Palestinian Layth Ghalib Bedwan, 14, was arrested and detained by the Israeli authorities on 28 August 2006. Since then, his family has waited anxiously for him to return home.
“His mother is crying all the time. I contacted all the children’s rights organisations in the hope that they can do something to accelerate the release of my son, but all my efforts were in vain,” said Ghalib Bedwan, 36, Layth’s father.
On 9 September, an Israeli military court accused Layth of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, sentencing him to three months in prison, and imposing a US $400 fine on him.
“The occupation force stormed into our house at 2am in the morning on 28 August,” his father said. “They were shouting and threatening to use their guns. They asked me to get my son Layth, and soon after they tied his hands, covered his eyes and put him in a military vehicle and drove away.”
Activists say the manner of the arrest and detention of children like Layth contravenes international laws protecting children.
Iyad Misk is a lawyer for the NGO Defence for Children International (DCI) in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT). He said international law allows for the detention of children or adolescents under 18, but under specific conditions.
“A specialised interrogator for children should interrogate them. The interrogation should be filmed and the parents should attend to be sure that the child was not subject to psychological pressure or abuse,” Misk said.
He added that minors should appear before a special tribunal for children and only be detained in facilities dedicated exclusively for them, never with adults.
“All these conditions are not provided to Palestinian children detained by the Israeli authorities, although they do provide it for Israeli child prisoners,” Misk said, adding that Israeli authorities try Palestinian children in military courts - another contravention of international law.
Misk said Article 37 of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child states that detaining children should be a measure of last resort, and must be for the shortest possible period of time. Israel signed this pact in 1990 but the NGO’s lawyers say that it is only being applied to Israeli children.
Israel denies claims
Orit Stelser, a spokeswoman for Israel’s prison service, denied that the conditions Palestinian child prisoners are held in, contravened international law. “Of course they don’t break the law. There are lots of organisations, such as the Red Cross, who come to visit them and who check their conditions,” she said.
She added that all Palestinian children and youths were now being held in separate blocks from their adult counterparts.
“About a month ago we took over Ofer Prison near Ramallah in the West Bank from the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces]. So we have changed all the rules there and the children are separated from the adults, and the boys from the girls,” Stelser said.
“These young Palestinian terrorists get visited by their families twice a month - they have that right. Of course, we Israelis don’t get to visit our prisoners, like Gilad Shalit [a soldier captured by Palestinian militants on 25 July] in Gaza, but we still guarantee the Palestinians their rights,” she said.
There has been a marked increase in the number of Palestinian children detained in the West Bank since the start of the second intifada in 2000, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, according to the Palestinian Ministry for Prisoners Affairs and the NGO, Defence for Children International.
“Five thousand children have been either imprisoned or arrested in Israeli investigation centres for different periods of time since the start of the Intifada,” said Dawood Dar’awi, head of the DCI office in OPT, adding that they were being detained for participation or “suspected participation” in intifada activities.
Dar’awi said 95 percent of detained children are from the West Bank and the rest from the Gaza Strip. This is because Israel maintains overall control over the West Bank and not the Strip, from where Israel disengaged in July 2005.
A landlocked territory bordering Jordan and Israel, the West Bank is home to 2.4 million Palestinian residents and some 400,000 Jewish settlers. As such, Israeli soldiers regularly patrol the streets and make arrests as they see fit.
The Palestinian Ministry for Prisoners’ Affairs and children’s rights activists like the DCI, confirmed the presence of about 450 Palestinian children from the West Bank in Israeli prisons, including three girls aged 15, 16 and 17. About 100 are ill, they said, three of them suffering from gunshot wounds.
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