Release of children should be a priority

Israeli soldiers guard some recently detained Palestinian children. (Photo courtesy DCI)


Amid the fanfare surrounding Israel’s 27 December release of 159 Palestinian prisoners as a “goodwill gesture” to Egypt’s President Mubarak, the fate of Palestinian child detainees is all but forgotten. Some 350 Palestinian children currently remain in Israeli jails, detention centers, and interrogation centers. Under international law, their release should be a priority. As it is, not one child has released as part of this initiative.

The detention of Palestinian children is one facet in the comprehensive system of control exercised by the occupying power against Palestinian civilians. In direct contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Israeli authorities do not imprison Palestinian children only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest period of time (Art 37, paragraph b). Instead, prison is the first and only measure Israeli forces prescribe for the Palestinian children they arrest - there is no attempt at exploring alternative procedures which would take into account the best interests of the child.

This is not the first time that the hopes of the children, their families and human rights organizations have been dashed. Time and again, goodwill initiatives by Israel fail to respond to Article 132 of the Fourth Geneva Convention regarding the protection of civilians in times of war, which requires confrontation parties to make agreements to release specific groups of prisoners such as children, mothers, the ill and injured, and prisoners who have spent long periods in detention. Is it not only children who have been ignored in the upcoming release; none of the 126 Palestinian female prisoners detained by Israel have been released either. Instead, most of those prisoners freed had already served the majority of their sentence.

At the same time that we, the undersigned organizations, express our deep regret for the continued detention of the child prisoners, we are also extremely concerned by the deteriorating situation in which they live in Israeli prisons and detention centers. Conditions in these facilities fall well below minimum acceptable standards. Child prisoners are exposed to a terrible range of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. They are frequently, and often arbitrarily, subjected to beatings and positional abuse - known as shabah, deprived of food and sleep, denied the right to education and to medical care, cursed and threatened by guards, placed in isolation, forced to undergo financial penalties and collective punishment.

Children remain the most vulnerable group affected by the policies of occupation and nowhere is this more so that within the Israeli military judicial system. We demand the unconditional and immediate release of all Palestinian child prisoners from Israeli detention. We regard their imprisonment as infringement of international law and we call on all parties to make the release of child prisoners a priority.

We call on those UN agencies concerned with children and human rights; the International Committee for the Red Cross; and the international community as a whole to bring pressure to bear on Israel to fulfill its obligations according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and other international humanitarian and human rights law, to bring an end to the suffering of Palestinian child prisoners by releasing them immediately and allowing them to regain their childhood.

Ministry of Detainees & Ex-Detainees Affairs
Secretariat of the National Plan of Action for Palestinian Children
Defence for Children International/Palestine Section

For further information, please go to www.dci-pal.org, email dci@dci-pal.org or call DCI/PS +972 (2) 240 7530