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Defenceless: The impact of the Israeli military detention system on Palestinian children

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“Treated like animals”: Palestinian children face inhumane treatment in Israeli-run prisons

Ramallah, 29th October - Children in the Israeli military detention system face inhumane treatment such as beatings, strip searches, psychological abuse, weeks in solitary confinement, and being denied access to a lawyer during interrogations, new research by Save the Children found.

Save the Children consulted more than 470 children from across the West Bank who have been detained over the past ten years. The organisation found that the majority of children were taken from their homes at night, blindfolded, with their hands painfully bound behind their backs. Many of the respondents said were not told why they were being arrested or where they were going.

“They destroyed the front door, entered my room, covered my face with a bag and took me away…They told my father that I would return the next day. I returned after 12 months”*, said *Abdullah*, who was detained six times as a child.

Every year, hundreds of Palestinian children are detained by Israeli authorities. They are the only children in the world who are systematically prosecuted through a military, rather than civilian, justice system.[1] The most common charge is throwing a stone - for which the maximum sentence is 20 years in prison

After their arrest, children are transferred to interrogation centres, where they reported being forced to lie face-down on the metal floor of military vehicles, denied bathroom breaks, deprived of food and water, and physically assaulted.

“They arrested me on my way to school at a military checkpoint. They searched my bag and spoke to me in Hebrew - a language I do not understand. They handcuffed me, threw me on the floor and stepped on my back”, said Fatima*, who was detained when she was 14.

Children described the detention experience as “torturous”, “dehumanising”, “humiliating” and “terrifying”. Amina* who was detained at 15 years old, said: “You do not feel like a human being in that place. We were treated like animals.”

Save the Children’s consultation showed that:

  • 81% endured physical beatings and 89% suffered verbal abuse

  • 52% were threatened with harm to their families

  • 86% were subjected to strip searches, leaving them humiliated and ashamed
  • 88% did not receive adequate and timely healthcare, even when explicitly requested
  • Almost half (47%) were denied contact with a lawyer

Issa*, who was arrested when he was 15 years old, said: “While I was being interrogated, they kept shouting at me, and they put a gun on the table in front of me to scare me. They said bad, bad words. I don’t want to think about those words…

“Prison was an ugly place. They would set off alarms at midnight, 3am and 6am so we could never sleep for long. If you’re not awake at these alarms, you will be beaten. I was beaten with wooden sticks a few times. I still have back pain now because of a particularly bad beating.”

Up to half of the participating children reported that they were held in isolation or solitary confinement, sometimes for several weeks. More than half of the children said they were not allowed to see their families and in some cases were made to believe that their families had abandoned them – leaving them feeling scared, alone and rejected.

Save the Children’s research also reveals the deep impact of detention on children’s lives since their release, with the vast majority saying their experiences have changed them forever. Children often struggle with insomnia, nightmares, eating disorders, behavioural changes, anger, or feelings of depression. This has led to physical symptoms such as numbness, chronic muscle pain, headaches, and uncontrollable shaking.

Jeremy Stoner, Save the Children’s Regional Director for the Middle East, said: “Children as young as twelve have told us about truly inhumane treatment in the Israeli military detention system. There is no possible justification for setting dogs on children, beating them, or shackling them to metal chairs. Whatever they are accused of, regardless of guilt or innocence, these children must be treated first and foremost as children – with all the special protections this entails.

“No child should be experiencing such cruelty at the hands of those who are meant to be looking after them. Children should no longer be prosecuted in military courts – and there has never been greater urgency to release children from prison as systemic ill-treatment is compounded by the threat of COVID-19 in detention centres. Only with these changes can we prevent irrevocable damage being inflicted on generations of Palestinian children.”

Save the Children is calling for:
The Government of Israel to respect international law, and to end the detention and mistreatment of children under military law. Israeli authorities must immediately adopt practical safeguards to improve the situation for children who are currently detained. This includes ending the systemic ill-treatment of children, establishing protection and safeguards for detainees, and providing adequate services to support girls and boys to recover from their experiences.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) to increase rehabilitative support for children who have been detained, including psychological support. The PA should also offer support services aimed at reducing stigma associated with child detainees and supporting their reintegration into communities and education.

ENDS

*Name changed to protect identity

[1] Defence for Children International (DCI-P), Military detention, see https://www.dci-palestine.org/issues_military_detention