Amnesty International is demanding the release of 17-year-old Palestinian Muhammad al-Hashlamoun, who has been sentenced to six months of detention without charge or trial by Israeli occupation forces.
At present al-Hashlamoun is one of two minors in administrative detention by Israel, which rights groups say amounts to arbitrary detention under international human rights law and violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Four other children were released in January.
Israel began putting Palestinian children in administrative detention last October, resuming a practice that had reportedly not been used since 2011.
Amnesty reports that Israeli forces took Muhammad al-Hashlamoun from his home in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amoud in the early morning hours of 3 December.
Around 40 Israeli Border Police and agents from the Israel Security Agency, also known as Shin Bet, raided the building that houses his family’s apartment.
The Israeli armed men “went into the apartment of Muhammad al-Hashlamoun’s uncle first, and dragged the uncle from his bed into the street without letting him dress,” Amnesty states.
Muhammad was reportedly beaten during his arrest.
During 18 days in the Jerusalem interrogation center known as the Russian Compound, Muhammad was questioned about planning attacks, which he denied.
Prior to his detention, occupation authorities had raided his home on an almost daily basis to question him about his activities.
After two hearings in civilian courts, the teenager was sentenced to house arrest for one week and a fine of about $1,260. Instead, Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli defense minister, intervened and issued a six-month administrative detention order the following day.
Muhammad’s rights have been further violated by moving him to Megiddo prison in the north of present-day Israel.
As a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, which is part of the occupied West Bank according to international law, the Fourth Geneva Convention requires that Muhammad not be taken out of the occupied territory.
When Muhammad’s mother visited him in Megiddo, Amnesty says, she found him “tired and anxious.”
This is not Muhammad’s first time in prison. In 2014 he served a 101-day sentence after being accused of throwing stones.
At the end of last year, minors made up about one-fifth of all Palestinians detained since the escalation of violence that began in October, a significant portion of whom are from East Jerusalem.
According to testimonies collected by human rights groups, Palestinian minors routinely face physical and emotional abuse while in Israeli custody in order to force confessions or extract information.
According to data compiled last year by Defense for Children International–Palestine, three out of four Palestinian children experienced physical violence after their detention by Israeli forces.
Children have reported beatings, strip searches, painful stress positions, threats, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement – abuses amounting to torture.
After prolonged interrogations without a parent or legal counsel present, Palestinian children have frequently reported being forced to sign confessions in Hebrew, a language they do not understand.
A 2013 study by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem found that Palestinian children detained in the occupied West Bank were systematically subjected to torture and severe physical violence, including threats of rape, in order to force them to confess to Israeli accusations, especially stone throwing.
Six months is the maximum term for administrative detention, but administrative detention orders can be renewed indefinitely.
In addition to being held without charge, administrative detainees are unable to see the evidence against them, making it impossible to mount a legal defense.
The practice, first introduced by British colonial authorities and continued by Israel, was ostensibly intended as an emergency measure to arrest those who posed an extreme and imminent threat.
With rare exceptions, it is only used against Palestinians.
As of January, Israel was holding a total of 660 Palestinian administrative detainees, according to prisoners rights group Addameer.
While this form of imprisonment violates international standards of due process for adults, children – defined as individuals under age 18 – have even greater protections against arbitrary detention.
According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which Israel is a signatory, “No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily.”
The detention of a child “shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”
Children, moreover, “have the right to challenge the legality of their detention before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority and have the right to a prompt decision on any challenge.”
These are rights Israel, as in the case of Muhammad al-Hashlamoun, habitually denies to Palestinians.
In a rare step last year year, 19 members of the US Congress called on the Obama administration to push Israel to end the systematic abuses of Palestinian children in detention.
Calling it “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” the lawmakers described Israel’s military detention of Palestinian children as an “indefensible abuse of human rights.”