Child prisoners of Israel

Child prisoners of Israel

Sabha al-Wawi, right, Palestinian mother of 12-year-old Dima al-Wawi, imprisoned by Israel for allegedly attempting to carry out a stabbing attack, comforts her daughter, after her release from an Israeli prison, at Jabara checkpoint near the West Bank town of Tulkarem, Sunday, April 24, 2016. — AP
Sabha al-Wawi, right, Palestinian mother of 12-year-old Dima al-Wawi, imprisoned by Israel for allegedly attempting to carry out a stabbing attack, comforts her daughter, after her release from an Israeli prison, at Jabara checkpoint near the West Bank town of Tulkarem, Sunday, April 24, 2016. — AP

To children the world over, Oz is a magical land to which orphaned Dorothy Gale and her pet dog are whisked by a tornado away from her gray, impoverished Kansas home, as described by L. Frank Baum in his famous children’s novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” But to hapless Palestinian children, the word Oz conjures up nightmarish visions of both Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Bagram in Afghanistan.

It is a police station or jail in Jabal Al-Mukaber meant for Palestinian children and young people where detainees spend one night for interrogation.

A jail for children?

Yes, this is what makes some of the news reports coming from the Occupied Territories this week particularly painful reading. One news item relates to the release from Hasharon prison of a 12-year-old girl, referred to as D, the youngest female Palestinian jailed by Israel. The 12-year-old was convicted in a plea bargain in February of attempted voluntary manslaughter and illegal possession of a knife by a military court. Israeli law bars the incarceration of minors younger than 14, but that applies only to Jews.

The second report is about the sharp rise in the number of Palestinian children in prison. The 440 children currently in military detention are the highest total since the Israeli Army started issuing figures in 2008 – and more than double the number detained this time last year.

Some 54 percent of the prisoners, 238, are in custody until the end of the legal process against them. Seven have been detained without being charged, including one who is not yet 16. The number of prisoners aged 16-18 rose from 143 to 324, while the number of prisoners aged 14-16 rose from 27 to 98. Many find themselves dragged from bed at gunpoint in the middle of the night by Israeli soldiers. Most Palestinian children in detention are convicted of throwing stones. In addition to a jail sentence, each is given a suspended sentence, usually of several years.

In March 2011, the Palestinian Ministry of Detainee Affairs published a new report documenting the torture of children as young as seven in Israeli prisons. Between January and March of 2011, Israeli soldiers abducted 150 children and all of them were interrogated during the course of their imprisonment – with many subjected to hitting, psychological abuse and other violence or threat of violence without a parent or adult representative present. Children are kept in harsh conditions with the intention of pressuring them to give information about other Palestinians. Many are denied food and water for extended periods of time and exposed to extreme cold or heat.

Since the beginning of October 2015, hundreds of young men from Jerusalem have spent the night in Oz. When two brothers are arrested, security officials try to make one confess against the other, saying that his brother has already confessed against him.

An Israeli human rights organization has accused the government of torturing children after it emerged that some were kept in outdoor cages during winter. The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) published a report which claimed children suspected of minor crimes were subjected to “public caging”, threats and acts of sexual violence and military trials without representation.

Israel only narrowly avoided inclusion last year in a UN “shame list” of serious violators of children’s rights.

Israel is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires “that a child be not compelled to give testimony or to confess or acknowledge guilt”, and says detention or arrest should only be used as a last resort. But as long as the world community applies a different yardstick to Israel, Palestinian children will continue to suffer.