BILIN, occupied West Bank (IPS) - Eight children between the ages of 10 and 17 were arrested and detained by Israeli soldiers during military raids Monday night and Tuesday morning in the northern West Bank cities Nablus and Qalqiliya.
Defence for Children International- Palestine Section (DCI) has released a statement that the number of children detained in Israeli jails and temporary Israeli army detention centers this year has risen by 17.5 percent compared with 2008.
“The average number of Palestinian children held in Israeli detention in 2009 remains high, at 375 per month compared with an average of 319 in 2008,” says DCI.
“Disturbingly, 39 young children between the ages of 12 and 15 were detained in August 2009. This is up 85 percent compared to the corresponding period in 2008 of 21 children.”
Israel is a signatory to the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that “the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”
Nashmi Muhammad Abu Rahme, 14, from the West Bank village of Bilin near Ramallah was arrested and dragged from his bed at 3 am on 15 August after Israeli soldiers raided his home.
The village of Bilin has been involved in a protracted campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience against Israel’s building of a wall which cuts through village land, separating villagers and farmers from their agricultural fields.
The villagers successfully petitioned an Israeli court to have the wall re-routed several years ago, but the Israeli army has failed to comply with the court’s orders.
“My family was awoken by the sounds of Israeli soldiers yelling and starting to smash down the door. I was blindfolded and tightly handcuffed by the soldiers and then thrown into the back of a jeep,” recalls Abu Rahme.
“During the journey to the military base I was repeatedly slapped, beaten and kicked until I was bleeding. I was very scared,” Abu Rahme told IPS.
Israeli medics treated Abu Rahme for bleeding and contusions before he was brought before an interrogator, again blindfolded and handcuffed. His interrogation lasted three hours, during which he was accused of throwing stones at soldiers near the wall on Bilin’s agricultural land.
Abu Rahme was kept in jail for a week before he was brought before a military prosecutor. He was fined 5,000 shekels ($1,340) and released.
“We have had about 12 children from our village arrested and detained by the Israelis,” Hassan Moussa, a schoolteacher from the neighboring village of Nilin told IPS.
Under Israeli administrative detention, Palestinians can be held for six months without trial, and this can be renewed at the end of that period for another six months.
“It interrupts their education when they are detained for weeks and months without being brought to trial,” says Moussa.
Most Palestinian children are held for stone-throwing. Israeli Military Order 378 carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment for this, five years less than the average murder sentence in Israel.
“During interrogation, children as young as 12 years are denied access to a lawyer and visits from their families,” says DCI.
“While under interrogation children are subjected to a number of prohibited techniques. These include the excessive use of blindfolds and handcuffs, slapping and kicking, painful position abuse for long periods of time, solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, and a combination of physical and psychological threats,” says DCI.
Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem describes the tiny cells where Palestinian children are often held in solitary confinement.
These include the “lock-up,” a dark cell of 1.5 by 1.5 meters. The “closet” is a narrow cell the height of a person that one can stand in but not sit or move. The “grave” is a box closed by a door from the top and measuring approximately one meter by 60 cm with a depth of about 80 cm.
DCI has documented at least seven cases during Israel’s war on Gaza at the beginning of the year where Gazan children were used as human shields by Israeli soldiers.
“There is a big difference in the way Palestinian and Israeli minors are treated by Israeli law,” Khaled Quzmar from DCI Palestine told IPS.
Palestinian children as young as 12 years are prosecuted in the Israeli military courts and are treated as adults as soon as they turn 16, in contrast to the situation under Israeli domestic law, whereby majority is attained at 18.
The Israeli army announced in July that it would be setting up a separate military court for juveniles. Hitherto both Palestinian adults and children had been tried together.
“The good news is that after 42 years of occupation the Israelis have recognized that their legal treatment of Palestinian children has been morally indefensible,” says Quzmar.
“The bad news is that the changes are merely semantic. Children will continue to be tried by the same judges in the same jails. The only difference is juveniles will be tried at separate times,” Quzmar told IPS.
Previously, according to military law, there was no statute of limitations on offenses by Palestinians, even if the suspect committed the offense when he or she was a minor.
“While the new order ostensibly sets a two-year statute of limitations for offenses committed by minors, it also allows the military prosecutor to overrule this. The prosecution will generally be given the benefit of the doubt,” added Quzmar.
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