[News] A Welcome Spotlight on Palestinian Child Prisoners

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jun 27 19:06:34 EDT 2006

A Welcome Spotlight on Palestinian Child Prisoners

Catherine Hunter, The Electronic Intifada, 27 June 2006


Palestinians hold pictures of jailed relatives during a demonstration 
in the West Bank city of Hebron calling for the release of 
Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails June 27, 2006. 
(<http://www.maanimages.com>MaanImages/Mamoun Wazwaz)

Kidnap, killings, and night raids on Israeli military army bases may 
not be the most effective way of reaching out to international 
opinion, but by conditioning the release of Israeli hostage Gilad 
Shalit on the release of some 380 Palestinian child prisoners, the 
Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees have touched on an issue 
which has resonance well beyond the immediate tit-for-tat killings 
and recriminations that have a tendency to dominate international 
media coverage of the 'Middle East conflict.

The plight of Palestinian children arrested by the Israeli army has 
long been one of the neglected aspects of Israeli occupation, 
involving some 600 minors a year since the outbreak of the second 
Intifada in September 2000. Nearly all are held without access to 
legal support during questioning, often compelled to sign confessions 
in Hebrew, a language they don't understand, while subjected to 
intimidation and mistreatment as a matter of routine course. It 
starts with the arrest itself, which can take place during night-time 
incursions or mass arrest campaigns, or alternatively at the military 
checkpoints which have played such a part in curtailing the economic 
and social life of the West Bank. After a night or two behind bars, 
some minors are released without charge, while the unfortunate ones, 
around 300 a year, start their passage through the Israeli military 
justice system which stands as the rule of law in the Occupied 
Palestinian Territories. This system allows no special provisions for 
minors, despite the fact that Israel is a signatory of numerous 
international treaties which demand due consideration for age in the 
legal process, not least of which is the UN Convention on the Rights 
of the Child. Those considerations are, by contrast, applied to 
Israeli minors, including those living cheek by jowl with the 
Palestinians in illegal West Bank settlements.

Life doesn't improve on the inside, with Palestinian children 
routinely reporting torture or mistreatment. In a typical recent 
case, Defence for Children International (DCI) defended two 13-year 
olds arrested for stone throwing near the 'separation barrier' in the 
South of the West Bank. The pair, Zakariyah and Nemer, were roughly 
handled on arrest, blindfolded and kicked, before being taken to a 
detention centre in the illegal settlement of Gush Etzion near 
Hebron. There, the boys spent 16 days in a small cell with up to 17 
other people, sleeping on the floor and allowed access to the 
bathroom for half an hour once a day. The remaining 23 hours and 30 
minutes were spent locked in the squalid cell, with no contact 
allowed with either friends or family.

At the hearing, which was presided over by a single military judge, 
the prosecutor asked for 'only' a seven month custodial sentence for 
stone-throwing, while the defence pushed for a non-custodial 
sentence. In the end, the pair were relatively fortunate to receive 
90-days imprisonment, a 60-day suspended sentence and a fine of NIS 
1,000 ($230), which was upheld under appeal after the prosecutor 
asked for more. The children spent the rest of the sentence in a 
facility with Israeli child prisoners at Telmond prison outside 
Haifa. When the time came for release, they were set free at an 
Israeli checkpoint outside Tulkarem in the Northern West Bank and 
left to make their own way down the length of the West Bank to their 
own village of Bet Awwar.

The experience of these two 13-year olds is by no means exceptional, 
echoing the testimonies of other minors caught up in Israel's system 
of military justice, where internationally-agreed concepts such as 
the 'best interests of the child,' 'proportionality' and a weighting 
towards non-custodial sentences for minors are held in light regard. 
The PRC's tactics may not be a legitimate way to highlight these 
abuses, but that doesn't mean that the demands themselves lack merit, 
not least in highlighting the systemic abuses and mistreatment that 
feed into ongoing Palestinian resistance and violence. If Israel, as 
a paid-up member of the international community, can hold 
international humanitarian law in such light regard even for 13-year 
olds, what hope that those Palestinian minors will grow up with any 
respect for those same principles? And with minors representing some 
53% of the population, continued abuse of their rights sees Israel 
actively cultivating a legacy of future hatred, with apparently 
little willingness by the outside world to hold it to account.

Catherine Hunter is a Middle East consultant for the Coalition to 
Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and a former Research Coordinator at 
<http://www.dci-pal.org>Defence for Children International, Palestine 
Section which deals with over half of the cases involved Palestinian 
minors in the Israeli military courts. The views expressed in this 
article represent the author's own.

The Freedom Archives
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