Spiral of Injustice
A recent delegation to Israel, by nine eminent British lawyers appointed by the British Foreign Office, cited “undisputed facts” indicating that Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children in detention violates at least six requirements of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, which Israel has signed. They report that children as young as 12 have been dragged from their beds in the middle of the night, and have had their hands bound behind their backs with plastic ties, been forced to kneel or lie face-down during transportation, and been held in solitary confinement with no access to their parents.
“In this process, every year hundreds of Palestinian children are traumatised, sometimes irreversibly, are denied part of their schooling, and then live at ongoing risk of much harsher punishment if they are arrested again.”
— from Children in Military Custody
According to a Guardian article on the delegation by Harriet Sherwood, the UK report details “two irreconcilable accounts of the treatment and rights of Palestinian children.” In interviews with Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, UN agencies, lawyers, former Israeli soldiers and former child detainees, the delegates were told about “night-time arrests, the use of blindfolds and painful plastic wrist ties, physical and/or verbal abuse, the failure to be informed of the right to silence or to see a lawyer, solitary confinement, self-incrimination, children being made to sign statements in Hebrew which they could not understand and extremely restricted access to family.”
Yet when the delegates interviewed Israeli government officials, military judges and prosecutors, they heard a very different story. They were told that “children are informed of their rights, treated appropriately, subject to procedural safeguards, and violence and threats are forbidden.” They were even informed that, in custody, “children receive education to such a high standard that Palestinian children have been known to offend in order to access it.”
The delegates offered a number of recommendations to begin to remedy the conditions they encountered. They include the following:
- Night-time arrests should be ended, except in extreme and unusual circumstances;
- Children should be told their rights in their own language;
- Children should never be blindfolded or hooded, nor should they be shackled at any time;
- The prohibition on violent, threatening or coercive conduct towards children should be strictly observed;
- Confessions in a language other than the child’s own should not be accepted as evidence;
- Solitary confinement should not be used as a standard mode of detention.
In conclusion, the report says: “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.”
(Photograph at top by Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA from The Guardian(UK). View the Guardian’s 12-minute video of Palestinian children in Israeli solitary confinement online. All other photos are from Defense for Children International.)
The Guardian article also excerpted the following narratives, which are from affidavits given to Defense for Children International – Palestine Section and published in Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted.
Malek S, 16: “One of [the soldiers] tied my hands behind my back with one set of plastic cords and tightened them. He also blindfolded me. They took me out and forced me to stand near a military truck near the house…One of them hit me so hard in the testicles and I felt much pain.”
Husam S, 15: “The two interrogators kept me standing…They kept slapping me around, but I never confessed. The interrogation lasted about two hours. After that, they printed out some papers in Hebrew and forced me to sign them. Later on it turned out that I had signed a confession saying I threw stones. This is what my lawyer told me later in court.”
Rami J, 17: (held in solitary confinement for 24 days): “It is a very small cell, which had a mattress on the floor and a toilet with a horrible smell…The lights in the ceiling were dim yellow and on for 24 hours a day, and they hurt my eyes…The cell had no windows, just two gaps for letting air in and out…I eventually decided to confess because of the pressure they put on me. I was in a bad psychological state.”
Malek Z, 15: “‘You better confess,’ [the interrogator] shouted, but I never confessed. He was typing what I was saying in the computer. Then he printed it out in Hebrew and ordered me to sign it, but I refused so he slapped me hard across the face while shouting. He got up and pushed me towards the wall and I slammed against it. I was so scared of him I immediately signed the papers.”
Abuse of Family Members: Sometimes it’s
“Just” a Threat, but Sometimes it’s For Real
In its 2008 report, Family Matters, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel documented extensive use by the nation’s General Security Services of threats to harm family members of Palestinian detainees, in order to coerce confessions. In some cases, “family members were, in fact, arrested and sometimes tortured, although they were not suspected of any offence whatsoever, all for the purpose of applying pressure on a relative undergoing interrogation.” Family Matters included detailed documentation of cases involving six families. One of those cases led to a rather grudging ruling by the country’s High Court of Justice (HCJ)placing some limits on the detention of, and prohibiting the use of threats against, family members.
However, as the organization’s June, 2012, followup document, Family Matters, Part Two, makes clear, realities on the ground have changed little. The ruling in Sweiti v. General Security Services “allows psychological torture to proceed apace under certain circumstances…Furthermore, if unsurprisingly, the use of threats that harm will come to interrogees’ relatives – which was explicitly forbidden by the HCJ – continues as a matter of routine.”
AQ’s Testimony: “I was arrested at two in the morning while sleeping next to my 2-year-old son…The soldiers broke down the front door, came into my room and began to strike me in the head and back with the butts of their rifles. As a result I was injured in the head. I worried about my son who lay beside me, and the soldier told me that my son was dead…
“From the first day of my interrogation I asked the interrogator what had happened to my son, but he told me: ‘Finish with the interrogation and then we’ll see.’ Only after 30 days was I informed by the Red Cross that my son was alive and unharmed.”
AD’s Testimony: “The interrogators all threatened to bring my wife, who was pregnant at the time, to give birth with me in the detention center…I should note that two days after I was arrested, my brother was arrested and held for about a month. The interrogator pointed out to me that they could bring in my wife just like they had brought in my 14-year-old brother.
The authors of Family Matters acknowledge that the High Court somewhat narrowed the ways in which family pressures could be used, but note that the decision is often ignored in practice and that “psychological pressure amounting to torture continues to be employed routinely.” It argues that the GSS routinely conceals its conduct from the courts and has an “organizational culture of ignoring judicial rulings.”
“The use of family members…leaves deep psychological scars on the spirit and the psyche…but precludes any form of documentation, oversight or punishment of the torturers.” The report’s concluding paragraph is pessimistic:
“This report has no recommendations with which to conclude. The court has had its say and the matter is currently at a dead end. The only thing which remains is to declare unequivocally that both physical and psychological torture are absolutely prohibited; that threats against relatives – whether or not they are carried out – entail torture; and that all who use these threats must be held accountable for their actions.”
………Deportation: Then What?