Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of “abusive arrests” of Palestinian children as young as 11 and of using threats to force them to sign confessions.
Israel rejected the accusations, saying that no complaints were filed against the army in the cases listed in the watchdog report and maintaining the interrogations were done in accordance with Israeli law.
The New York-based group on Monday said Israeli authorities failed to inform parents of their children’s arrest or whereabouts, drawing on accounts of several children detained during intense unrest in East Jerusalem and the West Bank late last year.
HRW’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson urged the United States to pressure its Israeli ally to end what it said were long-standing “abusive practices.”
“Israeli security forces have used unnecessary force to arrest or detain Palestinian children,” it said in a report giving details of the “abusive arrests” of six children.
“Forces have choked children, thrown stun grenades at them, beaten them in custody, threatened and interrogated them without the presence of parents or lawyers, and failed to let their parents know their whereabouts.”
The Israeli army said it thoroughly investigates complaints of misconduct by interrogators, but no such complaints were filed in the cases listed in the watchdog’s report.
“It should be stressed, that whilst the minors and their parents spoke extensively with the press regarding the claims of alleged ill treatment by IDF forces, no formal complaint was ever submitted,” it said.
In one case listed in the report, 11-year-old Rashid S., who was arrested in East Jerusalem in November, said officers put a bag over his head, kicked him and verbally abused him in Arabic, according to the rights group.
Rashid was accused of throwing stones during the months of unrest that rocked Jerusalem before and after a deadly July-August war in the Gaza Strip.
In the West Bank, 14-year-old girl Malak al-Khatib was arrested on suspicion of throwing stones at a road used by Jewish settlers, HRW quoted her mother as saying.
“Four soldiers beat her with something like a baton” during Malak’s arrest until she lost consciousness, mother Khoula said. “While on the ground, they kicked her and one soldier stepped on her neck.”
In every case HRW documented, the Palestinian families said Israeli authorities “did not inform parents of the child’s arrest and interrogated the children without permitting them to speak to a parent or lawyer prior to the interrogation.”
The IDF said that under Israeli law, the children had a right to consult with a lawyer before an interrogation, but that the army did not require a lawyer to be present during questioning. As for parents, it said “whilst the law provides that a minor suspect has the right to have his parent present during an interrogation, this right does not apply to minors interrogated whilst under arrest or, in certain circumstances, minors who are not under arrest but suspected of committing security offenses.”
The HRW report said three children “said they signed confessions written in Hebrew, a language they do not understand, after interrogators threatened them.”
In response, the army said “it is important to point out that in many cases, these statements are also audio or audio-visually recorded. The suspects themselves may not be aware of the recording, and thus when interviewed by yourselves may tell only a partial part of the picture. Such is the case in Judea and Samaria. At the very least, for the years 2013, 2014, and to date, no suspect has been indicted based solely on a confession given by him which was documented in Hebrew.”