Recent months have seen a spike in the number of Palestinian minors, some as young as 12, imprisoned in Israeli jails for security offenses.
The most marked rise in incarceration rates amid the ongoing wave of Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank has been recorded among younger teens, Haaretz reported Sunday, citing Israel Prison Service figures. Between late September 2016 and early February, the number of minors under the age of 16 held in Israel jails mushroomed from 27 to 103, including five under the age of 15.
In all, the report said, the number of minors held for nationalistic- and terror-related offenses and suspected offenses grew from 170 on the eve of the current wave of attacks to 438 in January, of whom 45 are Arab citizens of Israel and 101 are residents of East Jerusalem.
A large portion of the attacks perpetrated in recent months against Israeli soldiers and civilians in Israel and the West Bank were carried out by minors.
The youngest of the Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, a 12-year-old girl, is set to be released Sunday. She was arrested in early February in possession of a knife outside the West Bank settlement of Karmei Tzur, near Hebron, and sentenced to four and a half months in prison. In recent weeks, at the request of her parents, the army decided to free her two months early.
Itamar Barak, a researcher for the B’Tselem human rights group, was quoted by Haaretz as describing the Israeli incarceration policy as “oppressive.”
“There is no attempt to generate alternatives,” he said, alluding to a lack of effort to rehabilitate the young inmates. “The obvious question is, what does a 14- or 16-year-old boy who spends a year in prison alongside [adult] security prisoners learn about life, the world and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? It only reinserts them into the cycle of violence.”
Two weeks ago, a leading human rights watchdog claimed in a report that Israeli security forces routinely physically abuse detained Palestinian children as young as 11, and employ violence and threats to coerce information from them.
The allegations by US-based Human Rights Watch were swiftly rejected by police, which said its officers abide by Israeli law and internal regulations.
In its report, HRW, which Israel has accused of unjustly singling it out for criticism, said the number of Palestinian children arrested since October 2015, at the onset of the wave of violence, 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 alleged 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.”
The Israel Police rejected the 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 police statement read.
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 lowers the minimum incarceration age for offenders charged with terror-related offenses from 14 to 12.
Twenty-nine Israelis and four non-Israelis have been killed in the recent terror wave. Some 200 Palestinians have also been killed, some two-thirds of them while attacking Israelis, and the rest during clashes with troops, according to the Israeli army.
The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.
We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.
Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.