Palestinian children take part in a rally in front of the Red Cross headquarters in Gaza City marking Palestinian Prisoners Day..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Human Rights Watch on Monday issued a short but detailed study of Israel’s treatment of six arrested Palestinian minors, claiming that the IDF, police and related law enforcement agencies in Israel routinely abuse Palestinian minors’ rights.
HRW started out with accusations of “unnecessary force to arrest or detain Palestinian children as young as 11.” It continued by stating: “Security forces have choked children, thrown stun grenades at them, beaten them in custody, threatened and interrogated them without the presence of parents or lawyers, and failed to let their parents know their whereabouts.”
In the study, the NGO interviewed four boys, ages 11, 12 and 15, from different parts of east Jerusalem, and a 14-yearold girl and 15-year-old boy from the West Bank. The authorities had arrested or detained them in separate incidents of alleged rock throwing that took place between March and December 2014.
The review was based on their and their parents’ accounts of “abuses during arrest and interrogation that caused the children pain, fear and ongoing anxiety.” HRW also viewed photos, as well as marks on the body of one of the children that were consistent with his account.
“Israeli forces’ mistreatment of Palestinian children is at odds with its claim to respect children’s rights,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW. “As Israel’s largest military donor, the US should press hard for an end to these abusive practices and for reforms.”
In response, the IDF denied all or most of the claims, stating that it had been a mistake for HRW to generalize regarding the treatment of all Palestinian minors from a mere six cases.
As to one of the more high-profile cases, that of Malak al-Khatib, who was 14 when arrested on December 21, the IDF responded that she had been informed of her right to a lawyer prior to interrogation, and that the audio portion of the interrogation had been taped. Further, it stated that she had confessed in court, in the presence of her parents, to throwing a rock at moving vehicles on a highway – a dangerous crime, even at her age.
HRW said that while it did not know whether Khatib had committed the crime or whether her confession had been coerced by beatings prior to the recorded interrogation, her rights had still been violated because she was interrogated without her parents or a lawyer present. It added that because of this, and also because the documented confession had been in Hebrew, which Khatib did not understand, the court should have thrown out her confession and rebuked the interrogators.
The IDF noted that if accused of a security offense like stone-throwing, even minors can be interrogated without lawyers or parents present. It added that Khatib agreed to a plea bargain only after consultation with independent counsel.
Regarding the physical abuse of minors, the IDF often does not investigate such claims if a formal complaint is not filed, even if it is presented with information by a complaining rights group.
The IDF views NGO reports as hearsay if the minors do not come forward themselves, although the NGOs often counter that the minors are too terrified to complain to a member of the army that arrested them.
Other details in which there were disagreements between HRW and the IDF were the ages of arrested children; how often interrogations are recorded; whether a pilot program to replace the night-arrest of minors with written summonses is still in place; and the meaning of various reports by UNICEF on many of the same topics.
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