Amid escalating violence, the number of Palestinian children held in Israeli military detention is now the highest since April 2010. At the end of October, 307 Palestinian children were imprisoned in the Israeli military detention system. From the moment of arrest, these children encounter ill-treatment and in some cases torture at the hands of Israeli forces.
“In 21.4 percent of cases recorded by DCI-Palestine in 2013, children detained in the Israeli military detention system reported undergoing solitary confinement as part of the interrogation process. This represents an increase of two percent from 2012,” a press release accompanying the report states.
DCI-Palestine collected 98 sworn affidavits from Palestinian children aged 12 to 17 in 2013. The disturbing findings in the report are based on 40 solitary confinement cases documented in 2013.
In the vast majority of cases (34 out of 40), children are arrested from their beds. “Children report that heavily armed Israeli soldiers arrest them in violent circumstances during night raids on their family homes,” the report says.
The children “are often woken up by the sound of Israeli soldiers banging on the front door before a family member opens the door or the soldiers force their way in, storming the home.”
Then, the occupation soldiers “gather all the occupants of the house, regardless of their age, in one room or outside and then demand identification. Generally, the entire home will be searched during the raid. Once a child’s identity has been verified from his identification card, his family will be informed that he must accompany the soldiers.”
Children or their parents are almost never informed of the accusations and, the report says, this moment “is most likely the last time the family will see their child until he appears in a military court following an unknown period of solitary confinement and interrogation.”
“Once the soldiers have identified the child, his hands will be tied with plastic cords, most likely behind his back, and he will be blindfolded and led to a military vehicle.”
More than half of the children reported some form of physical violence during the arrest and transfer to interrogation facilities, including Petah Tikva detention center, Kishon detention center (also known as Al-Jalame) near Haifa, or Shikma prison near Ashkelon.
These facilities are under control of the Israel Prison Service and/or the Shin Bet secret police. Al-Jalame is among several Israeli facilities equipped by the international incarceration profiteering firm G4S.
On average, children spent 10 days in solitary confinement, but children have been held for up to 29 days in isolation. Children held at Kishon described being locked in a small, windowless cell lit 24 hours a day by a dim bulb.
There they slept on a concrete bed, on the floor, or on a thin mattress they often described as “dirty” and “foul smelling.” Cell walls are grey “with sharp or rough protrusions that are painful to lean against.”
While being deprived of legal counsel, family contact and almost never being informed of their rights, including the right to remain silent, children are subjected to prolonged interrogations, abuse and violence amounting to torture.
Most children are accused of stone-throwing, “an offense that can potentially lead to a sentence of up to 20 years depending on a child’s age.” But the accusation may be a pretext to coerce children into providing information useful in Israel’s effort to suppress any form of resistance to occupation.
“The interrogation techniques are generally mentally and physically coercive, frequently incorporating a mix of intimidation, threats and physical violence with a clear purpose of obtaining a confession,” DCI-Palestine states. “Shouting and intimidation are regularly used to elicit confessions, incriminating statements, and information on neighbors or family members.”
During interrogations, “children report being forced to sit in a low metal chair secured to the floor with their hands and feet cuffed to the chair, often for several hours.” In 31 out of 40 cases, children reported being subjected to such “position abuse,” the most frequent form being that the child is shackled to a chair in a painful position for long periods of time.
Role of informants
After experiencing horrifying abuses and days of solitary confinement, children are psychologically vulnerable. Israeli interrogators take advantage of this by the use of informants. DCI-Palestine describes the technique Israel uses, based on the children’s accounts:
Following many days held in isolation and subject to prolonged interrogation sessions, a child will be informed that the interrogation is over and that they will be transferred to a prison cell.
Once the child arrives in a typical prison cell, an adult prisoner warmly welcomes him, often bringing warm food, a pack of cigarettes, or other items. The adult prisoner attempts to gain the child’s trust by sharing information about the child’s family or members of his community. Children report being warned not to talk to anyone but this specific individual regarding their interrogation. Often, the adult prisoner will either ask a child about the interrogation and what questions were asked, or offer to alert others on the outside if he shares information.
After a day or two, the child is ushered back to interrogation where he is often confronted with an audio recording or statements he made to the adult prisoner informant. During interrogation, the child realizes for the first time that the adult prisoner is an informant collaborating with Israeli intelligence officers, and the child’s interaction with this individual was part of the interrogation process.
After being confronted with this reality, children generally provide a confession without access to counsel to allegations made against them during the interrogation.
DCI-Palestine’s report was submitted to a number of UN bodies and includes an analysis of how Israel’s mistreatment of children and increasing use of solitary confinement amount to grave violations of international law, including conventions on torture.
“The practice of using solitary confinement on children in Israeli detention facilities must be recognized as a form of torture and be stopped immediately,” the report states.
But it also notes the total impunity that has ensured that Israel’s abuses have continued unchecked.
During 2013, DCI-Palestine reports that it filed 15 complaints with Israeli authorities concerning ill-treatment and torture of ten children while in Israeli military detention.
But, the report states, “not a single indictment has been issued against a perpetrator, and in many cases it is unclear if an investigation has been initiated.”
The latest report from DCI-Palestine adds to a mountain of evidence about Israel’s systematic abuse and killings of Palestinian children, including earlier reports from DCI-Palestine, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Last December, the advocacy group the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) revealed that Israeli authorities had locked Palestinian children in outdoor cages during a severe winter storm.