The Torture of Palestinian Children Under Israeli Occupation
A topic often ignored or scarcely written about is torture. Perhaps this is because most would rather deny that in our day and age such an atrocious word exists let alone practiced. Maybe it is because the topic is so overwhelming and quite frankly disgusting that not many can stomach writing about it. Of course there is also the fact that those who commit acts of torture make sure to cover their tracks, under such despicable interpretations of the law of necessity should a complaint ever be filed, or insuring the prosecutor's office simply ignores their illegal actions. If all else fails simply torture the victim to a state where s/he is unable to testify and should s/he die even better. Make no mistake though, these practices are in full use, and Palestinians have for long been the recipients of mind boggling inhumane and cruel treatment under the hands of the Israeli Military Intelligence and Israel Security Agency, formerly the General Security Services (GSS).
In 1999 the number of complaints against Israel's use of torture forced the Israeli High Court to outlaw four methods of torture, namely the authority to 'shake' a man, hold him in the 'Shabach' position, force him into a 'frog crouch' position and deprive him of sleep in a manner other than that which is inherently required by the interrogation. Many mistook this ruling as abolishing the use of torture in Israel, but a closer look, by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel revealed that the ruling left many open breaches which make it possible for torture and ill treatment endured by hundreds of Palestinian detainees to continue in GSS and military intelligence interrogations.
The most disturbing accounts of torture are those committed against children between the ages of 13 and 18. DCI/PS reports that nothing has improved since the 1999 ruling, with every imprisoned child testifying to some form of torture, or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. In fact new methods of torture have been developed and are being used more frequently, including more psychologically focused techniques such as the use of isolation, using Palestinian collaborators to extract confessions, or pressuring children to collaborate with the Israeli military. Since September 2000, the Defence for Children International - Palestine Section estimates that approximately 700 children have been arrested by the Israeli military, over 160 of which remain incarcerated. 95% of these children have been arrested for throwing stones and are tortured until they confess to throwing 150 stones and name others who took part in such activities. If a confession is extracted from the child during interrogation by the military intelligence or the ISA, they are sent to the police station in order to make the same confession, in order for it to be legally recognized.
It is important to note the above-mentioned Israeli High Court ruling referred only to the practices of the ISA; however Palestinian children have been subjected to torture by military intelligence and the Israeli police as well. Thus, in essence, the decision has managed to successfully abate concerns without interfering with the work of the other agencies who conduct torture. Furthermore, the ISA is free, along with the other agencies, to develop new methods since the decision is so specific and strict with regards to which practices are outlawed that it leaves a lot of room to maneuver around. Given that the debate is frequently framed within the terms of 'ticking bomb' scenarios, the issue of torture in Israel is repeatedly placed in a context of Israel's "security" and threats to its existence, thus nearly always justifying its use. Moreover, the Israeli High Court decision lacks any ruling or even reference on the use of torture against children.
The Israeli military has embarked on an unprecedented campaign of arrests, detaining thousands of Palestinians including a significant number of Palestinian children. The criterion for being detained seems to primarily rest with the age and sex of the detainee, namely being male and between the ages of 14 - 60. Palestinian children continue to suffer the consequences of Israel's occupation as 13 children aged 16 and below have been killed in during January 2003 alone, that number rises by six if one were to include children aged 18 and below for a grand total of 19. According to Law Society's latest figures the total number of children up to 17 years old killed since September 28, 2002 has reached 451. Approximately one third of the 21,086 Palestinians injured by Israeli forces are children. Moreover, it is estimated that 45% of Palestinian children suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.
The DCI/PS estimates that at least 15% of the thousands of newly detained are Palestinian children. According to the repeated testimonies provided by released prisoners, Palestinian children are treated in the same manner as adult detainees, often subjected to torture. It is important to realize that since Israeli authorities do not recognize persons whose age is 16 or above as children it is difficult to get the official number of all children detained. Furthermore, the number of children being held in Israeli military detention centers in the West Bank is unknown. Finally, the difficulty in keeping track of all children detained by Israel is augmented by the 'revolving door' nature of the arrests, as children are continually arrested, released and then picked up again at a later date.
Note, under international law the detention of a child should be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. However, it appears that Israeli policy towards Palestinian children is contrary to this with detention often being a measure of "first resort." A prison sentence is the only sentence given to Palestinian children. The DCI/PS notes that it has never had a case of a Palestinian child, between 14 and 17 years of age, who was found guilty of committing an "offence" by an Israeli military court, receiving a sentence of anything other than a prison sentence. The last two years alone indicates that instead of adhering to the principle of the "shortest appropriate period of time," the length of sentences issued to Palestinian children is actually getting longer.
During the recent invasions, Palestinian children have been arrested either as a result of house-to-house searches, rounded up on the street, or after public calls by the Israeli military for Palestinian males between a certain age to come out of their houses and gather. Both types of arrest are carried out by heavily armed Israeli troops who often terrorize families and destroy property in the process of arrest. The detainees are blindfolded and handcuffed and taken to a detention center. Palestinian children are routinely beaten during transfer. In some areas, detainees are taken to a temporary detention facility set up in a Palestinian school or some other large facility and then transferred to a military installation located in an Israeli settlement. Others are transported directly to the military camp.
