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Human Rights Watch Report Highlights Stories of Palestinian Children Abused by Israeli Forces

As the United States government prepares to increase military aid to Israel by as much as fifty percent, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report has put focus on Israeli security forces’ brutal treatment of Palestinian children.

The report includes six stories of questionable arrests and abuse six Palestinian children suffered in recent years. Neither of the children were older than 15 years-old when they were arrested.

According to HRW, there have been numerous reports by local human rights organizations and news media about arrests of Palestinian children. The frequent arrests pushed HRW to identify specific cases, interview abused children, and investigate the abuse, which had occurred.

A fourteen year-old girl, Malak Al-Khatib, was arrested on December 31, 2014, in a village in the West Bank. She was beaten by soldiers with “something like a baton,” according to her mother.

Khatib was kicked and a soldier stepped on her neck. She lost consciousness. She was put in a blindfod and endured further abuse as she was taken to a police station.

Her family had no idea she had been arrested. As Ali, her father, recalled, “She had a final exam that morning, in English, and we thought that as usual she had gone for a walk after an exam. Then the Beitin village council called to say she’d been arrested, but nobody knew where she’d been taken.”

Malak claimed the “interrogator yelled at her for two hours to confess, slammed his hand on the table, and threatened to bring in her mother and sister and arrest her father.” As is typical, if she wanted to return to her parents, she was forced to sign a “confession” that was in Hebrew, which the security forces know a vast majority of Palestinians cannot read.

Her lawyer reached a plea deal on January 14. She pled guilty to “throwing rocks at Road 60, a major road near Beitin used by Israeli settlers,” and received a two-month jail sentence and a three year suspended sentence. Her family paid a $1,560 fine.

HRW was unable to find evidence of stone throwing, and whether Malak did throw stones or not, Israeli authorities violated her rights when they refused to inform her parents she had been arrested or allow Malak to consult her parents or lawyer during her interrogation.

It also is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention to transfer Malak out of the West Bank to Israel. Although the Israeli Supreme Court has upheld this practice as lawful, it is only lawful under domestic law. It violates international standards, which Israel has adopted, and are supposed to supersede domestic law.

This abuse makes it possible for Israel to keep children from seeing their parents during their detention:

Malak’s parents, who have West Bank identification documents and are not permitted to enter Israel, were unable to see her in detention from December 31 until her release on February 12, except during five trial hearings at the Ofer military base and court complex, when they were not permitted to speak with her.

“At the hearings in Ofer, she would be brought in handcuffs. One time there was a boy with her in the dock, he was around 15 years old, also in [handcuffs]. We couldn’t call her on the phone while she was in prison,” her mother said.

As highlighted by HRW, “ill-treatment of children” subject to military detention has become “widespread, systematic, and institutionalized,” according to UNICEF. Between September 2013 and September 2014, UNICEF “received affidavits from 171 children stating that Israeli forces had subjected them to ‘physical violence during arrest, interrogation and/or detention.'”

During 2013, Israeli military forces mounted night raids and arrested 162 children, taking them away from their family’s homes. It also has “classified 163 Palestinian children from the West Bank as ‘security detainees’ – including children convicted for offenses like throwing stones, but not including other ‘criminal detainees’ – in Israeli detention at the end of January 2015, according to Israel’s prison service.”

Ahmed Abu Sbitan, who was eleven years-old, was arrested on December 21, 2014, after police accused him of throwing a stone while leaving a school in East Jerusalem.

“Kids were throwing rocks at the [border police], and the [border police] were throwing sound bombs [stun grenades] and [firing] rubber bullets,” Ahmed told HRW. “They grabbed me while I was walking from the school entrance to the main street.”

The eleven year-old child was put into a chokehold and cried. Israeli security forces shouted at Ahmed to be quiet while a teacher and two men from the neighborhood attempted to convince the police to set him free. But instead of listening to the two men, they arrested one of them, Mohammed H, a twenty-two year-old, after accusing him of throwing rocks.

Ahmed and Mohammed were driven to a “nearby Israeli settlement, Beit Orot, then to a police station on Salahadin Street, near Jerusalem’s Old City.” His family had no idea where Ahmed had been taken. When his father, Nidal, figured out his location, an officer questioned him. “Who let you in? We’re taking him away for interrogation.”

The security forces seem to have used Mohammed to instill further terror in Ahmed’s mind. In front of him, officers stripped off all of Mohammed’s clothes after Mohammed asked to take off his handcuffs because they were cutting off circulation and turning blue.

Once Mohammed was allowed to get back into his clothes, he was beaten and pushed against a wall.

“They told me to name all the kids who were with me, who threw stones,” Ahmed recalled. He was not informed he had a right to remain silent or that he could call his parent. He was held without charge for nearly an hour. And, although he said he was not assaulted during interrogation, the officers had abused Mohammed right in front of him.

Ahmed’s mother said a school counselor suggested talking to Ahmed about what the police did to him. He does not want to talk about it. He is scared of the police, who are often outside his school in the morning and afternoon.

The officers often provoke students. A school employee quoted by HRW said, “The kids don’t throw rocks or do anything if the police aren’t there. They should stop sending the police to loiter at the school gates.”

In response to Israel’s rejection of the Iran nuclear deal, President Barack Obama’s administration has agreed to potentially increase military aid to Israel from $3 billion per year to around $4.5 billion per year. This gesture is part of the US plan to address Israel’s problems with the deal.

Hellfire missiles, bunker buster bombs, and military defense equipment is expected to be part of the additional aid provided.

For years, it has been known that Israeli forces are detaining hundreds of children every year and subjecting many of them to torture. However, the US has no reported plan to request that Israel end this abuse before drastically increasing military aid.

Creative Commons Licensed Photo of an Israeli border guard by Jason Emery

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."