Testimonies from Palestinian Children Tortured by Israel

This article is published in Mondoweiss.

The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah), released a press release on 4 June titled “Adalah to Attorney General: Shocking testimonies from Palestinian children who were tortured during arrest and interrogation.” The byline of the release serves as a chilling introduction to a recent investigation’s horrific findings:

[Israeli] Investigators threatened children with beatings, isolation, torturing their fathers and raping their mothers and sisters; children were denied food for dozens of hours unless they confessed to the charges against them.

Adalah has sent an “urgent letter” to Israeli Attorney General (AG) Yehuda Weinstein, “demanding an end to the practice of physical and psychological torture and ill-treatment against Palestinian children from the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) during their arrest and interrogation by Israeli security personnel,” and calling for open criminal investigations so that those responsible can face due punishment for their serious crimes.

The letter was sent on 1 June 2014. As of the writing of this present article, no response has been received (or, if a response has been received, it has not yet been made public).

In its letter, Adalah relays the findings of a recent investigation conducted by Defense for Children International/Palestine Section (DCI/PS). The organization’s lawyers compiled 21 testimonies made by Palestinian children who had been arrested, interrogated, and tortured by Israeli authorities. In its press release, Adalah writes

The dangerous practices described in the testimonies constitute serious criminal offenses such as assault, damage, threat, sexual harassment and other unlawful activity committed by security authorities, ranging from soldiers, to GSS interrogators, and to prison wardens.

It goes without saying such practices are in blatant violation of both Israeli and international law. Adalah’s attorneys also noted that Israel is in direct violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) treaty, to which it is a signatory. The CRC dictates that authorities immediately inform the child and any relatives as to what exactly is being charged against them (Israel regularly ignores this basic, fundamental right for many Palestinians, regardless of age—even Palestinian legislators). The CRC furthermore prohibits the use of physical or physiological pressure in interrogation and explicitly “forbids children’s exposure to any type of abuse, torture, humiliation and inhuman treatment.”

To those who pay close attention to Israel’s internal affairs, this investigation may not necessarily be surprising. Just last year, in its periodic review of Israel’s child rights record, the CRC expressed “its deepest concern about the reported practice of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children arrested, prosecuted and detained by the military and the police, and about the State party’s failure to end these practices in spite of repeated concerns expressed by treaty bodies.”

The CRC corroborated much of what we will see in the following testimonies, including systematic “physical and verbal violence, humiliation, painful restraints, hooding of the head and face in a sack, threatened with death, physical violence, and sexual assault against themselves or members of their family, restricted access to toilet, food and water.” The CRC report even explained that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) used Palestinian children as human shields multiple times.

What this new investigation does offer us, however, is a more detailed picture of what many Palestinian children in occupied Palestine must go through, based on first-hand accounts of the brave young survivors themselves.

The following is a collection of points made in the children’s testimonies, as outlined in Adalah’s press release:

  • The majority of arrests were made during late-hour night raids.
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  • Palestinians’ homes were “violently broken into by dozens of soldiers who intimidated both the children and their families.” In 100% of the testimonies, children said they were bound and blindfolded, before being transferred hundreds of meters away in military vehicles.
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  • In many of the testimonies, children revealed that soldiers went into their rooms, “aggressively woke them up, and shackled their hands and feet while they were still in bed.”
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  • In one testimony, a child who had been sleeping in his bed when the “brutal kicks of the soldiers” woke him up, had to have his finger amputated. Israeli soldiers ignored his wounded finger, tying up his hands and feet, for over 12 hours, leading to an inoperable infection.
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  • When family members inquired as to why exactly their young children were being harassed, assaulted, bound, blindfolded, and taken away in the middle of the night, Israeli soldiers often replied by beating and insulting them.
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  • In the preponderance of the arrests, neither children nor their families knew why they were being taken away. Family members would not be allowed to accompany the minor, and they would not be informed as to where Israeli authorities would be taking them.
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  • While soldiers were transferring the detained children to interrogation sites, soldiers regularly “used extreme physical and verbal abuse against them, including beatings, smashing the child’s head against a wall, threats of violence, and threats of sexual assault and rape.”
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  • In one testimony, a child was separated from his family so that soldiers could interrogate him. When finished, the soldiers ordered in four of the child’s friends, to see their peer being beaten before their eyes. In this torturous event, the detained child “confessed” that he, along with his friends, had thrown stones. Later, however, the same child admitted he had only confessed in order to stop the beatings, and he withdrew his “confessions.”
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    This is what Israeli officials do to Palestinian children who they think threw a few stones.
     
