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The NY Times Non-Story of 2013: Israeli abuse of child prisoners

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The reports came in throughout the year, all pointing to a singular problem in Israel: Palestinian children in military custody were routinely mistreated, traumatized and denied their rights.

In March UNICEF released “Children in Israeli Military Detention,” a 22-page document declaring that abuse was “widespread, systematic and institutionalized.” The situation was also unique.  “In no other country,” it said, “are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees.”

childdetentionThe report cited terrifying nighttime arrests; physical and verbal abuse; painful restraints; denial of access to food, water and toilet facilities; solitary confinement; coerced confessions; lack of access to lawyers and family members; shackling during court appearances; and transfer to prisons outside Palestine. It noted that these practices violate international law

New York Times readers were granted one paragraph on this important report from a major UN agency, fewer than 100 words in the World Briefing section on page 11 of the March 7 news section. The closing sentence said that the foreign ministry had cooperated with UNICEF and “would study the report closely.”

Apparently neither the foreign ministry nor the army took action, however. Seven months later UNICEF published a follow-up bulletin revealing that the situation for child prisoners had worsened since the original document was released.

Meanwhile, other reports were adding to the chorus of voices about child prisoner abuse in Israel: a US State Department country report on human rights in Israel released in April, a report by the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child published in June, and an August report by the Israeli monitoring group B’Tselem titled “Abuse and torture in interrogations of dozens of Palestinian minors in the Israel Police Etzion Facility.”

All these buttressed similar releases of the year before: a Defense for Children International report by distinguished British jurists, a collection of testimonies by Israeli soldiers compiled by Breaking the Silence, and a Save the Children report with a focus on rehabilitation of traumatized former child prisoners. The British investigation led to parliamentary debate and a challenge to Israel from the foreign office of the UK.

Case study from 2012 Defense for Children International report.

Case study from 2012 Defense for Children International report.

A number of reports noted that this abuse is only meted out to Palestinians. Israeli children never come into contact with the military court system.

The Times apparently felt compelled to neutralize these insistent and damning reports. In August the paper ran a prominent first page story about youthful resistance in one West Bank village. In the print edition it was titled “My Hobby is Throwing Stones: In a West Bank Culture of Conflict, Boys Wield the Weapon at Hand” and written by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren.

The story would have you believe that in the village of Beit Ommar challenging the occupation is all in play, an extension of the “Arabs and Army” game boys play in the streets. “They throw because there is little else to do,” Rudoren writes. They throw at certain hot spots, which are described like markings on a sports field and presented by their nicknames: “the duo,” “the triangle,” “the stage.”


In this scenario, boys and men have been arrested often, they been in and out of prison, but no one is traumatized. They remain upbeat and ready for more. There are no bruises, no cigarette burns, no coerced confessions, no real provocations by settlers or soldiers, and all the former prisoners are actually guilty as charged, which aid workers say is often not the case at all.

The opening paragraph sets the tone—a 17-year-old village boy is arrested at 4 a.m. and as the soldiers lead him away, his mother “rushed after with a long-sleeved shirt: they both knew it would be cold in the interrogation room.” What could be more benign? Here’s an anxious mother urging her son to put on warm clothes.

The article mentions the UN report but only to give the number of arrests over the years. Towards the end of this lengthy piece, Rudoren includes a paragraph with Defense for Children International statistics and charges of abuse. It notes that 90 percent of Palestinian children taken into custody received jail sentences compared with 6.5 percent of Israeli children and it notes that Israeli children are “prosecuted in a civil system.”

But the full impact of this article is to make light of Israeli army incursions, to present the settlers as beleaguered by stone throwing kids, and to show the stone throwers as unrepentant petty criminals with little motivation for their actions. Readers are unlikely to remember the Defense for Children charges of mistreatment or grasp the import of a two-tiered system for Israelis and Palestinians.

(Also see a critique of the article by Bekah Wolf, an American who lives in Beit Ommar and was present while Rudoren was doing her research. The critique shows that significant information was deliberately omitted.)

While the Times has kept silent on the issue or attempted to defuse the charges of abuse, Israeli media have been more forthcoming. Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post have written about the charges, and the online magazine 972 ran a series of articles on the subject in November, with videos showing arrests of children as young as 5.

Most recently, as 2013 came to an end, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel revealed that children had been held outdoors in iron cages while awaiting court hearings. Israeli news articles stated that this took place during the recent freezing winter storm and that Justice Minister Tzipi Livni brought it to an end when she was informed of the practice.

The Times, as before, has remained silent on this latest news about Israel’s abuse of children in custody.

Barbara Erickson

Barbara Erickson is a retired journalist living in Berkeley, California and a member of Friends of Sabeel-North America and Jewish Voice for Peace. She is the founder of TimesWarp, a blog that focusses on NY Times coverage of Palestine-Israel.

