Israeli security forces routinely physically “abuse” detained Palestinian children as young as 11, and employ violence and threats to coerce information from them, a leading human rights watchdog said in a report published Monday.
The claim by US-based Human Rights Watch was quickly rejected by police, which said its officers abide by Israeli law and internal regulations.
In its report, HRW, which has been accused of being unjustly critical of Israel, said the number of Palestinian children arrested by Israel since October 2015, when a wave of deadly violence began, had risen by some 150 percent over the same period from the year before.
Citing interviews with detained minors, video footage and reports from lawyers, the report alleges Israeli security forces regularly employ “unnecessary force in arresting and detaining children, in some cases beating them, and holding them in unsafe and abusive conditions.”
The report also said that many Palestinian minors were interrogated without a parent or guardian present.
“Palestinian children are treated in ways that would terrify and traumatize an adult,” said Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine country director at HRW. “Screams, threats, and beatings are no way for the police to treat a child or to get accurate information from them.”
Israel Police rejected the HRW findings, saying the detention of juveniles by security forces was done lawfully.
“It should be emphasized that police officers act in accordance to Israeli law and binding operational procedures that includes upholding the rights of the suspects wherever they are and without prejudice,” a statement from police read.
The statement also noted an NIS 2 billion, multi-year plan to bolster law enforcement in Jerusalem and in Israel’s Arab communities, which was approved by the Knesset on Sunday.
A large number of the stabbing attacks against Israelis in the months-long uptick in violence have been perpetrated by young Palestinian teenagers and pre-teens. Minors have also been arrested for involvement in rock throwing and Molotov cocktail attacks, clashes with troops and other low-level violence.
HRW said Israel’s failure to abide by Israeli child protection laws and international human rights norms and protections were “particularly worrying” given the spike in the number of children arrested during the recent violence.
The rising occurrence of young attackers prompted the Justice Ministry to take legislative measures upping the penalties for Palestinian juvenile offenders and their parents.
Backed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, the ministry in November introduced new regulations imposing a NIS 100,000 ($26,000) fine on parents of minors caught throwing rocks at civilians and security forces, and allows the government to suspend social welfare payments to family members while the children serve their sentences.
That same month, the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill that would lower the minimum incarceration age for offenders charged with terror-related offenses from 14 to 12.