we value and respect.
“This year Israel has joined the UNICEF Board and our working relations and collaboration with the organization are appreciated by the international community.”