Screams, threats and beatings: Palestinian children abused in detention
The number of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli police has skyrocketed since October, when a wave of violence began in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, Human Rights Watch has reported.
Children being arrested on charges such as throwing bottles, or because forces suspect they might have a knife, are being beaten, handcuffed to chairs, and having their rights denied, the report said.
The rise in arrests of more than 150 percent when compared to this time last year, began in October when protests in the West Bank and Gaza escalated, resulting in the use of live fire against demonstrators by Israeli forces.
By February 2016, 440 Palestinian children had been arrested compared to 182 the year before.
There has also been a wave of stabbings and attempted stabbings by Palestinians against Israeli civilians and security forces both in the West Bank and in Israel, as well as increasing incidents of stone throwing by children in the occupied territories.
As of March, 41 children had been killed since the violence began in October, according to Defence for Children International.
In March, parents told Middle East Eye that they no longer felt safe letting their children outside to play.
Nasreen al-Baw, whose 14-year-old son was shot in the back and killed while playing on a hillside, said her three younger children were only allowed to leave the house accompanied by an adult.
“Here the children used to come and go as they pleased. They didn’t sit inside all day on computers, they go would go out and play with their friends after school, but that is not our reality anymore,” she said.
“It’s just too dangerous to let the children out of the house without us. We know now that anything can happen under occupation. A day in a field with a dog can mean death.”
Both international and Israeli domestic laws are supposed to provide protections for detained children, including only being arrested as a last resort and ensuring the child is not coerced into a confession.
Lawyers and local human rights groups have said that Israeli forces regularly violate these laws.
“Palestinian children are treated in ways that would terrify and traumatise an adult,” said Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine country director for HRW.
“Screams, threats, and beatings are no way for the police to treat a child or to get accurate information from them.”
In one case, video footage from a shop’s security camera shows 15-year-old Fayez being slapped, dragged and placed in a chokehold during his arrest by at least seven policemen in full riot gear.
Weighing in at 53kg, the video shows Fayez, now totally subdued, being punched as he stands upright.
“Fayez said he was then handcuffed and walked to the Abu Tor neighbourhood, where both Palestinians and Israeli Jews live,” the report said.
“He said that police officers continued to hit and kick him. After they walked through a gate into the neighbourhood, Fayez said, police officers threw him to the ground.
“Six or seven officers then kicked him on his legs, back, and head, while onlookers screamed at him in Hebrew and uttered curses in Arabic about his mother and sister.”
Fayez’s father Fawaz said that when he tried to find out what was happening, he was punched in the face. He was then sent to three different detention centres trying to find out where the police had taken his son.
“They did all this so that I would miss the first interrogation,” Fayez’s father said.
“I could see marks on his face,” Fawaz said. “It was blue, and his neck had the mark of fingertips …it was red and blue. They cursed him and used bad language. I couldn’t handle it. I told them to be decent with him, and they screamed at me too.”
'A terrifying night'
After the interrogation ended at about 11pm, the boy said he was handcuffed to a chair outside in the cold. Eventually he was allowed to sleep in a jeep as there was no room in a juvenile detention centre.
“It was a terrifying night,” he said, adding that officers had poured water over him to wake him up.
He was released without charge the next day.
In the case of Ahmed, arrested on suspicion of having a knife, HRW sent a series of questions to the Hebron District of the Israeli police force.
The response did not address any of the accusations concerning the abuse of Ahmed, who said he was “hit on [his] back and legs, with kicks and blows to [his] head.”
It also did not respond to the question about whether either of Ahmed’s parents had signed the legally required documents saying they had been informed of his arrest.
“With respect to the presence of the minor’s parents during the interrogation. Since the matter involves a security offence, the minor may be interrogated without a parent present during the interrogation,” the response said, adding that the interrogation had been conducted by a trained 'youth interrogator'.
In the past, the human rights group has interviewed boys with similar stories, some of whom urinated on themselves out of fear or experienced nightmares long after their detention was over.
Mohammed Mahmoud, a lawyer for the Palestinian prisoner organisation Adameer said a major problem was that a senior police officer could give interrogators an order permitting them not to allow the parents of a child to be present.
“This order, as far as we see, is used against Palestinian children in political cases only, and it gives the interrogators the freedom to harass, scream, threaten the children and push them to confess to crimes they have not committed out of fear.”