Sources: Left Turn, December 2004, Title: “Control & Resistance: Palestinian Child Prisoners,” Authors: Catherine Cook, Adah Kay, Adam Hanieh; The Guardian, August 28, 2004, Title: “Palestinians Want an End to Their Solitary Confinement,” Author: Karma Nabulsi
Faculty Evaluator: Carolyn Epple, Ph. D. Maureen Buckley, Ph. D.
Student Researcher: Shatae Jones
According to Catherine Cook, Adah Kay, and Adam Hanieh, approximately 350 Palestinian children ages 12-18, are currently being held in Israeli prisons. Over 2,000 children have been arrested since the beginning of the second Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation. This number corresponds with number given in a report by the human rights organization Defense for Children International, which adds that another 170 children are held in military detention centers.
Looking at the testimonies from hundreds of detained children, Cook et al found a pattern in the children’s experience of arrest, interrogation, sentencing and prison conditions. The children overwhelmingly reported abuse during their experience in either prison or detention camp. The consistency of these reports reveals that these patterns of abuse are not just the actions of a few bad soldiers, but perhaps reveals a broader policy. Virtually every child interviewed describes a deliberate pattern of behavior by Israeli soldiers or police characterized by violence, physical and psychological threats, and overwhelming force, often in the middle of the night. Cook, Kay and Hanieh believe that the similarity in testimonies from child prisoners points to a systematic approach to child abuse, calculated to exploit children’s vulnerability and create feelings of fear, intimidation and helplessness.
One testimony in their study states, “Because there was no one I could talk to and I felt incredibly frightened and scared, I tried to commit suicide while being in solitary confinement. On October 12, 2003, I was moved to Ofer Military Prison Camp. When I arrived the soldiers asked me to take off my clothes. They used a metal detector on my naked body. One hand was holding the metal detector, while the other hand touched my naked body, concentrating mainly on my back and bottom.”
Even without the abuses by personnel, the living conditions that children are put in are bad enough. The report by Karma Nabulsi tells us that children are “locked in cells for hours on end with, in some cases, only 45 minutes outdoor exercise allowed every two days. Many are forced to sleep on the floor due to overcrowding. Windows are boarded up with iron panels, which block out the light and intensify the heat in the rooms.” Practices, such as these, have been well documented in other troubled areas around the world, but are only beginning to be documented within occupied territories.
Also noticeable is a lack of decent healthcare. Cook, Kay and Hanieh see the abuse of children during interrogation, the notoriously poor sanitary conditions within Israeli prisons, and denial of adequate medical treatment as ways to pressure child detainees into collaboration. When conducting a series of interviews with 60 ex-prisoners from Bethlehem in 1994, the authors found that “90 percent of those interviewed claimed that the administration used the denial of medical treatment as a way of recruiting collaborators.” One former child prisoner asserted that prisoners were well aware that the prison hospitals were using the threat of withholding treatment to force detainees to collaborate.
According to the DCI report, “In many areas, Israel does not reach the standards demanded by the minimum rules [of the UN Convention of the Rights of a Child]. For instance, it is not possible for a youth in detention to work, and there are no educational facilities. In the territories, the situation is even worse.” This statement implies that the rights of all children (Israeli as well as Palestinian) are not being attended to by Israeli authorities. It seems that in Israel there is a problem in the attitude toward child welfare in general. But, according to Project Censored evaluator Maureen Buckley, “this story represents just a small piece of the larger picture of the ongoing, worldwide failure to protect the rights of children.”
DCI Israel Children’s Rights Monitor, 2004 Report “International Standards.”
Update by Catherine Cook, Adah Kay and Adam Hanieh: In the 15 months since this article was written in spring 2004, little has changed for child prisoners, and the issue has been largely boycotted by the mainstream press. But the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners, including children under 18, in Israeli detention centers and jails remain high on the political agenda. The Israeli government still uses prisoners as a key bargaining chip in the so called “peace process.” But relevant human rights and international standards play no part in this ritual; Palestinian negotiators could not secure the unconditional release of all child prisoners as an issue separate from negotiations over adult prisoners. So the recent second tranche of prisoners released at the end of May included only 14 children. As in the past, most of the other 384 prisoners, had almost completed their sentences.
Last year saw the revelations of U.S. torture of Iraqi prisoners including children dubbed the biggest story of the Iraqi war by William Rivers Pitt in his article “Torturing Children.”1 Like Israel, the U.S. administration and military attempted to present this as rogue practice, but the evidence pointed to systemic abuse. We and others tried at the time to highlight the striking similarities to the abuse meted out over decades to Palestinian prisoners including children.2 But again, these parallels largely escaped the mainstream press.
Currently, out of around 7,500 Palestinian detainees, about 280 are children (including 30 boy administrative detainees held indefinitely without formal trial or charge). DCI/PS,3 who represent the majority of child prisoners, report a dramatic increase in arrests of 12-14 year-olds, most for throwing stones last year. There has also been an increase last year in the numbers of children arrested from the northern West Bank (e.g.Nablus and Jenin), in part reflecting the continued use of mass arrests as a method of control. They also note harsher sentencing policies, such as doubling of sentences of more than three years compared with 2003-only partly due to some of the charges being more serious.
There has been no improvement in detention conditions with particularly poor provision in detention/interrogation centers-bare cells and inadequate food served on bits of paper with no cutlery. In prisons,4 girls are still housed in cells with adult women prisoners with little natural light, and they get no formal education. Boys also receive no education, except in one of the prisons; many are still beaten and punished by having family visits refused or solitary confinement.
In August 2004, in protest against harsh prison conditions, Palestinian prisoners launched their largest hunger strike in decades. The Israeli prison administration did their best to undermine this by confiscating liquids and salts, setting up barbeques outside cells, raiding cells, beating up prisoners, placing them in isolation and refusing medical treatment until the strike ended. Eventually the strike petered out. As with so many other Palestinian issues, this action was largely ignored by the mainstream press.
This last year has seen Israel’s position, tacitly supported by the U.S. government, strengthened against the Palestinians. Under cover of its promise of unilateral disengagement from Gaza, Israel continues to entrench itself in the West Bank and extends its system of suppression and control in which arrest and prison play such a key role.
For additional information:
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1. William Rivers Pitt, “Torturing Children,” Truthout July 20, 2004.
2. Catherine Cook, “Torture of Iraqi Prisoners Spotlights Israeli Treatment of Palestinian Prisoners,” Information Brief # 106, May 11, 2004.
3. Defence for Children International (Palestine Section) Annual Review 2004.
4. DCI/PS’s Legal department regularly visits prisons, detention and interrogation centres in the West Bank and in Israel to monitor prison conditions for children and intercede on their behalf with the Israeli prison administration.