Where Detention, Torture Of Children Are Just A Stone’s Throw Away

Unsuspecting pre-teens are lodged in Israeli detention centers on charges of throwing stones at police, but the physical and mental abuse that follows has a long-lasting impact on them.

What would an 11-year-old do when beaten black and blue before police interrogation in a case he has no connection with? He might cry out in fear, stay numb or simply confess to the foisted charges. Higher the degree of torture means higher the chances of confessing to the ‘crime’. The fetid detention centers and prisons run by Israel see hundreds of such detentions/arrests every year, but no concrete mechanism has been put in place till date to unmask the fallacy surrounding such acts.

Children of Palestine often find themselves at the receiving end of Israel’s police brutality on the charge of throwing stones at troops. The forces fumble when it comes to detaining the actual lawbreakers and pick up those who are unlucky enough to be present at the wrong place at the wrong time. In one instance, a young boy was detained because his shirt color matched that of one of the stone-throwers. In another, a child who tried to flee the place after being rattled by Israeli stun grenades used against stone-throwers became the ‘accused’. If he hasn’t done anything wrong, why run away is the strange argument that lays bare the insensitivity of the forces towards the innocence and unassuming nature of a child.

The Israeli detention system does not work well in picking up Palestinians for stone-throwing, a security offense under its military law. After the detention, things take a turn for the worse. The accused would be frequently moved from one detention center to another, sometimes in a matter of a few hours. In the meantime, physical and mental abuse would continue unabated. Punching, kicking, verbal abuse, and threats become the order of the day.

The only silver lining is that some are freed within a few days, without any explanation. Others are in for the long haul and would be presented in court several times, without being charged with a crime. They would be put in solitary confinement and meted out both physical and psychological violence, besides being made to bear with lack of basic amenities, proper food, and medical care. Sexual violence by Israeli interrogators is a prevalent practice, though it is underreported by child detainees.

Circumventing laws

Double standards in child protection ensure that if an Israeli child commits a crime, the juvenile justice system would be activated. If under the age of 14, he could not be imprisoned. He would be allowed to get in touch with a lawyer within 48 hours. Whereas, if he is a Palestinian, military court would take up the case. He might be aged only 11, but still could be sent to jail and kept there for over 100 days. Access to lawyers or parents would take a humongous effort to fructify.

As an occupying force, Israel has the responsibility to apply the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in the Palestinian territories under its control. The detained Palestinian children are rarely informed of their rights, including their right to request the presence of a parent or lawyer during interrogation. Instead, uncouth Israeli forces try to circumvent the right to a fair trial by inflicting torture of the highest degree before beginning their interrogation, which is recorded to present as proof of no intimidation or coercion by the authorities! What’s more, children are later forced to sign confessions in Hebrew, a language that a majority of them don’t understand. This, when there are clear rules to suggest that interrogations carried out in Arabic should be documented in Arabic.

Fading smiles

Children of Palestine are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. On one side, poverty hinders their path to progress. On the other, Israeli forces occupy their lands to restrict their freedom of movement and use unjust force on them. According to UNICEF, around 700 Palestinians in the 12 to 17 age bracket are detained, arrested and interrogated by Israeli forces every year. Statistics from the Palestinian Authority’s Prisoner Affairs Commission suggests 160 children are in Israeli incarceration as of December last year.

The appalling violence that children are put through has an effect on their psychological well-being. Some of them are so scared to step out that they refuse to go to school. Scars of physical torture keep reminding them of the nightmare they had been through. All of them have a negative impression of the police. The effects may be far-reaching as they grow up, especially if they nurse a grudge against the forces. That said, it would be a wise idea if stones could make way for smiles at least in the future.

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