Upon arrival at the Israeli military camp, the detainees are verbally informed that they are being held under an Emergency Regulation order, dating from the time of the British Mandate on Palestine. On 5 April 2002, the Israeli military commander for the West Bank issued a new military order (No. 1500), which allows for Israeli soldiers to arrest any Palestinian from the West Bank without providing a reason and without a warrant. Moreover, the military order decrees that these detainees can be arrested for a period of 18 days before any legal proceedings take place. The new military order builds on previously issued orders requiring detainees to be brought before a judge within eight days. Military order no. 1500 is retroactive, applying to all detainees arrested since 29 March 2002.
After 18 days, the detainee is supposed to be brought to an impromptu military "court" (actually held in a tent with only a chair and table), where the judge can extend the detention, give the detainee an administrative detention order or release the detainee. Frequently, the judges serving in Israeli military courts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip lack any legal background or training. Instead, these judges are career military officers from military intelligence. These courts are not based on any objective legal standards but rather come under the system of Israeli military orders that are issued by the Israeli military authority. The military order defines the situation as a "war situation", yet the detainees are not detained as prisoners of war. Frequently, the judges serving in Israeli military courts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip lack any legal background or training. Instead, these judges are career military officers from military intelligence. Administrative detention orders are usually issued on the basis of "secret evidence." This secret evidence is not made available to the prisoner and they have no legal representation. Those issued administrative detention orders are being transferred to the newly re-opened Ansar III (Ketziot), a tent prison in the Negev desert.
The biggest and most frustrating barrier to Palestinian lawyers is trying to obtain information about prisoners in detention centers. Visits are only permitted after 18 days but it is required that the lawyer have the names of those they wish to visit. The authorities in charge of these detention facilities do not provide names or numbers of those in detention thus information must be taken from detainees who have been released or family members (who do not know where their relatives are detained). Detainees are not necessarily detained in detention facilities near their place of residence, for example DCI/PS is aware of two children from Jenin Refugee Camp detained near Ramallah. Once a list of names has been presented to the person in charge of the detention center it is on their whim to permit the lawyer to visit. DCI/PS is aware of lawyers who have been kept waiting two weeks before being informed that they are allowed to visit.
During their detention or imprisonment, Palestinian children are continuously transferred from one detention center to the next, to give them the feeling they are alone and no one can help them. Children spend prolonged periods cut off from the outside world, as they are denied from seeing their families and even their attorneys, and when they are allowed to see their parents, the continuous curfews, closures and other restrictions prevent the family members from reaching the detention facilities. Child prisoners are placed in a dirty, foul smelling solitary confinement cell (200 cm by 150 cm) known as "zinzaneh, the floor of which may be wet or covered in human excrements. The cell may either be almost completely devoid of light, or have light on at all times. If the prisoner attempts to sleep, a guard will come and wake him or her. Moreover child prisoners are often deprived of food and not given access to toilets.
The DCI documented that during interrogations child prisoners are tied, blindfolded and severely beaten. Moreover the methods outlawed by the Israeli High Court are nevertheless used with children being violently shaken, severe cases can lead to brain damage, tied to a small chair in uncomfortable positions that force the body to cramp for extended periods of time and exposed to severe heat or cold, for example removing the prisoners clothes and locking him in a small cupboard whereupon the air conditioning system is switch on to produce extremely cold conditions. Furthermore there have been several documented cases where prison guards have attempted raping child prisoners, and if they fail to succeed the children are placed with the adult Israeli criminal population whereupon they are sexual assaulted and abused, under the watchful eye of the prison guards. The psychological pressure and physical abuse these children suffer while incarcerated by Israelis naturally have lasting and debilitating effect on the rest of their lives.
Upon their release, child detainees are driven to outlying areas in the middle of the night where they are left in dangerous situations without means of getting home. This is particularly life-threatening when it occurs in areas that the Israeli military has declared under curfew (i.e. residents face being shot if they venture out of their homes) or in areas with a large Israeli settlement population (which have a documented history of violence against Palestinian civilians).
Torture is not restricted to those who are detained, as Israeli forces have on several occasions subjected Palestinian civilians to unfathomable treatment. In mid October, The Guardian reported about a case where an Israeli army commander, Lieutenant Colonel Geva Saguy ordering a Palestinian boy to strip naked, held a burning paper under his testicles, threatened to ram a bottle into his anus, beat him and terrified the child by saying he would shoot him. Surprisingly the military court relieved him of his post, however, in most cases torture is justified by the military court and the interrogator is immune from the law. According to the Washington Post, Israeli forces have also recently started applying a practice known as "The Lottery", where any violator of a curfew is ordered to pick from folded pieces of paper that have different punishments written on them -- such as "broken leg," "smashed hand" or "smashed head" - and the soldiers then administer the selected punishment. It is believed that this practice lead to the recent death of Amran Abu Hamediye, 18, who Palestinian witnesses said was beaten severely around his head.
The above description of the life of a Palestinian child prisoner is nothing short of horrific. It is essential to realize that the aim of interrogators is to augment a child's vulnerability to a state were they break the child emotionally. The forced loss of childhood and innocence is alone a crime, let alone some of the more unfathomable actions perpetrated by the GSS and Israeli military. Most of us would like to believe that these Israeli interrogators and committers of such acts are not human. While such people must be sadists they are nevertheless humans, who display the utter evil in our society. They are our fellow man, and to do their victims justice we must expose their atrocious actions rather then take comfort in the fact that such people must be abnormal and deny the frequency with which torture continues to be administered.