Israel has arrested so many Palestinian children since the start of October that is has opened a new detention center specifically for them. The center is part of Givon Prison in Ramle, a city in present-day Israel.
Children from the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are being held there in conditions that violate their human rights.
A spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service told The Electronic Intifada that the newly opened facility at Givon prison is temporary and fulfills standards for detaining children.
But lawyers who have visited the imprisoned children there warn of overcrowding, poor hygiene and mistreatment.
A total of 56 Palestinian children are being held in Givon, 20 of whom are from the West Bank, according to the Palestinian prisoner advocacy group Addameer.
Israel arrested 177 Palestinian children in October, more than doubling the number of child prisoners already held, according to human rights groups.
However, many more children from East Jerusalem have been briefly detained and released on house arrest and other conditions since last month.
According to lawyers, the cells in Givon are moldy and very little food is provided to the inmates. In at least one instance, the guards cut the electricity for several hours and confiscated food the children had bought from the canteen.
On 1 November, the cells were raided and every child was shackled, stripped and searched inside the prison bathroom. During the raid, the guards physically and verbally abused the children while ransacking their cells.
Addameer is concerned that the children detained at Givon are supervised directly by the prison guards and are therefore vulnerable to abuse.
The group has received reports of physical violence against the children which may constitute torture under international law.
One Palestinian minor from East Jerusalem who was arrested in July was transferred to Givon in the middle of October.
His mother told The Electronic Intifada she only discovered he had been transferred when she tried to visit him at Hasharon, another prison inside Israel where Palestinian minors and women are usually jailed. The mother contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross to find out where her son was being held.
Lawyers representing the family have requested their identity be kept anonymous due to fears of retaliation from the Israeli authorities.
On 20 October, the mother traveled to Givon, where dozens of families waited in the rain to see their children. She said they arrived in the late morning and waited until after dark to be allowed in.
“It was terrible how they treated us,” she said, noting that they watched more buses of children being brought in as they waited.
Once they were allowed to enter the facility, the families had to divide among themselves the 30 minutes they were allotted to speak to their children on a phone through a plexiglass screen.
Her son, who has yet to be sentenced, told her that the conditions were significantly worse in Givon than in Hasharon. Children in Givon are receiving inadequate food and are not allowed to go outside for breaks.
“We are suffocating,” he told her.
“We don’t know how to feel and what to think,” she said. “The people who are making the laws are killing people these days.”
The boy’s father tried to visit less than two weeks later. He was told that his son and seven other boys had their visiting privileges revoked. He was not told why they were being punished.
“What will Israel gain after imprisoning my son other than more hatred and anger?” he asked.
Givon mainly houses people awaiting deportation and low-level criminals.
In 2012, Israel began imprisoning unaccompanied minors from Africa in Givon. The children had been seeking asylum in Israel.
Refugee rights groups protested the move at the time, citing a 2011 Israeli high court ruling against minors being held in prison.
In August that year, Israel’s public defenders reported abysmal conditions at Givon. The cells, beds and yard were infested with cockroaches. The cells also had very little sunlight or ventilation.
Scores of Palestinian minors in East Jerusalem have been detained for brief periods recently.
In order to accommodate the mass detentions, Israel converted the Oz police station in Jerusalem into an interrogation center.
According to Addameer, there is currently such a high rate of children being held for brief periods in Oz that the organization is unable to maintain accurate statistics on how many minors have been detained and released on house arrest.
“That’s the problem. There were so many arrests during October and the beginning of November, we couldn’t follow up on all the cases,” Rafat Sub Laban, an Addameer campaigner, said.
Children as young as 7 or 8 have reportedly been detained at Oz without the presence of their parents, a violation of the Israeli Youth Law that prohibits the interrogation and detention of children under the age of 12.
Several children profiled by Addameer had been picked up off the street and beaten during their arrest and interrogation at Oz.
In addition to being released on house arrest, one child was told that he was forbidden to speak to a list of 15 friends and relations.
Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in Oakland, California. Twitter: @CharESilver.