Obada awoke at 3 am to find eight masked men surrounding his bed, their rifles pointed at him. “I felt terrified,” the fifteen-year-old said.
Obada is one of around 700 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 who are arrested and prosecuted each year by Israel. Israel is the only country in the world to automatically prosecute children in military courts. Palestinians live under military occupation, so juvenile offenders are subjected to military detention while their same-age peers living in adjacent Israeli settlements go to civil court where there are significant differences in regard to assumptions of innocence and guilt. Israeli military courts have a 99%-plus conviction rate. Palestinian children appear in courts that lack basic safeguards for a fair trial. The trial is held in a language, Hebrew, that the child might not understand. No translators are provided. 75% of these children experience physical violence during arrest or interrogation. 97% are interrogated without parents or legal counsel present. 91% are held incommunicado for part or all of their interrogation.
When Obada was arrested he was hit with a rifle butt, blindfolded, his hands tied with a plastic cord that cut into his flesh. “The soldiers dragged me out of the house without allowing me to say goodbye to my family and without telling me why and where they were taking me.” Obada said that over the next two weeks he was repeatedly beaten and assaulted with Tasers. For twelve days, he was kept in a small toilet cubicle and taken out only for interrogation, during which he was tied tightly to a chair, slapped, and threatened.
During arrest, 86% of children report being blindfolded; 70% were strip-searched and 84% were not informed of their rights. 28% report being held in stress positions, slapped, kicked, pushed, choked, punched, or having their heads slammed against a wall. From September 2000 to April 2017, 12,000 Palestinian children were detained, 13,000 were injured, and 3,000 were killed.
According to a recent article in Haaretz, and further explored by Al-Jazeera, torturers routinely slap heads “to hurt sensitive organs like the nose, ears, brow and lips.” They also routinely use sleep deprivation and threats against the prisoner’s family during interrogation. “Palestinian children are regularly subjected to coercive and violent interrogation techniques intended to extract confessions,” said Ayed Abu Qtaish, accountability program director for Defence for Children International. “Interrogators use position, abuse, threats and isolation to coerce confessions from children and Israeli military court judges seldom exclude these confessions.” Furthermore, he says, “As Palestinian children continue to experience systemic ill-treatment and denial of due process rights, it becomes evident that military courts have no interest in justice.”
Palestinian children, following interrogation and without the advice of counsel, often are coerced into signing confessions written in a language that many of them do not understand. A lawyer from the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club reports that 15-year-old Ammar Tawifq Abu-Hilal informed him that at his arrest, “When I told them [the Israeli soldiers] that I am sick and take injections regularly in my hands, they tightened the bonds around my hands. They took me to a watchtower and continued to beat me.” Ammar suffers from pulmonary fibrosis and thrombosis. He needs intravenous injections twice a day. Jihad Eliyan, a 16-year-old, reported to the same lawyer that when he told his arresting soldiers that he had broken toes, they increased their beatings of his legs and feet. “They continued beating me on my legs until my ankle was broken.”
There is resistance to these crimes. The No Way to Treat a Child campaign challenges Israel’s systematic ill treatment of Palestinian children held in Israeli military detention. They demand that Israeli authorities ensure children prisoners’ basic due process rights and stop all torture and mistreatment. In accordance with the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, they call for no child anywhere to be subjected to physical or psychological violence and for every child to have access to legal counsel and to parents prior to and during interrogation. Children must be informed of their rights. Any evidence made as a result of torture or because the child was not informed of her/his rights, must be excluded in court. Solitary confinement of children must end immediately. NWTTAC is supported by many organizations, including Jewish Voice for Peace, the American Friends Service Committee, Friends of Sabeel North America, and Defence for Children International.
Torturing children is not a Jewish cultural value. It is an obscenity.