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9 Responses

  1. pabelmont on January 13, 2014, 4:06 pm

    In the NYT newsroom, it is by all persons understood that there
    is (in effect) a sign that says:

    [1] Israel can do no wrong.
    [2] No responsible person would suggest otherwise.
    [3] Do NOT report irresponsible statements.
    [4] Do Not forget This sign!!

    Mondoweiss or UNICEF may suggest that Israel does wrong, but if they do so, they do so irresponsibly, and for that reason the NYT will refuse to publish such “news”. QED.

  2. oldgeezer on January 13, 2014, 4:07 pm

    “(Also see a critique of the article by Bekah Wolf”

    The link doesn’t work

  3. Bumblebye on January 13, 2014, 4:19 pm

    The link to Bekah Wolf’s critique of Rudoren is incorrect. It should be:

  4. Balfour on January 13, 2014, 4:48 pm

    I guess the New York Times deems the Israeli abuse of child prisoners “news not fit to print”.

  5. Parity on January 13, 2014, 5:20 pm

    When I couldn’t get the link to the Times article on stone throwing, I searched the article by title and found it and the letters that followed on two successive days.

    The first letter, from someone in Jerusalem, lamented the use of the term ‘rite of passage’ and thought it would encourage more stone-throwing:
    The second letter was by someone who had been a target of Palestinian stone throwing and talked about the importance of reversing “the culture of conflict.”
    The third and final letter that day was by a Holocaust survivor who lauded the article and said that it’s “way past time to let American Jews especially know what is really going on there.”

    The next day, the Times published one more letter, by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. He thought the times “dehumanized” the settlers that were attacked.

  6. just on January 13, 2014, 9:29 pm

    I’ve come to expect whitewashing at the NYT and other media– BUT why is our government still doing business with this ugly state when the evidence of their apartheid, cruelty, illegal actions, the ongoing Nakba and horrific, thieving Occupation is all right there at their fingertips???????????????

    WHY did Biden say this today: “May the bond between Israel and the United States never, ever be broken.”?

    When will our government say “enough” and break this unholy alliance and EXPLAIN why it must be done? They must inform the citizenry who are/have been ill-served by them and by the MSM for far too long.

    You have done much with this very detailed exposé, and I thank you Ms. Erickson.

    • pabelmont on January 14, 2014, 7:37 am

      just — You ask, “[W]hy is our government still doing business with this ugly state”. For guidance (and to deepen the mystery) ask why our government supported so many dictators over the years, especially (in Israel’s case) Mubarak. Ask why we supported Noriega (until we attacked him). Here is wiki’s list just for Latin America (Jan 14, 2014):

      Porfirio Díaz (Mexico) (1876–1911)
      Institutional Revolutionary Party (Mexico) (1929–2000)
      Juan Vicente Gómez (Venezuela) (1908–35)
      Manuel Estrada Cabrera (Guatemala) (1898–1920)
      Jorge Ubico (Guatemala) (1931–44)
      Fulgencio Batista (Cuba) (1952–59)
      Rafael Trujillo (Dominican Republic) (1930–61)
      Military Junta in Guatemala
      Revolutionary Government Junta of El Salvador (1979–82)
      Hugo Banzer (Bolivia) (1971–78, 1997–2001)
      National Reorganization Process (Argentina) (1976–83)
      Brazilian military government (1964–84)
      Somoza family (Nicaragua) (1938–79)
      François Duvalier (Haiti) (1957–71)
      Jean-Claude Duvalier (Haiti) (1971–86)
      Omar Torrijos (Panama) (1968–81)
      Manuel Noriega (Panama) (1983–89)
      Alfredo Stroessner (Paraguay) (1954–89)
      Augusto Pinochet (Chile) (1973–90)
      but notFidel Castro (Cuba) (!)

      Having said that, let me say that I can find no reason, not support of American business, not anti-Communism, nada, that explains USA’s support of Israel generally or (in particular) USA’s support for Israel’s illegal conduct of the 46-year-old occupation.

      Oh! Wat! Yes! Selling arms to the Arab regimes and giving Israel arms to counteract them. Yes, BOTH these are helpful to BIG-DEFENSE, America’s biggest of the BIGs and also its biggest receiver of government charitable handouts.

      • Citizen on January 14, 2014, 10:51 am

        Yep, it’s the military-industrial-security complex Ike warned us about, in league with AIPAC et al.

  7. Citizen on January 14, 2014, 10:56 am

    On another note, re the Iran deal, gee, the NYT actually mentioned AIPAC. We can conclude that the identity of the cancer on America is spreading so much, even the NYT feels compelled, belatedly to mention it. Check out the comment on the NYT website re sabotage of Obama’s Iran Deal. I read the top dozen or so, and many were astute amid the lesser quantity of hasbara bots. I’m sure NTY is keeping an accounting, so they know which way the wind blows. Go over there and add your own comment.

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