Israel is violating the rights of young Palestinians accused of stone-throwing, failing to protect them as minors and mistreating them during arrest, an Israeli rights group said on Monday.
In a report entitled “No Minor Matter,” B’Tselem found that military law encouraged minors to plead guilty to avoid lengthy pre-trial detention, and that children were routinely sentenced to prison terms as a punishment rather than as a final resort.
Of the 835 Palestinian minors, aged 17 and younger, arrested and prosecuted for stone-throwing between 2005 and 2010, just one was acquitted, the rights group said.
Palestinian children living in flashpoint areas of the West Bank and east Jerusalem are regularly arrested by Israeli forces for throwing stones during demonstrations or clashes.
The report cited the experiences of 50 youngsters interviewed by B’Tselem, 30 of whom said they had been arrested in the middle of the night and that their parents were not allowed to accompany them.
Only three of those arrested at night said they were interrogated on the same evening, with most not being questioned until the next day, and two held for five days before being questioned.
Nineteen of the minors interviewed by B’Tselem also described being “treated violently” and “threatened during the interrogation,” while 23 said they were prevented from using the bathroom, eating or drinking for hours at a time.
Under the military justice system, judges normally order a minor to be held in custody until the end of proceedings, the report said.
“As a result, many minors prefer to enter into a plea bargain, in which they confess to the charges against them… fearing that, if a trial is held, they would be kept in jail during the long period of time that it takes to complete the trial,” it said.
And for the vast majority of Palestinian minors convicted of stone-throwing, either through a court process or a plea bargain, the punishment is jail time.
During the five-year period in question, 93 percent of those convicted received a prison sentence ranging from a few days to 20 months, B’Tselem said.
Among those imprisoned were 19 children under the age of 14, even though the incarceration of youngsters of that age is prohibited under Israeli civil law, B’Tselem said.
Once in prison, the minors are considered security prisoners, meaning they have no access to phone calls, and most told the group that their families did not visit.
B’Tselem urged Israel “to amend, without delay, the military legislation to make it correspond to the provisions of Israel’s youth law.
“Israel has the obligation to ensure the rights of Palestinian minors under its responsibility,” the report said.