Israeli “counterterrorism” means abuse and torture of children

This brief video illustrates the fear instilled in young Palestinians, mostly boys, arrested by Israeli occupation forces, often during night raids.

Produced by Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP), it features 14-year-old Osama, who was taken from his home in the West Bank during a raid at 3am one night.

“It was the worst feeling to be far away from family and friends,” Osama says. He spent four months in an Israeli prison for allegedly throwing stones.

In a report released at the end of July, Human Rights Watch lists Israel among six countries that have adopted far-reaching “counterterrorism” policies that have led to sweeping arrests of children.

Israel joins Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria as governments Human Rights Watch describes as “trampling on children’s rights in a misguided and counterproductive response to conflict-related violence.”

“The indefinite detention and torture of children needs to stop,” said Jo Becker, the organization’s director of children rights advocacy.

Not a week goes by when about a dozen to as many as 38 Palestinian children from the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are arrested.

In June, Israel extended administrative detention orders for seven children.

Solitary confinement as coercion

Israel appear to be increasing the use of solitary confinement against Palestinian child detainees to pressure them during interrogations. One 16-year-old boy spent 22 days in isolation.

“The practice of using solitary confinement on children, for any duration, is a clear violation of international law, as it amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and in some cases, torture,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability program director at DCIP.

Israel doesn’t use solitary confinement for disciplinary, protective or medical reasons, according to DCIP’s documentation, but as an interrogation tool.

Children are confined in cells that barely fit a mattress while they undergo lengthy interrogations during which Israeli authorities attempt to extract confessions or more information on other people, according to DCIP.

“The cell was closed tightly and had no windows, except two ventilations gaps,” 17-year-old Rami K. told DCIP.

“The walls were gray, which hurt my eyes, and the surface was coarse, so I could not lean on them. The cell had a sink and a toilet, but the toilet had a nasty smell. The lights were on the entire time.”

Rami was held for 16 days in isolation while being interrogated. The interrogation was drawn out over hours, during which his wrists and ankles were bound to a metal chair.

Blaming Palestinian culture

Israel defended its treatment of children earlier this month, following criticism by several countries at the United Nations Security Council.

Amit Heumann, the legal adviser to Israel’s UN mission, blamed Palestinians for Israel’s treatment of them.

“It is the responsibility of leaders everywhere to protect children at all costs, to protect them from the ravages of war and to shelter them in a protective environment, where children can thrive,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the Palestinians are failing at this most critical responsibility.”

“Instead of nourishing their youth with the dreams of a bright future, Palestinian children are fed a steady diet of hatred for Israel and glorification of violence in the lessons they learn in school, in the sermons they hear in the mosque and in the streets that are named after terrorists.”

Such debunked claims that “incitement” – rather than the reality of Israel’s military occupation – are to blame for violence, have long been a staple of Israeli government propaganda.

In its report, Human Rights Watch criticizes Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children under its occupation regime in the West Bank, where 500 to 700 children are brought before military tribunals annually, and an average of 220 children are held in prison each month.

But the line between Israeli civil and military law regarding children has become increasingly difficult to discern since violent confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli forces escalated in October 2015.

Last week, the Israeli parliament passed a new law allowing the imprisonment of children as young as 12.

Israel’s military regime in the occupied West Bank has always allowed the detention of 12-year-old Palestinians.

According to DCIP’s statistics, of the 440 Palestinian children in Israeli prison in February, 104 were between the ages of 12 and 15. This represents a four-fold increase from the number of young teens in prison prior to October 2015.

And though the law ostensibly applies to Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel alike, it was explicitly created to target Palestinians.

Imprisoning 12 and 13-year-olds will be permitted in cases where the child is convicted of so-called terrorism, a charge that almost exclusively applies to Palestinians.

“This law was born of necessity,” said Likud lawmaker Anat Berko, who proposed the measure. “We have been experiencing a wave of terror for quite some time. A society is allowed to protect itself. To those who are murdered with a knife in the heart it does not matter if the child is 12 or 15.”

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel warns that the Israeli parliament may soon allow life sentences for children under 14.

This is the latest amendment to Israel’s penal code that expands the criminal culpability of Palestinian children in order to allow harsher penalties.

Last year, the Israeli parliament imposed mandatory minimum sentencing and extended the maximum sentence on people who throw stones at traffic.

Israel also revived administrative detention against Palestinian children ostensibly living under Israeli civil law in the last year.

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Imagine as an adult having to endure the mistreatment these children are subjected to, from night-time raids at home to prolonged interrogation without counsel, to the many forms of physical threat and abuse permitted the police, culminating in long periods of solitary confinement and detention without charge. All these methods are used to break the will of the detainee, to dismay and disorient him/her. These techniques of repression present a serious challenge to a well-prepared adult, but inflicted on a child, what can be the outcome? Only profound, lasting psychological damage- which is also reflected in the mentality of the torturer. The latter extinguishes his own humanity in order to grind down these victims. In the end, they suffer- but it is he who loses the capacity to feel.

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Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.