HUNDREDS OF CHILDREN HELD IN ISRAELI JAILS AND DETENTION FACILITIES, UNITED NATIONS MEETING ON QUESTION OF PALESTINE TOLD
3 April 2012
The United Nations Meeting on the Question of Palestine this afternoon held the first of three thematic discussions set out in its agenda, on humanitarian and legal aspects of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention facilities.
Speaking about the situation of children detainees and abuse they endured in Israeli prisons and detention facilities, Khaled Quzmar, a legal consultant to the Defence for Children International in Jerusalem, said that 216 children under the age of 18 were detained in Israeli jails and children below the age of twelve were also arrested and exposed to torture and ill treatment. Ahmed Shreem, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council drew the attention of the Committee on the illegal detention of Palestinian parliamentarians as important aspect of the policies of the occupying Power. He said that the occupying Power used administrative detention indiscriminately and on any occasion and that most of the Palestinian parliamentarians were arrested without any reason whatsoever. Shedding more light on the legal aspect of the current situation of detention in Israel, Jan Borgen, Deputy Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists, said that some 4,500 Palestinian prisoners continued to be held in Israeli jails and detention facilities, including hundreds of children and detainees who continued to be held without charge of trial.
Rehabilitation of former prisoners was one of the greatest challenges for Palestinian society and authority, said Mohammed Albatta, Director-General of the Rehabilitation Programme, Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs of the Palestinian Authority. More than 80 per cent of Palestinian prisoners suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, and over 40 per cent suffered from depression. Since the onset of the occupation in 1967 over 800,000 Palestinians had been victims of detention. Ninety per cent of children released from detention suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, said Lama Odeh Sharif, Psycho-Social Supervisor, Rehabilitation Programme, Young Men’s Christian Association in East Jerusalem. Approximately 700 children were annually detained, tortured and mistreated in Israeli prisons and detention centres. This constituted a threat to society as a whole, because young people accounted for 41 per cent of Palestinian society and because trauma of detention caused deep wounds in children. Torture and ill treatment suffered in Israeli detention centres caused many children to consider suicide.
In concluding remarks speakers said that thousands of families had their children behind bars and their only crime was that they were born under the occupation, and hoped that the leaders of the occupying force would be prevented from visiting other countries and that there would be some form of accountability. A speaker called for a fact-finding Committee to reveal the extent of abuse and violations inside Israel’s prison, while a speaker concluded that there was a very real danger that abnormal would start to be seen as normal.
Representatives of the Legal Consultant for Defence for Children International, the Palestinian Legislative Council, the International Commission of Jurists, the Rehabilitation Programme of the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs and the Rehabilitation Programme of the Young Men’s Christian Association in East Jerusalem took the floor in today’s meeting.
The International Meeting on the Question of Palestine will next meet in public tomorrow, 4 April, at 10 a.m. to consider the legal status of Palestinian political prisoners under international law.
KHALED QUZMAR, Legal Consultant for Defence for Children International, said that there were 4,300 detainees and prisoners in Israeli centres of detention, of which 216 were children under the age of 18 and around 30 of those were held in administrative detention. The Israeli authorities had completely ignored the Fourth Geneva Convention and tried children by military courts which often ignored or misinterpreted provisions of the Geneva Convention. Children younger than twelve years had been arrested and exposed to torture and ill treatment. Israeli forces carried out arrests between midnight and 3 a.m. in the morning; they would encircle the house and abduct children, or arrest them together with their parents and transfer them to prison. A child’s parents or legal guardians would not be present during the interrogation phase and frightened and disoriented children often made incoherent confessions during those first phases of interrogation. Such actions contravened the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. After questioning, a child would be brought to military courts whose purpose was to punish the Palestinian people and not to mete out justice. A child’s contact with their family was limited and families often had to travel for over 20 hours through checkpoints for only 15 minutes of contact with their child via a phone line and through thick glass.
Over past five years large number of children and over 2,500 women had been arrested. Prisoners had described the conditions of arrest, which involved blindfolding, excess use of force, filthy cells and no access to drinking water. There had been a case of a prison guard urinating in a glass and offering it to a detained child who asked for a drink of water. Many of the children were girls and they were not given the consideration that needed to be accorded to females: they were arrested in the middle of the night, they were not interrogated by female officers and they were not detained in gender-separated detention facilities. Female prisoners were often exposed to provocations by the prison staff. Pregnant female prisoners didn’t receive adequate prenatal care. Prisoners in need of medical care didn’t receive special treatment, and medical care was usually absent largely because of a complete absence of trust on both sides. The treatment of prisoners in Israeli detention centres of was inhumane and close to torture, and as such represented a crime against humanity. Such violations of prisoner’s rights could not carry on indefinitely. It was time for the international community to raise its voice and call on the United Nations Security Council to ask Israel to honour its commitments in virtue of international law.
