Israeli anti-riot police detain a Palestinian boy during a protest in a refugee camp near Bethlehem on November 16, 2012
Israeli anti-riot policemen detain a Palestinian boy during a protest in Aida refugee camp near the West Bank city of Bethlehem on November 16, 2012. © Musa al Shaer - AFP/File
Israeli anti-riot police detain a Palestinian boy during a protest in a refugee camp near Bethlehem on November 16, 2012
Hazel Ward, AFP
Last updated: March 6, 2013

Israeli ill-treatment of Palestinian minors "systematic," says UN

The ill-treatment of Palestinian minors held within the Israeli military detention system is "widespread, systematic and institutionalised," a report by UN children's fund found.

In the 22-page report entitled "Children in Israeli Military Detention," UNICEF said Israel was the only country in the world where children were "systematically tried" in military courts and gave evidence of practices it said were "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment."

"Ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised," it concluded, outlining 38 recommendations.

Over the past decade, Israeli forces have arrested, interrogated and prosecuted around 7,000 children between between 12 and 17, mostly boys, UNICEF found, noting the rate was equivalent to "an average of two children each day."

Figures from the end of January show that 233 children are currently being held in custody, 31 of them under the age of 16.

"Israel is the only place in the world where automatically, a child when he is under arrest, is put before a military tribunal," said Jean-Nicolas Beuze, UNICEF's regional adviser on child protection.

"It does exist in other countries (but only) as an exception," he told reporters. "A child is a civilian."

In response, Israel said it had provided UNICEF with material used in the report and pledged to work towards implement its conclusions.

"Israel will study the conclusions and will work to implement them through ongoing cooperation with UNICEF, whose work we value and respect," a foreign ministry statement said.

The vast majority of arrests are for throwing stones.

Although the maximum sentence for those aged 12-13 is six months, the penalty rises dramatically from 14 when a child can face a maximum penalty of between 10 and 20 years, it said.

The common experience of many children was being "aggressively awakened in the middle of the night by many armed soldiers and being forcibly brought to an interrogation centre tied and blindfolded, sleep deprived and in a state of extreme fear."

On the way to interrogation, some suffered physical or verbal abuse, were painfully restrained, with little access to water, food or access to a toilet.

UNICEF said it found no evidence of any detainees being "accompanied by a lawyer or family member during the interrogation" and they were "rarely informed of their rights."

"The interrogation mixes intimidation, threats and physical violence, with the clear purpose of forcing the child to confess," it said.

Most confess at the end of the interrogation, signing Hebrew forms which they hardly understand.

In most court hearings, the principal evidence against them was their own confession which was "in most cases extracted under duress."

The report noted some improvements, saying Israel had in 2010 brought in new rules on the use of hand ties and a year later raised the age of majority from 16 to 18, although the change does not relate to sentencing.

Last year, it reduced reduced pre-trial detention from eight days to four and next month, it will be further dropped to 24 hours for those aged 12-13, or 48 hours for those over 14.

Although the recommendations take into account "Israel’s legitimate security concerns," immediate measures are needed "to ensure that children ... are never subjected to treatments that breach" Israel's commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the report said.

Children must "be informed of the reasons for their arrest at the time of arrest and in a language they understand" and their parents must be notified "as soon as possible."

Arrests should take place in daylight, and and "children should never be restrained during interrogation" in a cell or in court.

The use of plastic hand ties and the practice of blindfolding or hooding should be "prohibited in all circumstances" and there should be a complete ban on holding children in solitary.

Questioning should always be in the presence of a lawyer or family member, and signed confessions in Hebrew "should be rejected as evidence by the military courts."

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