Israel ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991 but insists that international human rights law (IHRL) does not apply to the Palestinian people. These two contradictory approaches – the latter in direct clash with international legal opinion – were noted by Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP) in its latest report on Palestinian minors in Israeli jails.
“Isolated & Alone: Palestinian Children Held in Solitary Confinement by Israeli Authorities for Interrogation,” which was published in December 2020, starts with a bleak overview. DCIP documented the arrest, interrogation, solitary confinement, and torture of 108 Palestinian minors by the Israeli authorities, between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2019. The offenses allegedly committed by the children included throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, weapons possession, membership in banned organizations, Facebook incitement, plotting attacks, and aiding wanted individuals.
In 2016, DCIP noted that “Israel has the dubious practice of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes between 500 and 700 children in military courts each year.” The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society has put the total of children arrested by Israel until November of this year, at 400.
“Israel has the dubious practice of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes between 500 and 700 children in military courts each year.”
Disorienting the Palestinian minors from the moment of their arrest, most of the time during raids carried out at night, the detained arrive at Israel’s interrogation centers blindfolded. None of the detained Palestinian children had access to a lawyer or a family member during interrogation. Legal consultation was absent in 94.4 percent of the cases. Minors were subjected to strip searches, physical violence, and stress positions. They were also exposed to Palestinian informants who would pretend to befriend the minor in order to extricate information for the Israeli authorities and forced to sign documents in Hebrew.
Othman, 16 years old, was subjected to physical violence while in recovery from bone cancer, and placed in isolation, until a confession of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails was obtained. Ahmed, 14 years old, spent 14 days in isolation and was threatened with the arrest of his family members if he refused to confess to carrying out a stabbing attack. Khaled, age 16, was shackled in stress positions for five days. Imad, also 16 years of age, was physically assaulted by his Israeli interrogator. “The interrogator shouted insults and squeezed Imad’s mouth until it was bleeding,” the DCIP report notes. Mohammad, age 17, confessed to accusations of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails “because I was very tired and did not want to spend another minute in solitary confinement.”
Othman, 16 years old, was subjected to physical violence while in recovery from bone cancer, and placed in isolation.
Abdullah, aged 17, was perhaps subjected to one of the most bizarre reasons for detention and interrogation. “We arrested you to protect you because the PA [Palestinian Authority] forces are carrying out an arrest campaign and we had to take you away from them,” the testimony reads. Keeping in mind that the PA’s security services collaborate with Israel and regularly funnels its prisoners to Israeli jails, the Israeli claim is bogus.
DCIP’s report, which is based upon children’s testimonies of their experiences at the hands of Israel’s military interrogators, shows a systematic practice that not only violates the rights of the child as enshrined in international law, but also leaves psychological scars.
Solitary confinement has been deemed a form of torture in some cases by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, yet Israel has normalized this violation into routine interrogations to coerce confessions. Many of the tactics used by Israel exacerbate the concept of isolation not only in terms of space, but also in relation to others. “You feel isolated and cut off from the rest of the world,” one minor detainee said of isolation.
The absence of, and inability to contact relatives following the arrest, leaves Palestinian minors at the mercy of their interrogators. The latter, working as part of the state’s security narrative, are not after justice but the extraction of any confession that will, in turn, justify Israel’s ongoing political state of exception.
Israel has criminalized many forms of protest, dissent, and anti-colonial struggle.
Israel has criminalized many forms of protest, dissent, and anti-colonial struggle. Therefore, any action which pertains to Palestinian resistance is subjected to Israel’s “terror narrative” which has become more of a catchphrase post 9/11, as Israel has utilized the global narrative to promote its own, and thus provide the first line of defense against international criticism of the settler-colonial state.
In its recommendations to the international community, DCIP requested that “no foreign military aid or assistance is provided to Israeli military or police units where credible information exists that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights, including involvement in the arrest and detention of Palestinian children.”
During the campaigning for the US presidential elections, Democratic lawmakers called for the conditioning of military aid to Israel, which amounts to US$3.8 billion annually, upon its commitment to protecting Palestinians’ human rights.
The European Union (EU) has made its funding for Israel, as well as its trade deals, conditional upon human rights – on paper only. Like the US, rhetoric of shared values precedes concerns that the bloc might have regarding Israel’s colonial violence even as there has been no signs of financial agreements becoming truly conditional upon the colonial state upholding human rights. Presumably both the US and the EU know that colonialism and human rights do not belong on the same spectrum, and with full knowledge still support the former against the latter.
Presumably both the US and the EU know that colonialism and human rights do not belong on the same spectrum.
While the political fault lies squarely with governments, human rights organizations are also facilitating this contradiction. Israeli human rights violations are almost always presented as “alleged,” despite ample testimony proving the existence and recurrence of such abuses, even after the International Criminal Court determined that Israel committed war crimes against the Palestinian people since Operation Protective Edge.
DCIP makes a valid point which is somewhat marred when it comes to the international community’s funding of Israel. Funding should cease not only if Israeli institutions commit violations, but because Israel’s ethnic cleansing foundations paved the way for a gradual normalization of abuse which the international community now accepts as part of a political process that is depriving Palestinians of their rights and their land.
The violations committed against minor Palestinian detainees are part of Israel’s colonial violence strategy. A first step would be to acknowledge and deal with Israel as a colonial state, while simultaneously reconsidering the international community’s role in funding violence, including what Palestinian minors in Israeli detention centers are subjected to. If the UN continues to treat Israel’s violations as hypothetical, Palestinians can never be assured of accountability. As things stand, the international community is funding such abuses, with both perpetrator and financer propping each other up with complete impunity.