Young Palestinian stone-throwers brutalised by Israeli security forces
JERUSALEM // Israeli security forces have arrested Muslim Odeh 22 times in the space of seven years. The East Jerusalem resident has been snatched from his home in the middle of the night, blindfolded, interrogated and beaten. The first time he was arrested it was for stone throwing. He was nine years old.
Muslim’s most recent arrest was December last year, outside his school, when he was held overnight before being released.
“They blindfolded me and put a bag over my head that smelled of vomit,” he said. “They punched me in the stomach in the prison cell, which made me vomit.”
Muslim’s experiences and those of other Palestinian children arrested by Israeli security forces are confirmed by recent reports from rights groups.
Out of 30 East Jerusalem youths between the ages of 9 and 17 who were arrested by Israeli police between January and June this year, 16 said they were subjected to physical violence during interrogation in the absence of a parent, according to the NGO Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP).
According to DCIP, the violence reported consisted of choking, punching and slapping.
East Jerusalem falls under Israeli civilian law, unlike in the West Bank, where Israeli military law is administered. Israel’s youth law should apply equally to Palestinian and Israeli Children, according to DCIP.
The youth law sets out safeguards and protections for children in conflict with the law, from arrest, to transfers, interrogation and court appearances. It mandates use of arrest as a last resort, advance notice before questioning, minimal use of restraints and the presence of a legal guardian or an adult family member during questioning.
However, of the 30 cases studied by DCIP, 27 children were arrested directly at their homes or in nearby streets. Half of the children were arrested between midnight and six in the morning at their homes, and in only three cases were parents or guardians present during the interrogations.
“Systematically excluding Palestinian children from protection is a grave violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child signed by Israel in 1991,” said Iyad Misk, a lawyer at DCIP.
The negotiations affairs department of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation said Israeli forces arrested 342 Palestinian minors in East Jerusalem in the first half of this year. Last year, 700 Palestinian children were arrested, according to DCIP.
A report by Human Rights Watch last month said Israeli security forces used unnecessary force to arrest or detain Palestinian children as young as 11. According to the report, based on interviews with six children between the ages of 11-15 who were arrested last year in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, security forces choked children, threw stun grenades at them, beat them in custody, threatened them and interrogated them without parents or lawyers present.
Responding to the HRW report, the Israeli military insisted that “all the relevant authorities act in accordance with the law and operation instructions, while ensuring that the suspect is provided with all the necessary rights and safeguards”.
While claiming that all formal complaints were investigated and acted upon, it said none were received regarding the cases cited by HRW.
Also, the right to have a parent present during interrogation did not apply in cases where “the minor is under arrest or suspected of committing a security offence”.
Human Rights Watch said the children cited in its report had been arrested for throwing stones, which is considered a security offence. Stone throwing is a common practice during protests against Israeli occupation and injustices against Palestinians.
Israel has just introduced a controversial new law under which stone throwers can be sentenced to 20 years in prison if it is proven they intended to inflict harm. The law would also apply to minors.
Sentences of up to 10 years could be passed if a stone is thrown at civilian vehicles, without prosecutors having to prove any intention to cause harm.
Israel’s parliament passed the law despite criticism from Arab members, who said it was aimed at oppressing Palestinian protest.
Israel’s right-wing justice minister Ayelet Shaked led the push for the legislation and described its passage as “justice done”.
“For years terrorists avoided punishment and responsibility at the time. Tolerance towards terrorists ends today,” she said.
“A stone thrower is a terrorist, and only an appropriate punishment can be deterrent, punitive and just.”
Anan Abu Khdeir, 17, was arrested for stone throwing during clashes that broke out in the East Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighbourhood last year after his cousin, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was abducted outside his home and burnt alive by Jewish extremists.
He said stone throwing, for which he was first arrested at the age of 14, should never be just for the sake of it. “If there’s something else more useful I can do for society I will do it instead of throwing stones and going to jail for 20 years.
“But last year after the death of my cousin I was encouraging stone throwing because I thought that period and the action that happened needed that,” he said.
“My blood was boiling. Ten days after Mohammad died it was natural to feel fired up. My cousin was burnt alive and I was angry.”
Updated: August 10, 2015 04:00 AM