By Sam Tomlin
Israel’s hasbara efforts (public relations, disseminating information about the country) were dealt another blow last week with the publication of a report from UNICEF on the conditions of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention centres.
In 2009, in response to evidence that children were prosecuted in adult courts, Israel established a juvenile military court, which, according to UNICEF, “is the first and only juvenile military court in operation in the world. In fact, it uses the same facilities and court staff as the adult military court.”
The analysis by UNICEF identified clear examples that amount to, “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” of children as young as 12. On a yearly basis, it reports, around 700 12-17 year olds (mostly boys) are arrested, interrogated and detained by Israeli army, police and security agents, often in conditions which it would be difficult not to describe as torture.
Such reports are not new. Defence for Children International released the report ‘Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted: Children held in military detention’ last year in which individual stories are told of the horrors of Israeli military detention. In these accounts, in 95% of cases, hand-ties were used, 90% blindfolds, 75% physical violence and 63% detention inside Israel, which is in violation of Article 76 of the fourth Geneva convention which states: ‘Protected persons accused of offences shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein.’ The arrest and transfer process is often accompanied by verbal abuse and humiliation.
I reported last year from a West Bank refugee camp where I spoke to many such children who had gone through these ordeals.
UNICEF’s report comes days after it emerged that the Israeli Transportation Ministry launched ‘Palestinian only’ buses for passengers in the West Bank which have been compared to the infamous southern bus laws in the United States where black Americans’ rights were severely diminished as they were forced to give up seats to white passengers and move to the back of the bus.
The international community is frequently silent on such abuses by the Israeli government, and when it does speak out, actions very rarely follow words. Repeatedly the British government has said that it will not consider measures such as boycott, divestment or sanctions against illegal settlements (which many argue are a fundamental reason these practices happen) in the West Bank, for example, with little or no alternative apart from continuing futile ‘talks’ with Israel while it continues to claim more of the land and Palestinians’ rights are abused.
Concrete action must be taken against the Israeli government if it continues to abuse the rights of Palestinians, and especially children’s rights. Mark Regev, Spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister once said, “The test of a democracy is how you treat people incarcerated, people in jail, and especially so with minors.” Quite.