There is a “spiral of injustice” and breaches of international law in Israel’s treatment of child detainees in military custody, according to an independent report by a delegation of British lawyers backed by the British Foreign Office.
The report found that “undisputed facts” indicated at least six violations of the UN convention on the rights of the child, to which Israel is a signatory. It also found Israel to be violating the fourth Geneva convention by transferring child detainees from the West Bank to Israeli prisons.
Between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are arrested by Israeli soldiers each year, mostly accused of throwing stones at Israeli Defense Forces who are armed to the teeth and occupying their land.
“Fifty percent of the children were interrogated without their parents or a lawyer present and many were threatened and assaulted,” Gerard Horton, a lawyer from the rights group Defense International for Children, told Mel Frykberg of Inter Press Service.
“Many of the children were screamed at, slapped and shoved, sometimes kicked and punched, during questioning and coerced into making statements of disputable accuracy. Some were threatened with further violence,” said Horton.
“These kids had been taken from their homes in the middle of the night, many handcuffed and blindfolded,” Horton said. “They were then interrogated hours later and by this time they were traumatized and disoriented, and not able to withstand the pressure.”
Under international law, states are prohibited from discriminating in the exercise of justice on the basis of race or nationality. But, the report says, “there are major differentials between the law governing the treatment of Palestinian children and the law governing treatment of Israeli children”.
“The most egregious,” reports the Guardian, “are the length of time child detainees can be held a) before being brought before a judge (up to 24 hours for Israeli children compared with eight days for Palestinian children); b) without access to a lawyer (48 hours compared with 90 days); and c) without charge (40 days compared with 188 days). The minimum age for custodial sentences is 14 for Israeli children, but 12 for Palestinian children.”
The report concluded: “It may be that much of the reluctance to treat Palestinian children in conformity with international norms stems from a belief, which was advanced to us by a military prosecutor, that every Palestinian child is a ‘potential terrorist’. Such a stance seems to us to be the starting point of a spiral of injustice.”