Arrest to Release

Israeli Military Detention - No Way to Treat a Child


Follow the step-by-step description of how Palestinian children are ill treated by Israeli soldiers, including arrest, detention, forced confessions, and appearance in military courts.


The following account of treatment of Palestinian children is based on the UNICEF report unless otherwise noted. (  The report drew its evidence from a database of more than 400 cases of child detention and ill treatment.


ArrestedArrest.  Palestinian children first encounter the military detention system when they are arrested.  This can be on the streets, roads or at checkpoints.  But it often happens at home, in the middle of the night.  Soldiers bang on the door and shout instructions for the family to leave.  “Furniture and windows are sometimes broken; accusations and verbal threats are shouted, and family members are forced to stand outside in their night clothes” while the child is forced to go with the soldiers.  Often neither the child nor his parents know where he is going or when he will return.


TransferedTransfer.  Arrested children’s hands are tied with painful plastic restraints; they are blindfolded and taken to an interrogation center, a harrowing journey that can take from an hour to a whole day.  Without a chance to say good-bye to their families or to put on appropriate clothing, the children are forced to kneel or lie on the floor of a vehicle.  In some cases they endure verbal or physical abuse, are exposed to the elements and have no food, water or access to toilets.  Sometimes there are intermediate stops at settlements or military bases, including a 10-minute medical interview.  During the interview, their blindfolds are removed, but not the handcuffs.  There are general questions about their health, but wounds from beatings or the plastic ties receive scant attention.


InterrogationInterrogation.  “The interrogation mixes intimidation, threats and physical violence, with the clear purpose of forcing the child to confess,” the UNICEF report states.  The children have no lawyers or family members present.  They are not told of their rights, including the right against self-incrimination.  There is no video recording or other independent oversight of the proceedings.  Sometimes children are bound to their chairs.  They may be threatened with “death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault against themselves or a family member.”  Not surprisingly, most children confess.  Then, they must sign statements written in Hebrew, a language most don’t understand.  Some children are put in solitary confinement until their court hearing, a practice so detrimental it is prohibited by international conventions.


HearingHearing.  Children shuffle into the military courtroom wearing brown prison uniforms and shackled with iron leg chains.  For the first time, they see their lawyer.  But the lawyer is at a disadvantage because some of the military orders and Israeli criminal laws governing the proceedings have not been translated into Arabic.  Usually the main evidence against the child is his own confession, which was likely made under duress.  Bail is usually denied.  The military judge can extend a child’s pretrial detention up to 188 days.


SentencedSentence. With all these factors stacked against them, almost all children plead guilty in hopes of reducing the length of their pretrial detention.  Those who go to prison are often sent to prisons inside Israel.  This contravenes article 76 of the Geneva Convention, which requires that prisoners be detained in the occupied territory.  Also, it is difficult to impossible for family members to travel to Israel to visit an incarcerated child.   Imprisoned children are allowed one 45-minute visit from family members every two weeks.  But West Bank Palestinians must get permits to travel inside Israel, a process that can take from two weeks to two months, according to the human rights group B’tselem.  Consequently, most children receive no visits. (quoted in )


Effects on Children and Families.  Palestinian children clearly suffer emotionally, and sometimes physically, from their ordeals with the military detention system.  They are torn from their families and communities and subjected to harsh treatment with no one to defend them.  Their educations are interrupted, sometimes during crucial examinations that determine their academic futures.  The impact of these experiences on a child’s future is hard to gauge.  But it cannot be positive.