Children detained by Israeli army as young as 6 years old: a new trend
A child being arrested in Nabi Saleh. Photo by Lazar Simeonov.
Children detained by Israeli army as young as 6 years old: a new trend?
Children younger than 12-years old can’t be charged or sentenced, according to the Israeli military law to which Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are subjected; however, the Israeli army has repeatedly violated this law over the years and reports show an increase in the number of children detained in recent years, some of which are as young as six-years old.
The number of detained children (12-18 years old) in March was at its highest since October 2010, reports Defense for Children International (DCI) Palestine. Morever, the number of children under 12-years of age reportedly detained has risen sharply in recent months as well.
Israel is being criticized by the international community for a law allowing arrests of children as young as 12 years old. Many child detainees are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after mistreatment during their detention, as children under the age of 12 are even more prone to suffer psychological trauma, even if they are detained for short periods of time.
Many cases of detained children under the age of criminal responsibility remain undocumented. Most of them are detained for several hours and then released, as they can’t be prosecuted. “Sometimes families don’t want or know how to highlight it, they got their kid back and that’s fine,” Brad Parker of DCI-Palestine told the Palestine Monitor in an interview on 11 May.
“Especially in Hebron you see younger kids being arrested”, Parker said. Hebron is the only Palestinian city with settlers living right in the heart of it. Settler violence, constant harassment and arrests by the Israeli army are a common occurrence for local Palestinians.
27 children detained on Obama’s visit
On 20 March of this year, the same day as US president Barrack Obama’s visit to the West Bank, Israeli soldiers detained 27 children on their way to school in Hebron. At least seven of the detained children were between 6 to 10 years old, and therefore cannot be prosecuted under Israeli military law. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem released footage of the arrest taken by international activists.
“We are outraged by the Israeli army’s mass arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian school children in Hebron, some as young as 6,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program Director at DCI-Palestine. “There can be no justification for detaining children below the minimum age of criminal responsibility. Such traumatic experiences stay with them long after the incident.”
Mouawieh and Ahmed Abu Heikel (11 and 12 years old)
On 28 April, 11-year old Mouawieh Abu Heikel and his 12-year old brother Ahmed were detained in Hebron. The two brothers, along with a friend, were on their way home when they were attacked by settler youth. According to their testimonies given to the Hebron Defense Committee, youth from the settlement attacked them with a pocket knife and then ran to complain to Israeli soldiers after the Palestinian kids tried to resist non-violently.
The two brothers were grabbed by the soldiers and arrested amongst the commotion on the street where around 50 people had gathered. Before placing them in the military jeep for transportation to the detention center, the children had their hands tied with plastic ties and were blindfolded. A Swedish activist was also arrested after he had tried to peacefully object to the violent arrest of the young children. The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) reports that the Swedish activist was deported on 14 May after false accusations of assaulting an Israeli soldier were brought against him. The Palestinian non-partisan organization, Youth Against Settlements, filmed the arrest of the two brothers and the Swedish activist.
The brothers were released around 4:30 PM after several hours of questioning and the payment of 1,000 NIS in bail. The fact that the Israeli military sought bail money for the release of children under the legal age of eligible prosecution is unusual. The older brother, 12-year old Ahmed, got his fingerprints and photo taken by the Israeli soldiers, and 11-year old Mouawieh was hit in the stomach with the butt of a rifle by one of the soldiers during the detention, according to Hisham Sharbati of the Hebron Defense Committee.
Muhannad N. (10 years old)
Muhannad lives in the old city of Hebron. On 21 March he was playing with his friends close to his home when 14 Israeli soldiers approached them via one of the nearby settlers’ encampments. The soldiers proceeded to grab Muhannad and two of his friends and drag them forcibly into the settlers’ building.
On their way, they were asked to list the names of those who were throwing rocks at soldiers. None of the kids knew as no one was throwing rocks while they were playing outside. The kids were then taken to a room in a container on the side of the street where they were repeatedly asked the same question. Muhannad and his friends again responded that they did not know the names of any stone-throwers.
The soldiers then reportedly started beating three of the kids after not receiving the answers they wanted. Muhannad told DCI-Palestine that two soldiers were beating him while another two beat his friends. His friends were released after being beaten for 10 minutes, but Muhannad remained while the soldiers continued kicking him in his legs and stomach, slapping his face and twisting his right arm.
After about 20 minutes of beating, the Israeli soldiers took Muhannad out of the room and made him stand on the street until he was found and carried by local Palestinians to an ambulance where he received first aid treatment.
(DCI-Palestine could not corroborate the physical assault that Muhannad reportedly suffered while detained).
Children in the Israeli detention system
During April of this year, DCI-Palestine registered 238 Palestinian children detained and prosecuted in Israeli military courts, same number as it was registered in March. It is the highest monthly count since October of 2010.
Since the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, more than 8,000 children have been arrested and detained by the Israeli army. An average of 500 to 700 children between ages 12-17 are detained, interrogated and imprisoned each year.
Palestinians, including children living in the occupied Palestinian territories are charged with offences under Israeli military law and tried in Israeli military courts. Kids as young as 12 years-old are already criminally liable and can be sentenced to a six-month imprisonment period. Many Palestinian kids are spending time behind bars instead of going to school and playing with their friends.
Most of the children are charged in military courts for throwing stones and usually receive prison sentences between two weeks up to around 10 months.
DCI-Palestine reports that more than half of child-detainees are arrested in their family homes between midnight and early morning by heavily armed soldiers. Usually, neither the child nor the parents are informed as to where the child is being taken or the reasons for the arrest. In most cases the child will have his hands tied, usually with a single plastic tie that painfully cuts off the circulation of blood to his hands. The majority of arrested minors are also blindfolded. After being arrested, tied and blindfolded some of the child-detainees are transported on the floor of a military vehicle, experience physical violence and are strip-searched at some point.
Unlike Israeli children living in the 200 plus settlements throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, governed by Israeli civilian law, Palestinian children are governed by Israeli military law and are not accorded the right to be accompanied by their parents during interrogation. Usually they don’t meet their lawyer until the military court proceedings have begun, long after their interrogation is over, and in direct violation of Military Order 1676 providing for the right to consult with a lawyer prior to the beginning of the investigation. All detainees are supposed to have a right to remain silent during the interrogation but only a few are informed about that in a manner they can easily understand.
Nine out of ten children plead guilty in military courts since it is the quickest way out of the system. Otherwise, they remain in a prolonged pre-trial detention period that can often exceed the sentence they get when pleading guilty. In violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits such transfers, nearly two thirds of the convicted children are transferred to prisons inside Israel.
For a more detailed report on child imprisonment read DCI-Palestine report “Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted: Children held in military detention.”