Israeli security forces arrested hundreds of Palestinian citizens of Israel in the last week. One in five of them are children who may face military courts.
On May 12, a group of Palestinian children who were blindfolded and handcuffed appeared on an Israeli soldier’s Instagram stories. Most of the children looked sedated and one of them was half-naked.
The video circulated on social media after an Israeli court approved forced evictions of six Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood -- a decision that sparked resistance in both the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel.
Thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel took part in protests, demanding an end to forced evictions in East Jerusalem as well as Israel’s relentless bombing campaign in Gaza. In response, Israeli mobs violently attacked Palestinians wherever they found them on the streets in small numbers. The killing of a Palestinian man by an unidentified Jewish person particularly heightened tensions, although some Israelis also demonstrated in protest of the Israeli offensive.
In response, Israeli forces arrested 850 Palestinian citizens of Israel in a week of unrest in various Israeli cities. A report says a quarter of them were minors.
Public Prosecution of the Office of Israel has filed all the indictments, a total of 116, against Palestinians with Israeli passports. Most of the detained Palestinian children are typically charged with stone-throwing, which as per Israeli law is a punishable offence with a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
The Israeli government let go of 100 right-wing Israelis who were arrested for openly assaulting Palestinians in Israel. No such charges were brought against the Jewish assailants. Most Palestinian adults living under Israeli law were charged with assaulting police officers. The recent detentions, which include children, will further deteriorate Israel's human rights record.
The only country that takes children to military courts
Israel is the only country in the world to prosecute children routinely in military courts. These tribunals lack legal checks and balances that could transition into fair trials.
B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, maintains the record of Palestinian children held in Israeli prisons. It says Israel Prison Service (IPS) stopped sharing information with the organisation in September 2020. As per Israel's Freedom of Information Law, IPS is entitled to receive information from the prison authority.
But the latest figures show that 157 Palestinian minors were held in Israeli prisons as security detainees.
Every year Israel prosecutes between 500 and 700 Palestinian children in military courts, including the detainees from Occupied Palestinian territories, according to American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).
The organisation said Israeli police interrogate Palestinian children blindfolded and obtain forced confessions from them. The children are not allowed to have legal counselling. Many of them are put into solitary confinement, a common tactic used by Israeli police.
A previous report said more than 90 percent of children were tortured during detention. Although claims of child torture under detention are widespread, the Israeli judges very rarely turn down confessions obtained by means of coercion or torture.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also added another level of hardship for Palestinian children under detention. The Israeli authorities suspended their visitation rights and in practice, they are allowed to speak to their families once a month and for only 10 minutes, according to Save the Children's report published in May 2020.
While facing prolonged isolation, the Palestinian detainees are deprived of sanitary products. They are kept in dark and cramped rooms with no window for ventilation. Most toilets for inmates are without doors. The threat of Covid-19 looms large inside the prison facilities.
The UN previously called for the release of child detainees. B’Tselem petitioned the Central District Court, asking them to revoke the policy of arresting Palestinian kids.
“The vast majority of these children have not been convicted of any offence but are being held in pre-trial detention,” the UN officials said, adding that the rights of children to protection, safety and wellbeing must be upheld at all times, especially during a health crisis.
“For children awaiting trial, these pressures could put them under increased pressure to incriminate themselves, pleading guilty to be released faster,” the statement referring to the worsened prison conditions during the pandemic.