AHMAD SHREEM, Palestinian Legislative Council, said that international human rights law and international humanitarian law had been violated in detention of members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. The occupying power used administrative detention indiscriminately and on any occasion. Most of the Palestinian parliamentarians were arrested without any reason and under the provisions of administrative detention. Detention circumstances, sites of detention and conditions of detention in Israel were a blow to international standards; the detention of Palestinian parliamentarians ran counter to all rules and agreements and also humanitarian consideration. The international community should lobby with the occupying power to immediately and unconditionally release all Palestinian parliamentarians detained in Israeli jails and centres of detention. Mr. Shreem shared with the Committee a message from ‘prisoners deprived of freedom in the darkness of prison cells’, who said they didn’t commit any crime, their only “crime” was to protect the right to humanity and to defend human beings whose rights were violated in plain sight of the world. Their patience was still not worn out and there was still light for freedom lovers, and fire to burn the oppressors.
JAN BORGEN, Deputy Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists, said that contrary to the international law, some 4,500 Palestinian prisoners continued to be held in Israeli jails and detention facilities, including hundreds of children and detainees who continued to be held without charge or trial. Families were regularly denied their right to visit relatives imprisoned in Israel and since 2007, Israel placed a total ban on family members from Gaza visiting relatives incarcerated in Israel. Mr. Borgen spoke about the applicability of laws on Palestinian prisoners, which included international humanitarian law and international human rights law in Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The position of the International Commission of Jurists was clear: Israel’s use of administrative detention systematically and blatantly violated international law. Israel must release all administrative detainees or prosecute them in accordance with due process. Israel resorted to administrative detention because it was a quick alternative to criminal proceeding when the authorities lacked sufficient evidence to press criminal charges or when they wanted to keep information classified. The systematic and excessive reliance on classified information constituted one of the most problematic aspects of administrative detention and contradicted the fundamental principle of due process. The Fourth Geneva Convention specifically stipulated that recourse to administrative detention should only be when the security of the state made it absolutely necessary. Administrative detention was inherently problematic; it was not intended to punish a person for an offense already committed, but to prevent a future danger. The manner in which Israel used administrative detention was patently illegal. In addition to the practices of indefinite administrative detention and the use of special enhanced interrogation techniques that violated Israeli’s obligations under international law, the rights of Palestinian detainees and prisoners were further undermined by different decisions issued by the Israeli Supreme Court.
MOHAMMED ALBATTA, Director-General of the Rehabilitation Programme, Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, said that the oppression policy was best illustrated by the statement of an Israeli General who said that Israel would work to turn all Palestinian prisoners into invalids, both physical and psychological. The experience of arrests from the very beginning, when a large number of soldiers armed to the teeth circled a house in the middle of the night to abduct a child or the head of the household, was an evidence of that policy. Interrogation was associated with physical and psychological pressure, sleep deprivation and blindfolding; all planned to weaken a prisoner and render them feeble and vulnerable. Over 80 per cent of Palestinian prisoners suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and over 40 per cent suffered from depression. Those figures showed the magnitude of the problem: since the onset of the occupation in 1967, more than 800,000 Palestinians had been victims of detention, and large numbers were children and women. That meant not a single Palestinian family had escaped having at least one member detained. Release from prison was not the end; many former detainees suffered psychological problems and found it difficult to reintegrate into normal life. The rehabilitation of former prisoners was one of the greatest challenges for Palestinian society and authority. The greatest issue was finding and creating jobs for released prisoners, particularly in the shrinking labour market. More needed to be done in supporting released prisoners in creation of small businesses and self-employment, through provision of training, loans and grants.
