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Palestinian Children Vs. the IDF

Cesar Chelala

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is among the strongest armies in the world. According to Israeli Defense Minister Ehuda Barak, it is also one the most moral ones. One wouldn't know that for its treatment of Palestinian children. On December 13, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) stated that the Israeli military and police were violating Israeli law by detaining Palestinian children, some as young as seven years old, and interrogating them. This last denunciation follows an equally serious one of Palestinian children being sexually abused by Israeli police officers.

"They [the police] hit me and dragged along the floor. They handcuffed me with these plastic handcuffs which are very tight. I was very scared. Only when my father came they stopped," Muslim Odeh, an 11-year-old Palestinian, told the BBC. His charges were strongly denied by the Israeli police.

According to the Geneva-based Defence for Children International (DCI) they have 100 sworn affidavits from Palestinian children who said that they were mistreated by their Israeli captors. Fourteen among them say that they were sexually abused or threatened with sexual assault to pressure them into confession.

In 2009 alone, Defence of Children International (DCI) reviewed 100 sworn affidavits which showed 81% of them were coerced into confessions, 14% were kept in solitary confinement and 4% were sexually assaulted. DCI believes that these figures may understate the extent of the problem. Many parents don't complain to the authorities, since they feel that they cannot rely on the same system that abuses their children.

There are currently 340 children in Israeli jails, most of them convicted of throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers and police. Children's complaints of violence are disregarded, and no proceedings are taken against those responsible.

Israel's policy towards children detainees has been sharply criticized by human rights organizations since it denies them access to their families, although their families' presence during some of the proceedings is allowed by Israeli law. In addition, children can only see their lawyers when they are in court.

"The ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian child prisoners appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized, suggesting complicity at all levels of the political and military chain of command," according also to B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization.

Inside the occupied territories the Israeli military considers any Palestinian who is 16 years old or older as an adult, while inside Israel and in most other countries adulthood is reached at 18. Mistreatment of children is against the tenets of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Israel in 1991. 

In Israel, the rules related to rights of minors in criminal proceedings are contained in Amendment 14 to the Youth Law, enacted in July of 2008, which took effect one year later. This amendment's goal is meant to incorporate the rules of international law into Israeli legislation, particularly those related to the treatment of juveniles in criminal matters and the obligations derived from them.

At he same that these abuses are taking place, Palestinian children's education has been sharply affected by the situation in the occupied territories. Thousands of Palestinian children in East Jerusalem are unable to attend school since there is no room for them in the state school system, while the drop-out rate is the highest in the Israeli school system. There is a shortage of approximately 1,500 classrooms in East Jerusalem. This means that only about half of all Palestinian children in the city attend state schools, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

As Palestinian children's abuse continues, so does the construction of settlements in Israeli occupied Palestinian land. One cannot but wonder at the international silence to these systematic abuses of Palestinian's basic human rights.

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Cesar Chelala, MD, PhD, is an international public health consultant and an award-winning writer on human rights and foreign policy issues.

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