JERUSALEM — According to figures released by the Prisoners’ and Freed Prisoners’ Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Sunday, the state of Israel has imprisoned more than 50,000 children since the occupation of Palestine’s West Bank began in 1967. The PLO report, which was cited by Middle East Monitor, also noted that around 17,000 of those child arrests had occurred since the year 2000. The report used the UN definition that states that a child is any person younger than 18 years of age. However, Israel’s government has defined children younger than 16 as children, while applying the UN definition to Israeli children.
The PLO report — titled “Child Detention… Facts and Statistics… Effects on the Reality and Future of Palestinian Childhood” — was made public as the head of the PLO Prisoner committee, Abdul Nasser Ferwaneh, gave testimony to the 5th European Union conference in support of prisoners. In delivering his report and testimony, Ferwaneh noted that the rate of child imprisonment by the Israeli state had nearly doubled, averaging around 700 children imprisoned annually from 2000 to 2010 but rising to around 1,250 between 2011 and 2018.
Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP), citing data from the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) and Israeli army temporary detention facilities, recently reported that 414 Palestinian children were imprisoned by Israeli military courts in just the first two months of 2019.
Since 1967, Palestinian children have been subjected to Israeli military law while Israeli settlers living in illegal West Bank settlements are governed by Israel’s civilian criminal legal system. Aside from the fact that subjecting two different populaces in the same area to two different legal systems is a clear manifestation of apartheid, Israel is the only country in the world that automatically tries children in military courts, courts that lack basic fair trial guarantees and have a near-automatic conviction rate. In addition, many Palestinian children are arbitrarily detained, or imprisoned without charge.
Most Palestinian children tried in military court are accused of throwing stones — which, as of 2015, can carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. No Israeli child has ever been tried in an Israeli military court.
Children in detention in Israeli jails are often subjected to various forms of abuse, including “slapping, beating, kicking and violent pushing” as well as verbal abuse, according to prisoner-rights group Adameer. Adameer has also noted that Palestinian children are sometimes threatened with rape in order to extract confessions, which are often written in Hebrew — a language most Palestinian children can’t read or understand.
Obaida Akram Jawabra, a 15-year-old who has already been arrested twice by Israel, told DCIP that in prison “[Israeli] soldiers would beat me in places that would leave no marks so there wouldn’t be evidence on my body that I could use to testify against them.” Figures released by DCIP claim that 75 percent of Palestinian child prisoners report being subjected to physical violence while in prison and 62 percent report being subjected to verbal violence.
The majority of Palestinian children in detention are unable to receive family visits, since nearly 60 percent of all child detainees are transferred from the West Bank to Israeli prisons upon conviction. This practice, which violates the Fourth Geneva Convention — coupled with restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement in the West Bank and the long delays in issuing permits for entry to Israel — prevents the vast majority of West Bank Palestinian families from visiting their imprisoned children.
While Israel’s government often touts itself as the “only democracy” in the Middle East, it is also the only government in the entire world that detains children through military courts with a near 100 percent conviction rate, something that even Saudi Arabia does not do. Israel’s practice of imprisoning Palestinian children is a clear violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Israel in 1991, as it routinely robs thousands of children of their right to a safe childhood.
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