Minors in the Israeli Military Courts

“The rights of Palestinian minors are flagrantly violated at every stage of the proceedings conducted against them, from the initial arrest and removal from their homes, through interrogation and trial, to serving the prison sentence, and then release […]

The amendments to the military legislation are marginal and have failed to bring about meaningful change in the military system’s treatment of minors.” B’Tselem, No Minor Matter, 2011

Ofer prison
Ofer prison (Photo by Ariela R under a CC licence)

Interrogation and Torture of Children

Every year, Israeli military courts prosecute around 700 Palestinian children (12-17 years old). Since 2000, around 7,000 Palestinian children have been detained and prosecuted, the majority charged with throwing stones. Torture and/or ill-treatment of these children during the arrest, transfer and interrogation stages in the system have been well documented.

Israeli law subjects Palestinians in the occupied West Bank to military courts, while Israeli and foreign citizens are tried at civil courts.

Ignoring the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that a child is someone under the age of 18, Israel treats and sentences 16-year-old Palestinians as adults; 12-year-olds are prosecuted with no guidelines when it comes to the bail or sentencing; children as young as 9 are arrested as a rule rather than exception.

Arrest, detention, and imprisonment are likely to have extremely grave effects on children’s mental and physical health. Despite this, Israeli military legislation does not grant Palestinian children their special rights to being treated as children.

The world over, children are tried at juvenile courts. In Israel, Palestinian children are tried in adult military courts.

According to Israeli martial law, minors can be denied access to a lawyer for up to 90 days. This prohibition is also often applied to Red Cross visits (RC are authorized by international agreements to visit Palestinian detainees who are under interrogation). Family visits are extremely hard to obtain, and they only last for no more than an hour at a time.

Detained Palestinians, including children, are thus completely disconnected from the outside world for extended periods of time.

The Israeli law states that the police are required to allow children to contact a lawyer during detainment/arrest only if the child has the name and contact information of the lawyer available before interrogation begins. Quite naturally, Palestinian children do not have lawyers beforehand and they are therefore left alone with the military personnel during (often torturous) interrogation.

Family notifications of arrests for “security offences”, which include stone-throwing, are often delayed for hours or even days.

The law states that a child is to be brought before a judge within 4 days after their arrest, but this does not apply to cases where the child is being interrogated by Shin Bet, the Israeli Security Agency, which is often the case. A parent or other relative must be allowed to be present during every interrogation of a minor child; that is almost never the case in the Israeli military system. This lack of parent notification and accompaniment is most concerning because most incidents of torture and abuse happen within the first 48 hours of a child’s arrest.

Legally, military orders must be translated to Arabic but are often in Hebrew only, or not presented at all at the time of arrest/detainment.

Once in Israeli military court proceedings, Palestinian children are denied bail at a rate of 87%.

Solitary confinement, along with a monetary fine, is the most common punishment taken against Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. This extreme form of punishment is common practice during interrogation, typically employed immediately following arrest. Children are held in solitary confinement while being subjected to repeated and prolonged interrogations, with the apparent purpose of obtaining a confession. During these interrogations, children report being forced to sit for hours in a low metal chair secured to the floor of the room, with their hands and feet cuffed to the chair.

Physical, verbal, and psychological abuse against detained children is widespread and treated with impunity within the system. In the period 2001-2011, more than 700 complaints alleging abuse during interrogation have been filed. Israeli State Attorney’s Office did not order a single criminal investigation into any of the complaints.

The conviction rate for Palestinian children in Israeli military courts is 99.74%. 

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