Imprisoning Palestinian Children - by Stephen Lendman
In June 2009, Defence for Children International (DCI)/Palestine Section published a report titled, "Palestine Child Prisoners: The systematic and institutionalized ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities."
DCI/Palestine "is a national section of the international non-government child rights organisation and movement (dedicated) to promoting and protecting the rights of Palestinian children," according to international law principles.
Each year, about 700 West Bank children, under 18, are arrested, detained, interrogated, and prosecuted in Israeli military courts, in total about 6,500 since 2000. DCI lawyers represent 30 - 40% of them. The report focuses on their torture and abuse in custody.
Since the 1967 occupation, an estimated 700,000 Palestinian men, women, and children passed through Israel's judicial system, over 150,000 tried in military courts from 1990 - 2006, the remainder handled through plea bargains for lighter sentences. On average, over 9,000 Palestinians a year are affected, including 700 children treated the same as adults.
For nearly 43 years, Israeli military justice operated "almost completely devoid of international scrutiny," giving authorities license to violate human rights and humanitarian law with impunity. As a result, due process and judicial fairness don't apply under a system denying them.
Yet Article 37(b) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states:
"The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child...shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time."
In fact, Palestinian children are routinely arrested at checkpoints, on streets, going to or coming from school, tending olive groves, at play, and (most commonly) at home in the middle of the night, usually from midnight to 4AM with family members threatened not to intervene, beaten if they try, forced onto streets in their nightclothes, regardless of weather, and given no explanation.
Typically, arrests are lawless and violent. Homes are broken into unannounced, property damaged or stolen, children blindfolded, shackled, and often beaten, then thrust into jeeps, sometimes face down, for transfer to interrogation and detention centers, a procedure that includes beatings, verbal abuse and other degrading and inhumane treatment.
At detention centers, they're either placed in a cell or interrogated immediately. Usually no lawyer is present for days or weeks until questioning ends with a signed Hebrew confession few can read or understand. Once gotten, they're used against them in military courts, never mind that torture extracted evidence is inadmissible under international law.
Article 15 of the UN Convention Against Torture states:
"Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made."
In custody, children endure:
-- blindfolding and painful shackling;
-- violent shaking;
-- sleep depravation;
-- solitary confinement;
-- other forms of sensory deprivation;
-- no food and water for extended periods;
-- poor quality or inedible food when gotten;
-- no access to toilets, showers and clean clothes;
-- exposure to extreme heat or cold;
-- painful stress positions for extended periods;
-- sexual abuse;
-- threats, insults and cursing; and
-- extremely loud noises.
Often their parents and siblings are also arrested, beaten, detained, and their homes sometimes demolished.
After interrogation, detainees are processed for trial, sentencing, and imprisonment by one of two West Bank military courts, both on military bases. Decisions may be appealed in the Military Court of Appeals, but rarely ever will the High Court of Justice hear them.
Judges and prosecutors are military officers, some not certified by the Israeli Bar Association. Dispensing justice is nearly impossible under a system with no accepted standards. Children as young as 12 (and some younger) are prosecuted the same as adults, tribunals calling them adults at age 16, in contrast to Jews at age 18.
Under Military Order 132, six months is the maximum sentence for children aged 12 - 13; 12 months usually from 14 - 15 for offenses with a maximum penalty of less than five years; and unlimited for more serious offenses; under Military Order 378, 20 years for stone-throwing is permitted (the most common offense charged); and children 16 or older are considered adults and treated no differently.
Military courts deny judicial fairness, including:
-- the right to counsel until forced confessions are extracted, commonly by torture, pressure, intimidation, and at times trickery;
-- the right to prepare a proper defense with enough time, in adequate facilities, in confidence, with court documents in Arabic;
-- under Military Order 378, detainees may be denied counsel for up to 90 days;
-- under a grossly unjust system, attorneys commonly seek plea bargains to avoid trials and harsher sentences;
-- defendants, including young children are presumed guilty, full acquittals gotten in just 0.29% of cases;
-- the right to examine witnesses is restricted; few full evidentiary cases are heard; according to Yesh Din (volunteers for human rights), of 9,123 cases in 2006, only 130 (1.42%) got full evidentiary trials because having them is futile and punishments far harsher when convicted;
-- unlike in civil courts for Jews, Palestinians have no right to trial without undue delay:
(1) detention until a hearing before a judge - 24 hours for Jews; up to eight days for Palestinians;
(2) total detention period before indictment - 30 days for Jews, and up to 75 on authority of the Attorney General; up to 180 days for Palestinians;
(3) detention from end of investigation to indictment - 5 days for Jews; 10 days for Palestinians;
(4) detention from indictment until arraignment - 30 days for Jews; up to two years for Palestinians;
(5) detention from arraignment to end of proceedings - 9 months for Jews; up to two years for Palestinians; and
(6) judicial approval of detention extensions if proceedings continue - 3 months for Jews (per a Supreme Court judge); six months for Palestinians (per Military Court of Appeals judge).
