A new report released by Israeli human rights groups, HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual and B’Tselem, with support from the European Union, revealed “broad, systemic abuse by Israeli authorities,” against hundreds of Palestinian teens detained in occupied East Jerusalem.
The report, titled Unprotected: The detention of Palestinian Teenagers in East Jerusalem was released on Wednesday, and detailed an investigation of 60 affidavits gathered between May 2015 and October 2016.
The groups found various instances of child abuse in Israeli police custody.
“Palestinian teenagers from East Jerusalem are pulled out of bed in the middle of the night, unnecessarily handcuffed and interrogated without being given the opportunity to speak to a lawyer or their parents before the questioning begins and without being informed of their right to remain silent,” the groups found. “They are then held under harsh conditions, repeatedly remanded to custodial detention for additional period of days and even weeks, even once their interrogation has ended. In some cases, all this is attended by verbal abuse or threats and physical abuse.”
While the report summarizes cases from a year ago, these arrests of teens are ongoing. For example, on Oct. 23, Israeli forces stormed the East Jerusalem village of Issawiya during overnight raids, sparking clashes between local youth and fully armed Israeli forces.
The clashes were nothing new for the contentious village, located near Israel’s Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital, but what usually ends in maybe a handful of arrests and injuries, instead accumulated to 51 Palestinians being detained and taken in by Israeli forces — 27 of whom were between the ages of 15 and 18, according to the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs.
The report released on Wednesday gave insight into what those teens may now be facing.
“The boys find themselves alone in a threatening and bewildering situation, with no one explaining what they are suspected of, what their rights are, whom they may confer with, how long the process will take and when they will return to their homes and families,” the report stated. “Until they are released, they have no adult they can trust by their side and their parents are kept away. These arrest and interrogation practices leave authorities free to pressure the detained minors into confessing to allegations.”
Going against protocol
Analyzing Israeli law and protocol, the groups found that in these cases, Israeli forces often broke their own regulations.
For instance, while Israeli law requires forces only arrest youth as a last resort, B’Tselem and HaMoked’s collection of affidavits showed that only in 13 percent of cases “did police refrain from arrest,” leaving the groups to determine that arrests are the Israeli police’s “preferred course of action” when dealing with Palestinian minors in occupied East Jerusalem.
In addition, according to Israeli protocol, physically restraining youth “may be used on minors only in exceptional cases,” however in the 60 cases reviewed in the report, at least 81 percent of the children were handcuffed before being placed in a police vehicle, while 70 percent remained in restraints during their interrogations.
Israeli law also prohibits minors from being interrogated at night outside of exceptional circumstances, but 25 percent of the children reported night interrogations, and 91 percent were arrested from their beds in the middle of the night.
“Even if at least in some of the cases, interrogators waited until morning to begin the interrogation, the boys arrived at the interrogation tired and scared after a sleepless night,” the report documented.
Minors, arrested from their bedrooms in the middle of the night, were only allowed to contact their families in “rare cases.” Allowing parents to be present is not required under Israeli law after an official arrest is made, and while police have the discretion to allow it, 95 percent of the children in the report were not allowed to have a parent present after arrest.
The report found that only 70 percent of the minors understood that they had the right to remain silent, fearing they would be harmed if they did not answer the questions police asked.
While 70 percent were able to speak to a lawyer during or before interrogations, B’Tselem and HaMoked found that in many cases the boys were handed the interrogator’s personal phone to speak to a lawyer, and the conversations were “inadequate and failed to help the minors understand their rights and what they were up against.”
“It stands to reason that the law enforcement system would treat these teenagers in an age-appropriate manner that takes their physical and mental maturity into account, recognizing that every action could have long-term repercussions for the boys themselves as well as for their families,” the report explained. “It stands to reason that the system would treat the boys humanely and fairly and provide them with basic protections. But that is not the case.”
According to the report, 25 percent of the children interrogated said violence was used against them, though the report did not detail specifically what kind of injuries were caused.
In addition, more than half the children said that interrogators screamed threats and verbal abuse at them. Almost a quarter were not allowed to use the bathroom or were given food when they asked.
Denying the children food and drink was one of the leading methods to get the children to confess, with 83 percent of the minors saying a big reason they signed confessions was because they were hungry — 80 percent of the confession statements were in Hebrew, so the children could not read what they were signing.
Behind the arrests
According to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, there are several main reasons Israeli forces choose to arrest minors in occupied East Jerusalem, outside of maintaining law and order.
Addameer believes Israeli soldiers and police target youth as a way to exert pressure on families and communities, pushing them to “end social mobilization” against the occupation. In addition, Addameer found that arresting children when they are young could deter them from participating in clashes and stone throwing — the most common charge levied against youth. Lastly, Addameer reports that it has collected testimonies that suggest children are “routinely” arrested and asked to “become informants” and “provide information on both prominent figures involved in advocacy efforts and other children participating in demonstrations.”
B’Tselem and HaMoked’s report concluded that Israeli policy toward East Jerusalem children is an intentionally formed policy used by the state to pressure Palestinians in the city to leave, treating the population as people outside of the system.
“Israel’s law enforcement system treats [Palestinians from East Jerusalem] as members of a hostile population all of whom, minors and adults alike, are presumed guilty until proven innocent, and employs against them extreme measures that it would never venture to use against other segments of the population,” the report continued. “Israel’s justice system is, by definition, on one side of the fence, with Palestinians on the other: The police officers, the prison guards, the prosecutors and the judges are always Israeli citizens who arrest, interrogate, judge and lock up Palestinian teenagers who are seen as enemies out to harm the interests of Israeli society.”