[RAMALLAH, 18 April 2009] - This year, Palestinian Prisoners Day coincides with failed negotiations between the Israeli government and Hamas to conclude a prisoner exchange agreement for the return of the captured Israeli Corporal, Gilad Shalit, and the retaliatory actions taken by the Israeli government against Palestinian prisoners as a result. At the same time, the number of children arrested and detained by Israel has risen by almost 40 per cent compared to numbers for the same period last year.
In mid-March, the Israeli government formed a special ministerial committee headed by the Minister of Justice to make recommendations for downgrading conditions of Hamas affiliated prisoners held by Israel. Through its recommendations, the committee’s stated aim is “to match incarceration conditions [of Palestinian prisoners] to those of Gilad Shalit,” and include denial of rights to family visits, education and access to the outside world through media and print sources. These penalties directly impact the lives of Palestinian prisoners, and violate their rights guaranteed by international law. In its attempt to legalize its illegal policies and practices, the Israeli government introduced the new category “illegal combatant” for Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who were arrested during Operation Cast Lead in order to justify their detention while simultaneously denying them their basic rights.
This occasion also coincides with the escalation of arrest campaigns targeting Palestinian children. During the last two months, the Israeli authorities intensified arrests of Palestinian children. By the end of February 2009, the number of Palestinian children in detention had reached a peak of 423 – one of the highest since the start of the second Intifada. In early 2009, DCI-Palestine also noted a worrying increase in arrests of children between the ages of 12 and 13 years old. During the first two months of 2009, DCI-Palestine documented the arrest of 10 children between the ages of 12 and 13 compared to three children for the whole of 2008.
Since the beginning of the second Intifada in 2000, the Israeli authorities have arrested approximately 6,700 Palestinian children. There are currently 423 Palestinian children being held in detention and interrogation centers and prisons both in the Occupied Territory and inside of Israel in contravention of international law. These children range in age from 12 to 18 years old. Six of them are girls and an additional six are being held in administrative detention without charge or trial.
Palestinian child prisoners are exposed to different types of torture, abuse and degrading treatment at the hands of Israeli authorities during their arrest and interrogation. These tactics aim to break the children psychologically and extract quick confessions to indict them before the Israeli Military Courts where due process and the right to a fair trial are not respected. The Israeli Military Courts aim to place a veneer of legality on a wholly illegal and arbitrary system. Once Palestinian children are sentenced, in the absence of a fair trial, children are sent to prisons where they are deprived of their rights guaranteed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Fourth Geneva Convention. Palestinians child prisoners are deprived of proper medical care, and are often blackmailed if they seek medical treatment. They are also deprived of regular visits with family. Children who spend less than 6 months in prison may be released before they are ever granted a visit with family members. Children are also deprived of their right to education and are subjected to cruel penalties for simple behaviors.
DCI-Palestine emphasizes the necessity to put an end to the Israeli policy of arbitrary arrests and abusive practices used against Palestinian children and calls on the international community to pressure Israel to:
- Respect its international legal obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention Against Torture
- Investigate all allegations of torture and abuse against Palestinian prisoners and bring those responsible to account.
- End its policy of administrative detention of children and immediately release those children currently held in administrative detention.