One afternoon, B, a mother of six, was alarmed to hear the sound of shattering
glass coming from her children’s bedroom. Rushing to the bedroom, she saw the
window had been broken and was relieved to see that her children were not there.
Through the broken window she saw several young children throwing stones at her
Although no one was injured in this case, stone-throwing is no
laughing matter. We all know stones can wound and even kill.
case, though, B is a Palestinian who lives in Hebron. The children who attacked
her home were Israeli settlers from Tel Rumeida.
A police investigation
into the incident was opened. One 10-year-old boy was identified in the incident
and referred to the welfare authorities.
Several other very young
children, thought to be around nine years old, were not officially identified.
The Judea and Samaria police informed B’Tselem that the investigation was closed
and the file shelved, as “the children are unpunishable, due to their young
In this case, the stone throwing children were the young sons of
Israeli settlers in Hebron. Yet stone-throwing is probably the most common
offense Palestinian minors commit in the West Bank. Whereas Israel rightfully
upholds the rights of Israeli children suspected of ideologically motivated
criminal offenses such as stone-throwing, its treatment of Palestinian children
is very different.
Between the years 2005- 2010, the army tried 835
Palestinian minors charged with stone-throwing in military courts, and 834 were
convicted. This number includes 24 children who were only 12 or 13 years
Many other Palestinian minors were arrested on suspicion of
stone-throwing but never charged; the military cannot provide the exact
Detention is an inherently traumatic experience for any minor,
but Palestinian minors are subjected to additional hardships. Most of the
children are arrested in the middle of the night. Some complain of violence in
the course of the detention. All of them are interrogated without their parents
Most are not released on bail – which puts tremendous
pressure on the families to agree to a plea bargain rather than wait months for
In fact, virtually all minors are convicted by plea
In a recent article in The Jerusalem Post, Maurice Ostroff
expressed his dismay at our demand that Palestinian children be protected, even
as the authorities deal with their alleged offenses: “I’m sure the Israeli
government and the IDF would be very grateful to learn B’Tselem’s secret about
how to effectively deal with these hate-indoctrinated kids. In what other way
could kids be dealt with whose violence emanates from indoctrination to
This would be an apt description for the actions of the children
who assaulted B’s home. However, in their case, alternative options for dealing
with child offenders appear to have been available.
For example, one
child was referred to the welfare authorities for supervision under the Youth
(Care and Supervision) Law, 1960. Parents could also be made to guarantee their
children do not reoffend.
According to Ostroff’s reasoning, the children
who attacked B’s home ought to be arrested and prosecuted.
Israeli law offers additional protections to young minors in the criminal
justice process under Amendment No. 14 of the Youth Law, which took effect in
2009, and which has the expressed purpose of enshrining international-law
standards on adjudication of juveniles in Israeli statutory law.
amendment states that incarceration is to be used only as a last resort, in the
absence of any other alternative.
Moreover, the amendment prohibits the
incarceration of minors under age 14.
In addition, the amendment raised
the upper age limit – from 14 to 18 – at which minors are still entitled to have
their parents or an adult representative present on their behalf during
The above safeguards apply only to Israeli citizens and
residents, not to Palestinian residents of the West Bank, who are subject to
Israeli military law. But one principle applies to all child suspects: neither
Israeli nor Palestinian children under the age of 12 can be held to be
criminally responsible. This means there is no legal option of prosecuting young
children, regardless of their alleged offense.
They may be held for short
periods in order to stop them in the act, but cannot be tried in a criminal
court. Though the age of criminal responsibility for Israeli and Palestinians
children is the same, the law is not always observed with regard to
B’Tselem has documented cases of very young children – 8,
9, 10 years old – detained by the Israeli military, in some cases for several
Stone-throwing in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
is, indeed, an ideological offense. Unlike shoplifting or vandalism or other
offenses a teenager might commit, stone-throwing can be socially sanctioned by
some within the child’s community – this is true both for Palestinians and
settlers in the West Bank. And as we well know, stone-throwing can be
When we are dealing with stones thrown at cars on the road or
into people’s homes, the matter cannot be taken lightly. Law enforcement
authorities are responsible for the safety of civilians, including protecting
them against stone-throwing. That said, the criminal justice system cannot be
used to address stone-throwing by minors under the age of criminal
responsibility, period. This is true regardless of the minors’
Law enforcement authorities must find another way to deal
with this problem. All who call for the violation of the rights of a Palestinian
child suspects must first consider whether they would consent to a similar
violation of an Israeli child’s rights. For me the answer is a categorical
The writer is executive director of B’Tselem.