A new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) accuses Israeli forces of subjecting detained Palestinian children to chokeholds, beatings, strip-searches and forced confessions.
The report comes in the wake of a new law approved by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, allowing stiffer sentences for stone-throwing. Accusations of stone-throwing are routinely used by Israeli forces as a pretext to arrest, torture, jail and even kill Palestinians without consequence.
Employing the stone-throwing allegation, Israeli forces “have choked children, thrown stun grenades at them, beaten them in custody, threatened and interrogated them without the presence of parents or lawyers, and failed to let their parents know their whereabouts,” according to HRW.
HRW documented and corroborated the experiences of four boys from East Jerusalem, aged 11, 12, and 15, as well as a 14-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy from other parts of the occupied West Bank.
In November last, Israeli border police threw a stun grenade at 11-year-old Rashid S. in Silwan, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Next, they put him in a chokehold, tore off his shirt and coat and arrested him on suspicion of throwing stones.
“I ran to the mosque, but they threw a sound bomb that hit my leg on the stairway, so I fell down the stairs and they caught me by my shirt. They got me in a headlock and pushed me face-down on the ground,” Rashid told HRW.
Dragging him to interrogation with a black bag over his head, the Israelis kicked the boy in the shin, threatened him with beatings, and kept the shirtless boy outside in the cold for an hour. This treatment is reminiscent of the time Israel locked Palestinian child prisoners in outdoor iron cages during a severe winter storm in 2013.
Consistent in all of the cases documented by HRW was the failure of Israeli forces to inform parents of their child’s arrest and the interrogation of children without allowing them to first speak with a lawyer or parent. Many of the children were coerced into signing confessions in Hebrew, a language they do not speak. In some cases, children were kept from their parents for months.
Nowhere is safe for these children, not even their school grounds.
Ahmad Abu Sbitan, 11, was put in a chokehold by Israeli border police while being arrested in front of his school in East Jerusalem. A 22-year-old man named Muhammad, who tried to deescalate the situation, was also detained and later strip-searched and beaten by the Israelis in front of Ahmad.
While waiting for the bus after school in the Old City of Jerusalem, a 12-year-old boy named Mohammed Khatib was violently detained. An Israeli officer “grabbed the back of my jacket and lifted me off the ground, I was choking,” Mohammed told HRW.
As they interrogated Mohammed, they refused to allow his father, a video journalist named Rami, to see him. After eight grueling hours, in which they threatened, taunted and beat the child, the police let him go, but not before justifying their brutality, telling his father they were searching for a suspected rock-thrower in a blue shirt the same color as Mohammed’s school uniform.
Israeli forces have terrorized these children to such a degree, some of them have been driven to contemplating suicide. Such was the case for 15-year-old Fares Shyukhi.
Fares was strip-searched, slapped, kicked, threatened and imprisoned by Israeli forces in March last year for allegedly throwing stones and a Molotov cocktail at a nearby settlement in East Jerusalem. Released the following month to indefinite house arrest, Israeli border police continued to harass him.
He was jailed again in October 2014 after failing to show up to a court hearing and released to less restrictive form of house arrest in January this year, only after he became suicidal. His house arrest was lifted in March this year but Israeli police have detained him twice since then, using violence on one occassion.
When 14-year-old Malak al-Khatib was arrested in December near the West Bank village of Beitin, Israeli soldiers kicked her, stepped on her neck and beat her unconscious with a baton. Without informing her parents, they carted her off to the police station for interrogation, where they yelled at her and threatened to harm her and her family if she did not confess to throwing rocks, which she signed in Hebrew, a language she does not understand.
In violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel detained Malak inside Israel. As a result, her family was barred from seeing or speaking to her during the entire 64 days she spent in Israeli detention because, as Palestinian residents of the West Bank, they are banned from entering Israel.
A 15-year-old Palestinian boy was similarly barred from family visits or phone calls for the 110 days he spent in detention.
Pattern of cruelty
A UNICEF report published in 2013 found that cruel treatment of more than 7,000 Palestinian children subjected to Israel’s military detention system was “widespread, systematic and institutionalized,” with children being “aggressively awakened in the middle of the night by many armed soldiers and being forcibly brought to an interrogation centre tied and blindfolded, sleep deprived and in a state of extreme fear.”
A devastating report by Defense for Children International-Palestine found that “2014 brought no respite for Palestinian children, whether entangled in the Israeli military detention system, living in residential areas in the Gaza Strip, or simply on their way to school.” The arrests, torture and killings have not only continued, but seem to have increased in their ferocity.
Last month, some members of the US Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry demanding that pressure be put on Israel to end its systematic “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment of Palestinian children. The letter was signed by 18 members of the House of Representatives, a rare break from the pro-Israel juggernaut that dominates Congressional maneuvering.
HRW notes that unconditional US military support for Israel makes it complicit in Israel’s abuses, which violate both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. “As Israel’s largest military donor, the US should press hard for an end to these abusive practices and for reforms,” stated HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson.
Unfortunately, the tide is turning far too slowly for Palestinian children perpetually caught in the crosshairs of Israel’s war machine. As Leah Whitson points out, “Israel has been on notice for years that its security forces are abusing Palestinian children’s rights in occupied territory, but the problems continue.”
As long as Israel can depend on the backing of the most powerful country in the world, it will continue to proudly violate the basic rights of Palestinian children with absolute impunity.