Palestinian children in Israeli military detention report increasingly violent conditions

Three organisations tracking the detention of children in the occupied Palestinian territory said they have gathered child testimonies – seen by Save the Children – showing that levels of violence have increased since stricter rules were introduced in October blocking visits from parents or lawyers. Some children have reported broken bones and beatings.

The Palestinian Commission for Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs, a prisoners’ organisation set up in 1998, estimates that about 460 children have been detained in about five months. This is a jump from previous estimates of about 500-700 Palestinian children being held in Israeli military detention each year.

The Palestinian Commission has said that about 9,000 Palestinians were being held in Israeli jails as of the end of January compared to 5,250 before 7 October but it did not have updated numbers due to restricted access to detainees.

The Palestinian Commission also said that conditions for children held in prisons have significantly deteriorated, with children who used to be housed with five detainees now sharing rooms with about 10 other detainees including adults, putting them at risk.

Other child testimonies gathered by the organisations Defense for Children International (DCI) and YMCA – also shared with Save the Children – told of starvation, abuse and inhumane treatment with some children released with injuries and blood-stained clothing.

DCI, a non-government organisation that promotes and protects the human rights of Palestinian children, reported one incident in which Israeli forces made children hold an Israeli flag before ordering them back to their cells hunched over, beating and cursing them as they walked.

In another incident, a YMCA social and psychological specialist was told by one of the children released in an exchange deal in November that he was left terrified when he was called from his cell to be released, and the prison guards made him believe that he was going to be executed.

Recently, UN experts said they have received credible allegations of Palestinian women and girls arbitrarily executed in Gaza, and of inhumane and degrading treatment of girls in detention, including being beaten, denied menstruation pads, food and medicine.

According to the UN, Palestinian women and girls in detention have also reportedly been subjected to multiple forms of sexual assault, such as being stripped naked and searched by male Israeli army officers. At least two female Palestinian detainees were reportedly raped while others threatened with rape and sexual violence. In December, reports emerged of Palestinian boys as young as 15 being detained, stripped and moved from a school in Gaza to unknown locations.

Human rights groups have reported that new regulations implemented last October imposed even stricter limits on family and humanitarian visits. Lawyers were initially prohibited from visiting the prisons and now face restrictions preventing them from visiting children regularly.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has said that its humanitarian visits to Palestinian prisoners were suspended. Israel does not release numbers of detainees in its military system and is the only country in the world that automatically and systematically prosecutes children in military courts.

Save the Children has said the practice of detaining children was a long-standing human rights concern. The child rights organisation has repeatedly called for the government of Israel to end the detention of Palestinian children under military law and their prosecution in military courts.

During the 7 October attacks on Israel, children were abducted and held hostage in Gaza, causing severe emotional and mental distress. Last November saw three exchanges of prisoners from Israeli jails with a total of 112 hostages released so far, including 78 Israeli women and children.

Jason Lee, Save the Children’s Country Director in the occupied Palestinian territory said:

“What we know about how these children are being treated is unacceptable, but what we don’t know could be even worse. The government of Israel’s blanket secrecy has left hundreds of families across Gaza and the occupied West Bank completely in the dark, unaware of where their children are, whether they are safe and the conditions and treatment that they are being subjected to.

“There’s no justification for beating and stripping children, dehumanising and terrorising them. The abuse of Palestinian children in military detention was a child protection crisis before 7 October, and it has only become worse. With the world’s focus understandably on the unparalleled horrors children are facing in Gaza, we must not let abuse of children in the West Bank go unnoticed. There must be an end to this abusive military detention system and a definitive ceasefire now.”

A Save the Children’s report in July 2023 showed that even prior to October 7, Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces faced immense emotional and physical abuse, with four out of five – 86% – of them being beaten, and 69% strip-searched.

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