Israel put Palestinian prisoners, including children, in outdoor cages during the severe winter storm that struck the region in the middle of last month.
The shocking practice was highlighted in a year-end statement by the advocacy group, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) and discussed by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, this week.
Also detailed in a letter from the office of Israel’s National Public Defender, the practice had been going on for months, but has now supposedly been halted.
The 16 December letter to the head of the Israel Prison Service (IPS) says that lawyers from the public defender’s office had learned of the practice during an official visit to the Ramle prison compound where Palestinian political prisoners, including children, are often transferred from the occupied West Bank in violation of international law.
During the visit by two of its lawyers “which coincided with the fierce storm that struck the country, the attorneys met prisoners who described a shocking picture: in the middle of the night, dozens of prisoners were transferred to iron cages built outside the IPS facility in Ramle,” according to a 17 December statement from the public defender.
“In these cages, which were exposed to the weather, they spent several hours in the freezing cold and rain, until the transport arrived to take them to court around 6am,” the statement adds.
The statement said that the practice had been going on for months, a fact “verified during other official visits and not denied by IPS.”
The public defender launched an emergency appeal to various official bodies, including the ministry of justice, “in order to prevent another night of such grave harm to humanity.”
The statement notes that some of the prisoners in the cages were “minors” – children.
The matter was also discussed Tuesday in the Israeli parliament’s public petitions committee where, according to the Post, “the Knesset committee said that the manner of arrest and detention conditions of Palestinian children was violating Israeli law for dealing with children.”
PCATI’s statement notes “with increasing alarm and condemnation Israel’s failure to protect Palestinian children from direct and indirect torture and ill treatment.”
It says it has received “dozens of complaints of torture and ill treatment from children in the last 10 years” and is currently working on cases “concerning children’s complaints of torture and ill treatment at the hands of Israeli soldiers and interrogators.”
PCATI cites reports from numerous other groups including Psychoactive, Military Court Watch, Breaking the Silence, Defence for Children International–Palestine Section (DCI-PS), B’Tselem and the public defender’s office, among others, documenting widespread and systematic “torture and ill treatment of children which included caging prisoners in iron cages (including children), abusive interrogations, detentions and arrests.”
Last year B’Tselem reported that Palestinian children are systematically subjected to torture and violence, including threats of rape, by Israeli interrogators, in order to force them to confess to stone-throwing.
In 2012 alone, DCI-PS collected dozens of cases corroborating the “widespread and systematic ill-treatment” of Palestinian children in Israeli detention.
These included 15 children between the ages of 12 and 15.
In light of the years of systematic and unrelenting abuses, the move by Livni to end the practice of caging prisoners outdoors should be seen as no more than a cosmetic effort to improve the image of what is in effect a colonial court system in which an oppressor and occupier judges, controls and persecutes natives.
Public discussion and acknowledgment of torture and abuse of Palestinians has coexisted for decades in Israel with the unabated continuation of these practices.
Thus it has only served to boost Israel’s image as a self-critical “democracy” while changing nothing in reality.
Livni herself is no friend of human rights or dignity. She has to exercise caution traveling abroad for fear of arrest on suspicion of involvement in war crimes, particularly Israel’s three-week-long assault on Gaza five years ago which killed 1,400 Palestinians, hundreds of them children.
During the massacre, as the UN-commissioned Goldstone report notes (PDF), Livni, then foreign minister, justified the attacks as necessary retaliation.
Israel, she said, “is a country that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild – and this is a good thing.”
There’s little reason to believe, as the new year starts, that Israel has any intention to stop “going wild” against Palestinian children.