In addition, defense lawyers rarely know charges until hearing days. Palestinian children are usually denied bail, and respect for their rights under international law is ignored.
Fourth Geneva's Article 147 requires fair trials, holding those responsible for denying them criminally liable.
Children as young as 12, and sometimes younger, endure overcrowding, poor ventilation, little or no access to natural light, poor quality (often inedible) and inadequate amounts of food, isolation, torture and abusive treatment.
Little or no education is provided, and none in interrogation and detention centers where children are often held for three months or longer. Also, with one exception, prisons are inside Israel in breach of Fourth Geneva's Article 76, stating:
"Protected persons accused of offences shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein."
The provision also requires providing proper food, medical care, and spiritual help - women in separate quarters, supervised by women, and minors getting special treatment.
Palestinian detainees get none of the above, including permits for family members to visit imprisoned relatives.
From January 2001 - December 2008, "over 600 complaints were filed against Israeli Security Agency (ISA) interrogators for alleged ill-treatment and torture." The Police Investigation Department and Justice Ministry conducted no investigations, claiming "insufficient evidence."
Relevant International Law
Torture, abuse, degrading and inhumane treatment are unequivocally prohibited at all times, under all circumstances, with no allowed exceptions.
Article 2(2) of the UN Convention Against Torture states:
"No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."
Its Article 1 defines it as follows:
"any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain and suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."
Other relevant laws include Fourth Geneva, Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, calling torture a crime against humanity in Article 7 and a war crime in Article 8.
These laws also prohibit other forms of abuse, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. In addition, all nations are obligated to prevent torture and other forms of abuse, and to prosecute offenders under its jurisdiction.
Fourth Geneva also mandates they search for and prosecute them under the universal jurisdiction (UJ) principle, relating to crimes of war, against humanity, genocide, or slavery. UJ is to ensure there's no place to hide.
Comments from Children During Arrests and Detention
-- "I went from having a normal life at home to handcuffs, deprivation of sleep, shouting, threats, rounds of interrogation and serious accusations. In these circumstances, life becomes dark, filled with fear and pessimism - tough days that words cannot describe."
-- "A soldier pointed his rifle at me. The rifle barrel was a few centimeters away from my face. I was so terrified that I started to shiver. He made fun of me and said: 'shivering? Tell me where the pistol is before I shoot you.' "
-- After arrest, "they stripped us out of our trousers and T-shirts. They then started to throw stones at our backs while laughing and making fun of us."
-- "While we were walking to the gate, the soldiers hit us with their rifles in our backs and laughed."
-- "As soon as the jeep started to move, (a) soldier who had pushed me, kicked me on my broken hand and beat me on my shoulders with his rifle."
-- Inside (a) clinic, they beat me on the back and neck with their hands. One of the soldiers took a rope that was on the table and placed it around my neck and pressed tightly to suffocate me."
-- A soldier "hit me in the face with the barrel of his rifle and that led to my nose and mouth bleeding profusely. All of this happened in front of my mother who was begging them to let me go."
-- "I felt my hands were about to explode because they were tied so tight. I asked the soldiers to loosen the handcuffs but they responded by shouting and using very obscene language."
-- "I felt extreme pain in my neck and back. I felt dizzy and was about to vomit. Whenever I lifted my head up, the soldiers would shout at me."
-- "I was interrogated for three days. My hands and feet were tied to the wall in the shape of a cross. I spent one full day in this position. I felt extreme pain and swelling in my hands. The soldiers then moved me to solitary confinement where I spent 15 days. I used to urinate in the cell."
-- "After two hours, the interrogator producer another paper written in Hebrew and asked me to sign it, saying it was an approval (for medical treatment), so I signed it. It turned out later that I had signed a full confession."
