Israel’s treatment of Palestinian minors in military detention violates
international law, in spite of the many steps it has taken in recent years to
improve the situation, according to a new report released Wednesday by the
United Nations Children’s Fund.
“Each year approximately 700 Palestinian
children aged 12 to 17, the great majority of them boys, are arrested,
interrogated and detained by Israeli army, police and security agents,” the
It estimated that over 7,000 Palestinian children living in
the West Bank, which is under Israeli military rule, had been imprisoned in the
last decade, an average of two a day.
“Ill treatment of Palestinian
children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread,
systematic and institutionalized,” the report said.
Still, it was careful
to note that Israel had taken many steps to improve the situation in the last
four or five years, including the creation in 2009 of a juvenile military court
so that Palestinian minors were no longer tried in adult court.
understood that this is the first and only juvenile military court in operation
in the world,” the report said.
In 2011, in Military Order 1676, Israel
raised the age by which it treated Palestinians as minors from 16 to 18,
according to UNICEF.
The organization in its report, however, noted that
teens aged 16 and 17 could still be sentenced as adults.
Order 1676 also
mandated that police notify parents of their children’s arrest and inform the
minors that they had a right to an attorney, according to UNICEF.
order did not set a time frame by which the minors could exercise their legal
rights, nor was the order printed in Arabic, UNICEF said.
military order, 1651, mandated that children under the age of 12 could not be
arrested or prosecuted in military courts, according to UNICEF.
further stipulated that minors aged 12 to 13, cannot be sentenced to more than
six months in prison, UNICEF said. Order 1651 added that teens aged 14 to 15
could only be imprisoned for a year, unless they committed a crime that carries
a jail sentence of over five years, according to UNICEF.
noted, however, that most children were charged with throwing stones, a crime
that carries a 10- year prison term.
Those who throw stones at a moving
vehicle can serve as long as 20 years, UNICEF said.
This means, according
to UNICEF, that teens 14 and older can be imprisoned for an extended period,
possibly as long as 10 or 20 years.
UNICEF noted that in many cases
Israel has shortened the time by which children can be held without charges from
eight to four days. A new mandate, Military Order 1711 that goes into effect in
April, stipulates that children under 14 must be brought before a judge with 24
hours and children aged 14 to 18 must be heard by a judge within 48 hours,
according to UNICEF.
Still UNICEF took issue with many aspects of Israeli
treatment of minor detainees in the military legal system, including the ability
of a judge to bypass the above regulations and place a minor in solitary
UNICEF also opposed the military practice of arresting
minors in the middle of the night, questioning them without the presence of an
attorney or legal guardian, and physical mistreatment.
“Many children are
arrested in the middle of the night, awakened at their homes by heavily armed
soldiers,” according to the UNICEF report.
“For some of the children what
follows is a chaotic and frightening scene, in which furniture and windows are
sometimes broken, accusations and verbal threats are shouted, and family members
are forced to stand outside in their nightclothes as the accused child is
forcibly removed from the home,” the report said.
It also charged that
confessions were obtained from the children through the use of intimidation,
threats and physical violence.
“Children are restrained during the
interrogation, in some cases to the chair they are sitting on,” the report
UNICEF based its findings on more than 400 cases documented since
2009 as well as legal papers, reports by governmental and non-governmental
groups and interviews with Palestinian minors and with Israeli and Palestinian
officials and lawyers.
The Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying
that Israel will “study the conclusions and will work to implement them through
ongoing cooperation with UNICEF, whose work we value and respect.”
statement pointed out that Israel “participated in processing the material that
served to draft the report in collaboration with the UNICEF
Foreign Ministry and IDF representatives held working sessions
with UNICEF “with the common goal of improving issues” related to the
“It is important to note that UNICEF has welcomed improvements
over the years in the treatment of Palestinian minors, both in detention and in
the legal proceedings in the Israeli military judicial system,” the statement
The statement, more conciliatory than usual when it comes to
Israeli responses to UN agency reports, said Israel joined the UNICEF board this
year and has good working relations and a good level of collaboration with the
organizations, which is “appreciated by the international
Qadoura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian Prisoners Club
which looks after inmates and their families, praised the report and called for
Israel to be held accountable.
A spokeswoman for the Prisons Service said
there were currently 307 Palestinian minors in Israeli custody, 108 of whom are
serving a prison sentence.
Most of them, 253, are between the ages of 16
to 18 and the rest are under 16.
A senior Israeli officer in the Military
Advocate-General’s office said one of the jailed Palestinians, aged 17 at the
time of his arrest, had stabbed to death two Jewish settlers and three of their
children, including a three-month-old baby, in 2011.
He denied that
minors, while in interrogation, were not allowed access to family members or a
lawyer. “Very few of the parents take the time to come [to the police station],”
UNICEF said Israel had made some “positive changes” in recent
years in its treatment of Palestinian minors, including new hand-tying
procedures meant to prevent pain and injury.
It also noted a 2010
military order that requires Israeli police to notify parents about the arrest
of their children and to inform minors they have the right to consult a
The Israeli officer said the army was considering videotaping
interrogations and that a new military order, coming into effect in April, will
limit to 48 hours the time a minor can be held prior to appearing before a
judge.Reuters contributed to this report.