Number of Palestinian Children in Israeli Prisons Doubles

Children gather in Gaza on January 29, 2009. (Photo: Andlun1)Children gather in Gaza on January 29, 2009. (Photo: Andlun1)

Marah Bakir, 16, was leaving school in occupied East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on 12 October when she was shot and injured by Israeli police. They allege she intended to stab an officer.

However, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that Marah had been walking with a friend when they were harassed by an Israeli who accused her of being a “terrorist.” Witnesses said police quickly surrounded her and opened fire four or five times.

Marah is now one of three Palestinian teenage girls held in Ramle prison with Israeli women convicted of criminal offenses.

Filthy Cell

The Palestinian rights group Addameer says keeping the girls in this prison amounts to psychological torture because they are isolated from other Palestinian female political prisoners, who are held at Hasharon prison.

The girls live in constant fear and avoid sleeping, the group says. The three are being held in a filthy cell with two bunk beds, a blanket and a mattress.

Israel Prison Service guards confiscated the girls’ warm clothes and headscarves, and keep them shackled during their recreation period, according to Addameer, whose lawyers have visited them.

Addameer reports that neither Marah nor her 14-year-old cellmate Istabraq Nour are receiving necessary follow-up treatment for bullet wounds.

Istabraq was shot and detained last month. Israel claimed she intended to sneak into the extremist Israeli stronghold of Yitzhar, a settlement in the occupied West Bank, with a knife.

Surging Arrests

Minors represent approximately a fifth of the 2,000 Palestinians Israel has detained since violence escalated at the beginning of October. Palestinian children from occupied East Jerusalem form a large part of this group.

With the surge in arrests, the number of Palestinian children in Israeli detention doubled to 307 at the end of October compared with 155 at the end of August.

While children living under Israeli military rule in most of the occupied West Bank have long been denied basic rights, those in East Jerusalem are ostensibly subject to the same civil laws and judicial system as Israeli citizens and have access to Israel’s national insurance system.

But human rights groups have documented a deterioration in their treatment and conditions in Israeli detention as well.

In order to accommodate the large number of children it is arresting, Israel opened a new wing for Palestinian minors at Givon prison in October.

According to Addameer’s Rafat Sub Laban, there are now approximately 75 children at Givon, most of them from Jerusalem.

The facility has a maximum of 12 cells, each with six beds, indicating that even Givon is at capacity.

As The Electronic Intifada reported last month, the conditions at the prison are abysmal.

Lawyers from human rights groups, including the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Addameer and Defense for Children International–Palestine, have all collected testimonies from children, who report being beaten, denied adequate food and held in moldy and frigid jail cells.

Children told Addameer’s lawyer during a 3 December visit that they suffer from nightmares, sleep disorders and are subjected to beatings, threats and sleep deprivation.

As in the cases of Marah Bakir and Istabraq Nour, some children at Givon are not receiving adequate medical attention.

Addameer’s Sub Laban told The Electronic Intifada that normally there is a Palestinian adult stationed in prisons with Palestinian children to act as a liaison with prison authorities. But no such person exists in Givon.

Parents Barred

The youngest Palestinian alleged by Israel to be involved in a stabbing is 12-year-old Ali Alqam.

Ali and his 14-year-old cousin, Muawiya, are accused of stabbing and lightly wounding a security guard on a light rail train near Beit Hanina in occupied East Jerusalem on 10 November.

Ali was hit by three bullets in his abdomen, pelvis and right hand.

A lawyer with Defense for Children International–Palestine visited Ali on 15 November while he was still at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem.

A spokesperson for the group told The Electronic Intifada that police prohibited their lawyer from asking questions about Ali’s interrogation. Ali’s family also said that the police prevented them from visiting their son in the hospital.

According to Addameer’s Rafat Sub Laban, Muawiya is being held at Givon and Ali is detained at a closed rehabilitation facility while they both await trial.

Targeting Children

Even before the recent escalation, Israeli violence against Palestinian minors in custody was on the rise.

Between January and June 2015, 86 percent of Palestinian children reported some kind of physical violence after their arrest, according to data collected by Defense for Children International–Palestine – an increase of 10 percent from the prior year.

Since Israel’s intensified crackdown on Palestinians began more than two months ago, violations of the rights of Palestinian children in Israel’s civil court system have sharply increased.

In November, Israel’s parliament approved a series of harsh measures.

The Knesset gave preliminary approval to a bill to imprison children as young as 12 who are accused of terrorism. The law will affect Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem.

Israel’s current laws bar imprisonment of children under the age of 14.

Earlier in the month, the Knesset passed a law mandating sentences of 4 to 10 years for throwing stones at moving vehicles.

Israeli lawmakers also amended the national insurance law so that benefits can be revoked from children convicted of “nationalistic-motivated” offenses or “terrorist activities.”

They also raised the fines courts can impose on their families to more than $2,500 dollars.

While the laws do not specify that Palestinians are the targets, human rights groups anticipate this will be how they are applied.

“Previous policy changes affecting related offenses have applied almost exclusively to the Palestinian population” in occupied East Jerusalem, Addameer and Defense for Children International–Palestine say in a joint statement.

Extrajudicial Executions

Palestinian children have also not escaped Israel’s policy of extrajudicial executions.

Of more than 100 Palestinians killed in October and November, 23 were children, according to the United Nations monitoring group OCHA.

The majority were killed during alleged stabbing attempts, but in a number of cases eyewitnesses and video footage indicate that the youths were killed when they posed no immediate threat.

Human rights organizations and international monitors have condemned Israel’s routine practice of extrajudicial executions.

In some instances, like in the killings in separate incidents of 16-year-olds Mutaz Uweisat and Ahmad Abu al-Rab, Israel has denied requests by families and human rights groups for autopsies or independent investigations.

Israel is also still withholding the bodies of dozens of Palestinians killed in such incidents, making it even harder to independently determine what happened.

As long as Israel faces little of the international accountability human rights defenders are urging, children will continue to bear the brunt of the escalating violence it uses to maintain its occupation.