After arrest and transfer, they usually begin straightaway with no right to counsel or an adult present. Unlike in Israel, they're not videotaped to hide incriminating evidence.
Commonly, children are kept painfully shackled, threatened, cursed, tortured and abused during the process, at times while hooded. Interrogations continue for days until coerced (or at times tricked) confessions are gotten.
DCI/Palestine "encountered (no) single case where an adult in a position of authority, such as a soldier, doctor, judicial officer or prison staff, intervened on behalf of a child who was mistreated."
They comprise a small percent of the total, around 4% in 2008. Like others, female child prisoners are usually incarcerated in Israel with adults, in violation of international law prohibiting both practices.
One of many poignant images shows a teenage girl and the caption: "I am not a terrorist."
Another, on the Separation Wall, shows a young girl holding balloons on strings being lifted into the air to liberation.
Under Military Order 1591, Palestinians, including children, can be detained without charge or trial for renewable six-month periods that can last years.
Fourth Geneva's Article 42 and ICCPR's Article 4 permit them only if:
"the security of the state...makes it absolutely necessary (and only according to) regular procedure," excluding long-term renewable extensions.
Under Article 37(b) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), no:
"child should be deprived of his or her liberty arbitrarily and detention should only be used as a measure of last resort for the shortest appropriate period of time."
Most often, they're based on secret evidence, withheld from detainees and their counsel, making a proper defense impossible. At any time in 2008, up to 700 Palestinian, men, women and children were administratively detained, a procedure Israelis use against political leaders, human rights activists, protestors, and children accused of stone-throwing. It's also common for them to get multiple detention orders, renewed within days of their expected release.
Soldiers Justifying Palestinian Beatings and Abuse
On May 21, 2009, B'Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) called on the chief of staff and judge advocate general to investigate an item called: "A Blow is Sometimes an Integral Part of the Mission," presenting testimonies of Col. Itai Virob, commander of Kfir Brigade and Lt. Col. Shimon, commander of Shimshon Battalion.
They admitted authorizing harassment, violence, injurious, and at times lethal means, against Palestinians "to extract information (during) interrogation."
Col. Virob said:
"The mission is to try to upset the equilibrium of the neighborhood, village, or particular location, to get information....or to cause a hostile entity inside the village to make mistakes as a result or in reaction to actions of our forces, and thus disrupt his activity and expose it."
Tactics include "throwing stun grenades, breaking into a number of houses or institutions....arresting residents, seizing areas on rooftops, and the like....We will detain, interrogate and use suitable pressure on every person to get to the one terrorist. Of all the means of pressure that we use, the vast majority are against persons who are not involved."
Lt. Col. Shimon said:
"There are no exercises, nothing written (and to get information we) use force. These orders (include) routine use of violence and potentially injury-causing (acts, at times) lethal, against civilians, and harassing them, (even though they're) patently illegal," but are routinely used nonetheless.
It's a policy of premeditated state-sponsored terror against defenseless men, women and children. On May 15, 2009, the UN Committee Against Torture (monitoring Convention Against Torture violations) issued Concluding Observations and conclusions on Israeli practices, expressing grave concerns about:
-- torture, abuse, degrading and humiliating treatment during and after interrogations;
-- Palestinian children detained and interrogated without counsel and/or family members present;
-- torture used to extract confessions;
-- 700 Palestinian children detained annually and prosecuted in military courts affording no judicial fairness;
-- 95% of convictions based on coerced confessions;
-- prisons in Israel violate international law and impede family visits, and
-- administrative detentions violate Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture because of abusive interrogations, secret evidence, and long incarcerations.
Israel is a serial scofflaw, systematically scorning and violating international laws and norms with impunity. DCI/Palestine says torture and abuse remain unabated, "from the moment of arrest, and continue during transfer, interrogation and detention."
The practice is "widespread, systematic and institutionalised, suggesting complicity at all levels of the political and military chain of command. This abusive system operates with the knowledge and assistance of some doctors, and is overseen by a military court system that ignores basic principles of juvenile justice and fair trial rights, whilst willfully turning a blind eye to the presentation in court of one coerced confession after another."
Israeli lawlessness is ignored by the world community that's obligated to act under international law, but won't. Short of enforced accountability, it's "unlikely that the situation endured by Palestinian children (their siblings, parents, and friends) described (above), will improve."
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at [email protected]
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.