LAMA ODEH SHARIF, Psycho-Social Supervisor at the Rehabilitation Programme, Young Men’s Christian Association, East Jerusalem, said its programme focused on the consequences of occupation and the policies of killing and oppression by Israel. A third generation of Palestinians were now growing up under occupation. Approximately 700 children annually were detained, tortured and mistreated in Israeli prisons and detention centres. That constituted a threat to society as a whole, because young people made up 41 per cent of Palestinian society and because the trauma of detention caused deep wounds in children. They perceived the world as a kind of a hell where they cannot see a future for themselves and a place where it was impossible for their dreams to come true. Over 90 per cent of children were subjected to humiliation and offensive language, which further fed into feeling of insecurity. Children in detention were strip searched, held incommunicado and had difficulties reintegrating after their release. Over 90 per cent of children released from detention suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. The psychological integrity of children was extremely important as it influenced the well-being of a whole family and resonated in schooling and in working life. Worry, anxiety, depression, nervousness, nightmares, interrupted night sleep and other symptoms were often seen in children released from detention. The majority stated that they were more easily frightened and provoked then before; they were marked by feelings of panic, guilt, pessimism, bitterness and defenceless, and were ill equipped to handle those feelings. Torture and ill treatment suffered in Israeli detention centres caused many children to consider suicide. Families often didn’t know how to deal with their children, so wrapped them up in a protective cocoon, which added to their social exclusion and depression.
Discussion between organizations and Committee Experts
The organizations who had made statements then addressed questions to the Committee. A speaker stressed that extensive resort to administrative detention and forcible transfer of arrested persons could be classified as war crimes under the Rome Statute. War crimes must be prosecuted, which was the best deterrence against future violations. The speaker asked whether in the future States would adopt internal legislation that would ensure that claims put forward by Palestinian victims received due course in their national jurisdiction, which was particularly important as the International Criminal Court had no jurisdiction over the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Another speaker asked whether administrative detention of Palestinian parliamentarians was more of a political question and said that the law applied also to the Gazans who were also exposed to administrative detention. The Committee was asked long it took for a person to forget about their detention, especially children. They were also asked how best to draw the attention of the European Union to the situation of Palestinian prisoners.
A Committee Expert said that Israel practiced denial of freedom of expression and used other practices of detention, such as breaching the political rights of politicians. Gazans were also imprisoned and that was a big problem for Gaza; the Fourth Geneva Convention must be applied there. Another Expert said that the possibility of forgetting was not predetermined; individual differences existed among people. An expert spoke about the question of peaceful protests, given that Israel continued to arrest people and had built the separation wall, which now was a political rather than a security issue. All of that had taken place with the approval of the United States. Even after the Doha agreement people had been re-arrested under administrative detention. There was no such thing an unlawful combatant; it was a construct of Israel. Regarding lasting psychological effects, an Expert said that children released from detention had told him that the safest place for them was the street, as there they could run in any direction. Another Expert said that people faced difficult situations in detention, and sometimes their lives were in danger; those traumatic experiences remained etched in the back of their mind, surfacing in the form of flashbacks.
An organization asked whether the accounts of detainees were systematically recorded, for example the names of perpetrators, places and times. That was important for purposes of accountability, future truth and reconciliation commissions and simply for naming and shaming of individuals when visiting other countries. An Expert confirmed that information was collected from children held in detention, according to international standards. That information was extremely important for the institutional memory of Palestine and for future trials of war criminals. The material was there, but what needed to be determined was an opening of judicial systems to try Israeli war criminals. Mr. Bergen said that it was clear who the commanders were and who was on top; the problem was with the United Nations Member States who did not take action to arrest visiting Israeli politicians. The problem was more on the side of other States than knowing who the accountable persons in Israel were.
LAMA ODEH SHARIF, Psycho-Social Supervisor at the Rehabilitation Programme, Young Men’s Christian Association, East Jerusalem, said that she hoped the occupation would come to an end and that there would be no more prisoners. It was hoped that the Conference would help release of prisoners and that there would be provisions and measures taken to access children immediately after, or even during, detention.
KHALED QUZMAR, Legal Consultant for Defence for Children International, said that all should share responsibility. Thousands of families had their children behind bars and their only crime was that they were born under the occupation. Mr. Quzmar hoped that the leaders of the occupying force would be prevented from visiting other countries and that there would be some form of accountability.
AHMAD SHREEM, Palestinian Legislative Council, said that there was a need to form a fact-finding Committee to reveal the extent of abuse and violations inside Israel’s prisons.
JAN BORGEN, Deputy Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists, said that he regretted that events in other countries have drawn the attention away from the situation in Occupied Palestinian Territories.
ISSA QUARAQE, Minister of the Palestinian Authority for Prisoners’ Affairs, said that on the question of rehabilitation of prisoners after their release, there was a very real danger that abnormal would start to be seen as normal. Sometimes it was difficult to know the name of an investigator and it was important to try the top level of the Israeli State that legislated for the violation of rights of the whole Palestinian people.
For use of information media; not an official record
Document Type: French text, Press Release
Document Sources: Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR), General Assembly, United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG)
Subject: Children, Human rights and international humanitarian law, Inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, Legal issues, Peace process, Prisoners and detainees
Publication Date: 03/04/2012