Monday, March 18, 2013

Palestinian child prisoners

copyright  Husam Abu Allan, courtesy of DCI
A new report by UNICEF says that 7,000 Palestinian minors have been detained and prosecuted in Israeli military courts since 2000, and "ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic, and institutionalized." UNICEF notes that this violates the Fourth Geneva Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which Israel has ratified.

To learn more about this problem, we visited the Palestine Section of the NGO Defence for Children International (DCI), which is the lead reporter of child detention in the West Bank. They showed us videos (available on their website, of teens telling how they were arrested by soldiers breaking into their home in the middle of the night, handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten with sticks, and slapped. One said interrogators threatened to throw him out of a third-story window. DCI estimates that 75% of the 500-700 Palestinian youth aged 12-17 who are arrested each year experience some physical violence during their arrest, transfer, or interrogation.

Illustration courtesy of DCI
Most of the minors are charged with stone throwing, even though they may have been just watching the confrontation.  DCI says during interrogation (without access to parents or a lawyer) they are pressured to sign a confession (sometimes in Hebrew, which they cannot read). They are offered immediate release if they sign it, but this is a false promise, says DCI, because the confessions are then used in court. If they plead guilty, they get an average sentence of 4 1/2 months, with credit for time served, but some get longer sentences. A DCI official says "it is a misnomer to call it a justice system, because it is not  just or fair."

DCI says Palestinian children arrested in East Jerusalem are treated under civil law, while those detained in the West Bank come under military law, which is harsher. For example, detention without charge is permitted for 40 days under the civilian juvenile justice system, and 188 days under military law. DCI says civil law in Jerusalem gives some protection to minors, and interrogations there involve less threats and intimidation.

DCI's office happens to be in the West Bank city of al-Bireh, were President Obama is scheduled to visit a Palestinian youth center Thursday after his talks with Palestinian Authority leaders in the adjacent city of Ramallah. This is what Mr. Obama will see on the way to these appointments:
Sign at checkpoint warning Israelis that it is
illegal and dangerous to enter the area

Graffiti on the separation barrier after the checkpoint

One of many poster messages to Mr.Obama on
the way into al-Bireh. His picture underneath was

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