Arrest and detention: A measure of first resort for Palestinian children

Trends in 2003

  • Increased Numbers of Arrests, this years’ arrest rate is already an estimated 14% higher than in 2002.
  • Resort to Military Orders to detain children - 20 children incarcerated on Administrative Detention Orders, compared with less than 50 in 2002.
  • Prolonged stays in unsuitable temporary detention centres due to overloaded system.
  • Nearly 100% of child prisoners endure some form of torture or mistreatment at the hands of Israeli soldiers.


    This international children’s day, we would like to draw the world’s attention to the plight of the Palestinian child, particularly those deprived of their liberty and locked away in Israeli prisons, which comprises an increasing number of under-18’s in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

    The reoccupation of Palestinian areas in 2002 and the promulgation of new repressive laws have paved the way for an escalation in arbitrary arrests and incidences of torture and mistreatment of Palestinian children. The use of military orders and lack of international scrutiny in the OPT mean that arrest and detention have become a measure of first resort for Israeli occupying troops, rather than the measure of last resort demanded by international law .

    Over 300 children (under-18’s) have already been arrested this year, compared with 750 over the whole of 2002. This puts the arrest rate an average 14% ahead on 2002, when Operation Defensive Shield and the promulgation of military orders, such as MO 1500 of 27/3/2002, cleared the way for the authorities to detain all Palestinians for up to 18 days without charges.

    As in 2002, nearly all children, including those as young as 13, have been subjected to some form of torture during the detention process, whether it is beating (6 out of 7 of our sample), threats to person or family (5 out of 7) or mistreatment in the form of toilet deprivation (4), denial of showers (4) or lack of food (7).

    Juvenile Justice: A Sample of 7 Child Testimonies, 2003.

    Mistreatment and Torture Number
    Beating 6
    Shabeh - Positional Torture 1
    Threats of Beatings 5
    Shouting, Cursing and Abuse 7
    Tying hands 7
    Blindfolding 7
    Sleep Deprivation 0
    Toilet Deprivation 4
    Shower Deprivation 4
    Put in extreme temperatures 1
    Midnight Arrest 4
    Overcrowded Room 4
    Inadequate Nutrition 7
    Lack of Medical treatment 2
    Inadequate breaks* 4

    *In Bet El military detention centre, children have one 30-minute break a week.

    The majority of children are released after 18 days, according to military order 1500. However, for those who progress through the detention system, further mistreatment is in store.

    The huge increase in arrests has overloaded the Israeli prison system meaning that children are held for long periods of time in temporary facilities, which are little more than medieval dungeons, sometimes holding 9 prisoners in a 6m2 cell . Whereas the maximum stay in such facilities used to be two weeks, some children, like 15 year-old Ibrahim Muhammad al-Hajj from Jerusalem, have been there for over 2 months:

    “I am giving this affidavit to transfer me from Bet El to another detention centre. I was taken on 18/3 and on the 1st of April they decided to detain me, pending trial. The situation is unbearable. We are in a very small room with 11 people: we sleep on 4 mattresses: every three detainees share a blanket and a mattress. We are allowed to use the bathroom only three times a day at specific times. And only once a week are we allowed to take a 30 minutes recess. There is nothing in the room, we spend our time sitting and talking: there are no books etc. Regarding the food, we get 3 meals a day, but it is of bad quality and it is not enough either. The prison guards and administration treat us very badly. They force us into shabeh position (i.e. positional abuse) by tying our hands up and one leg and then making us face the wall. I want to leave this detention centre as soon as possible.” Extract from Ibrahim’s sworn affidavit.

    In addition, a mounting number of children are being charged under the draconian administrative detention law which allows for detention without published charges or evidence for up to 6 months on the approval of a military judge. This year, around 20 children have already been detained under this law, compared with a maximum of 50 throughout 2002 and less than 5 in 2001.

    All together around 320-350 children are currently incarcerated in Israeli detention centres and prisons. Many of them are denied core rights, such as the right to education, the right to adequate healthcare, the right to be treated as children worthy of special protection (16-18 year olds). Food, sanitation and privacy are also woefully inadequate. In addition, family visits have become near impossible because most prisons are located in Israel, and travel restrictions prevent Palestinians from moving freely across the Green Line (Israeli border). Those detained in the West Bank are usually detained in military camps or settlements, where Palestinians visitors are not welcome.

    On International Children’s Day we ask you to give a thought to the children who have undergone, and are still undergoing, this arbitrary system of justice and mistreatment and help support the campaign to free Palestinian child political prisoners. For more information, please refer to the DCI website and monthly prison briefings available online at or call +972 (0)2 240 7530 and ask for:

    George Abu Zulf: Director

    Khaled Quzmar: Attorney

    Catherine Hunter: Research Coordinator

    or mail

    Related Links:

  • Defense for Children International - Palestine Section