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Number of Palestinian minors in Israeli prisons doubles

There are so many new Palestinian minors being sent to Israeli prisons that authorities had to open a new wing to house them. Rights groups report numerous cases of mistreatment, and that the children are moved outside of the West Bank in violation of international law.

By Noam Rotem

Israeli border police arrest a Palestinian youth in East Jerusalem’s Shuafat Refugee Camp, file photo. (Photo by Tess Scheflan/Activestills.org)

Israeli border police arrest a Palestinian youth in East Jerusalem’s Shuafat Refugee Camp, file photo. (Photo by Tess Scheflan/Activestills.org)

Israeli authorities have arrested hundreds of Palestinian minors since the latest uprising began in the start of October. They have been sent to four different facilitates run by the Israel Prison Service (IPS) on both sides of the Green Line.

When the pace of arrests picked up, the IPS decide to open a new, temporary wing for minors at the Giv’on prison in order to ease overcrowding at existing facilities. Until that time, Giv’on only housed “light” criminal offenders with sentences under five years, including asylum seekers and Palestinians who entered Israel without the proper permits.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners Club, 62 Palestinian minors are being held in the facility. Attorneys for Palestinian prisoners’ rights organization Addameer who visited the facility a few days earlier counted 56.

Lawyers from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) met with a number of Palestinian minors being held in Giv’on, none of whom had criminal records, some of whom were just 14 years old and stood accused of various crimes. They said they were being held in small cells, two meters by one meter, three boys to a cell. Some of them still hadn’t seen any of their family members since their arrests several weeks ago.

Electronic Intifada interviewed the families of some of the Palestinian minors being held in Israeli prisons, and reported that some families were not even notified where their children were being held. Only days later, and with the help of the Red Cross, did they manage to find their children in the new Giv’on prison wing. “Once they were allowed to enter the facility, the families had to divide among themselves the 30 minutes they were allotted to speak to their children on a phone through a plexiglass screen,” EI reported.

The story doesn’t end with overcrowding and a lack of communication with the minors’ families, however. The minors imprisoned in Giv’on complain of the harsh and humiliating treatment they receive from the guards. Members of the Public Committee Against Torture say that in one case, guards entered their cell with batons and beat them for nearly an hour, as retribution for setting off a smoke detector. When they finished up, PCATI members say, one minor was taken out of his cell and a guard strangled him until his vision became blurry. He was then put into an isolation cell, his hands and legs shackled, and left there from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. in drenched clothes and with no food or water. When he asked to go to the bathroom, it took two hours before he was taken. “There is a basis for believing that other minors were shackled and beaten in the same incident,” PCATI said, noting it planned to file an official complaint.

The Prison Service confirmed that the incident took place, adding that “a number of minors caused a disturbance and intentionally broke the fire sprinkler in their cell, which flooded the cell and caused thousands of shekels of damage. To prevent further disturbances, four of them were restrained and shackled for the rest of the night, after which they were returned to the [prison] wing. All those involved were charged and the process was documented. The complaint received about violence on the part of the guards was passed along to the [internal affairs division].”

Addameer claims that on November 1st one of the minors was taken to the bathroom, where he was stripped, restrained and searched. The same day, according to the organization’s lawyers, guards attacked a number of minors as they searched their cells. Lawyers for the Prisoners Club reported the case of “Z”, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy from Jerusalem, who says he was hit on his arms and legs and forced to kneel facing the wall for hours on end during which time he was periodically struck on his neck.

The organizations also say that the minors have complained about the food they are being given in the facility. According to their attorneys, they complained they are not receiving enough food, that it is cold and inedible.

The Prison Service rejected the claims about the quality and quantity of food, saying that: “the youths receive (nutritionally) fortified food, according to the IPS menu suited for their age, five meals a day. The food is transported to the [prison] wing in heating devices so claims that it is cold are not logical. That said, as a result of their request, pita bread is now distributed during every meal.” The IPS added that in recent weeks third-parties have inspected the facility and did not discover any violence or issues with the food.

According to IPS figures, as of the end of September it was holding 182 Israeli minors (Jewish and Arab citizens and residents) and 187 Palestinian “security prisoners” under the age of 18, mostly from the West Bank. Since the start of October the number of Palestinian minors who have been sent to Israeli prisons has more than doubled. The Palestinian Prisoners Club reported that as of November 20, Universal Children’s Day, more than 400 Palestinian minors were being held in Israeli prisons.

Many of the Palestinian minors being held in Israeli prison facilities are disconnected from their families, who must apply for permits to enter Israel where those facilities are located. (Moving prisoners out of occupied territory is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, partly for this very reason, but that’s another story.) They are under the supervision of guards who oftentimes don’t speak their language, they are often denied rehabilitation services, and education and social activities. There is television, PCATI says, but that’s all.

Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive and author of the blog o139.org, subtitled “Godwin doesn’t live here any more.” This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he is also a blogger.

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