Israel’s illegal imprisonment of Palestinian children


Date published: Wed, 29 November 23

During the recent temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, dozens of Israeli hostages have been released in exchange for around 180 Palestinian prisoners. Among the Palestinian prisoners released, 128 were not charged, put on trial, or given any opportunity to defend themselves. Many were not told what they were detained for, while others were detained on charges that were proven to be false. 

Save the Children reported earlier this year in July that between 500 and 1000 Palestinian children are held in Israeli military detention each year. Around 86% of Palestinian children are beaten by Israeli authorities, 69% are strip-searched, and 42% are injured at the point of arrest, including gunshot wounds and broken bones. Around 60% of children experience solitary confinement from 1 day to as long as 48 days. Around 70% of Palestinian children imprisoned suffer from hunger, and 68% don’t receive healthcare. More than half of imprisoned children are denied visits or communication with their family. The majority of children detained are boys.

Jason Lee, Save the Children’s Country Director, says,

“Each year approximately 500-700 Palestinian children come into contact with the Israeli military court system; they are the only children in the world to experience systematic prosecution in military courts. Our research shows – once again – that they are subject to serious and widespread abuse at the hands of those who are meant to be looking after them. There’s simply no justification for beating and stripping children, treating them like animals or robbing them of their futures. This is a child protection crisis that can no longer be ignored. There must finally be an end to this abusive military detention system.” 

A UNICEF report found that in the past 10 years, an estimated 7,000 have been detained, interrogated, and/or imprisoned within the Israeli military justice system. This is an average of two children a day. The UNICEF report details the process that Palestinian children go through, as follows: 

Arrest: Children are arrested usually in the middle of the night, awaken by armed Israeli soldiers. UNICEF reports, “For some of the children, what follows is a chaotic and frightening scene, in which furniture and windows are sometimes broken, accusations and verbal threats are shouted, and family members are forced to stand outside in their night clothes as
the accused child is forcibly removed from the home and taken away with vague explanations such as ‘he is coming with us and we will return him later,’ or simply that the child is ‘wanted.’ Few children or parents are informed as to where the child is being taken, why or for how long.”

Transfer to interrogation site: The child is next hand-tied and blindfolded, led to a waiting military vehicle, and transferred to an interrogation site. Children are prevented from saying goodbye to their parents, and from putting on appropriate clothing. Occasionally, the Israeli forces will take the child to a settlement in the West Bank, to await further transfer to the interrogation site. 

Interrogation: UNICEF reports that common sites for interrogation are police stations in illegal settlements, such as Gush Etzion and Ari’el. Children are questioned by men dressed in civilian clothes, military uniforms, or Israeli police uniforms. No child has been accompanied by a lawyer or family member during the interrogation, which is illegal under international law. 

“The interrogation mixes intimidation, threats and physical violence, with the clear purpose of forcing the child to confess. Children are restrained during the interrogation, in some cases to the chair they are sitting on. This sometimes continues for extended periods of time, resulting in pain to their hands, back and legs. Children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitaryconfinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member.”

Hearing and sentence: After questioning, children are brought before a military court, entering the courtroom in shackles and leg chains, wearing prison uniforms. “Most children see their lawyers for the first time when they are brought to the court. Not all lawyers have easy access to the applicable military orders as they are not always made available in Arabic, as is required under international law.37 Further, some Israeli criminal legislation, which also applies in the military courts, has never been translated into Arabic. This failure to make the applicable laws (as amended) and decisions of the courts readily available in Arabic places Palestinian defence lawyers at a distinct disadvantage and jeopardizes an accused child’s chances of receiving a fair trial.”

Bail is denied in most cases. In most cases, children plead guilty to reduce the length of their pre-trial detention. Pleading guilty is the fastest way to be released – within a system that does not allow children to defend themselves. Two out of the three prisons run by the Israel Prison Service are located inside Israel. Parents are in most cases unable to visit due to restrictions on Plaesetinians with West Bank ID cards from traveling inside Israel. 

Overall, the treatment of Palestinian children as political prisoners is illegal in every step, and the process solidifies the apartheid and genocidal nature of the Israeli occupation. The arbitrary detention of children aids Israel in continuing its apartheid, its psychological and physical toll on the Palestinian population continuing through every new generation of children.