    Adalah’s press release also notes that Israeli investigators, at interrogation and detention sites, regularly employed interrogation techniques that are forbidden under international law:
     

  • 100% of the detained children’s interrogations lasted many hours. A majority said they were denied food, water, and access to a toilet. In some cases, children, who had been denied food for dozens of hours, were told they would only be fed if they confessed.
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  • 100% of the detained children “were left handcuffed on both their hands and feet while seated on a low chair.”
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  • Most of the detained children were stripped naked and strip-searched numerous times. Those “who refused to be strip-searched while naked were violently assaulted by the wardens.”
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  • 0 of the investigations were conducted in the company of a lawyer or relative, in flagrant violation of Israeli law.
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  • When children asked to meet with a lawyer, investigators told them it was “forbidden.”
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  • 100% of children were held in solidarity confinement for multiple days, and in some cases even weeks. One child testified that he had been held in uninterrupted solidarity confinement for 28 days.
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  • 100% of children “described their cells as being in very poor conditions.” Cells were windowless and incredibly small; they held only a small mattress and a foul-smelling toilet. It was not permitted that children lean on the rough walls. The cells were also lit 24 hours per day by a bright light. This light “hurt the children’s eyes” and made it difficult for children to fall asleep; from this forced sleep deprivation, children lost a sense of time, and presumably suffered from other ailments associated with sleep loss.
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    This is by no means the first time Adalah has contacted Israel’s Attorney General. On 22 March 2007, the human rights organization contacted AG Menachem Mazuz, requesting a criminal investigation. Israel’s General Security Services’ (GSS) had been tampering with political and legal documents published by Arab Israeli NGOs and scholars.

    Two months later, Mazuz responded to the letter. He defended the GSS’s actions, saying they were “undertaken in coordination and consultation with the relevant parties within the legal apparatus,” reaffirming the GSS’s own insistence that it “is required to thwart the subversive activity of entities seeking to harm the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, even if their activity is conducted through democratic means.”

    A year before that, on 13 August 2006, Adalah placed an ad in Haaretz. The somewhat unconventional ad was an open letter to AG Mazuz. In it, the organization wrote

    We wish to draw your attention to the judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which convicted senior commanders and politicians for killing civilians and the destruction of villages and houses, among other charges. The Tribunal imposed sentences of between 15 and 45 years’ imprisonment.

    This provocative ad followed another, published in the same paper—Israel’s oldest newspaper, and the most widely read English-language Israeli publication—only 10 days before. In this bold public warning, somewhat reminiscent of cigarette warning labels—an arresting, vibrant red border contrasting strikingly with drab black and white text—a variety of Israeli human rights organizations, including Adalah, Amnesty International, the Arab Association for Human Rights, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, called

    upon the Israeli government to act urgently towards the declaration of a ceasefire that will lead to the end of killing and destruction in Israel, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, and remove the threat hanging over the lives and property of every civilian …

    WE WARN THAT:

    employing military force against civilian targets, bombing residential areas, turning thousands of people into refugees, and causing long-term damage to civilian infrastructure is

    FORBIDDEN UNDER INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW

    Adalah’s most recent letter might lack the panache of its missive brethren, yet its substance is just as worrisome.

    We patiently await Yehuda Weinstein’s response. If history is any indicator, nevertheless (and it almost always is), the reply will not be positive, and the Israeli Attorney General—the individual in charge of the legal system of what is often called “the only democracy in the Middle East”—will fail to do his job. Israel will still be a country in which Palestinians live under a completely different set of laws.