By EA Zara, Southern West Bank
Locals in the West Bank tell EAs that there are frequent child arrests there. Today we travelled to a village on the outskirts of Bethlehem to hear 18-year-old Yasin* tell his story. Yasin was arrested when he was 15 years old and released from youth detention in August 2017. He served three years.
On 18 October 2014 at 2am, the military came to Yasin’s family home. The soldiers told Yasin’s family that they were going to take him away for half an hour and bring him back. They provided no reasoning and did not allow his family to accompany him. They took Yasin to the Civil Administration building in Gush Etzion, where he was escorted to an interrogation room without an accompanying adult. Under the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of a Child (UNCRC), a minor should not be questioned without being accompanied by an appropriate representative or a lawyer, and all efforts should be taken to avoid harm to the child. Yasin described how military officers blindfolded him, “shouted continuously”, tied his hands behind his back and beat him. “They beat me badly all over my body. I do not know if they were using their hands or weapons, I could not see.”
Yasin was kept in Gush Etzion Detention Centre for two days and repeatedly subjected to deliberate physical harm, sensory deprivation and arbitrary restraint. These constitute acts of torture under international law (UNCRC 1989 and the United Nations Convention against Torture 1987). After this, he was taken to a prison but was not informed of the location. After 27 days he found out that he was in a youth prison in Ramallah.
Under the UNCRC (1989), a child and his/her guardian should be “informed promptly and directly of the charges against him or her”. Yasin was given minimal information, but it transpired that the military had received information that said he had been throwing stones at soldiers patrolling his village. Yasin spent 34 months in youth detention without trial or judgment. He explained that 72 court cases were scheduled during this time, but each was cancelled at the eleventh hour. The seventy-third court case went ahead and Yasin was sentenced to two further months in prison and fined ₪8000 (approximately £1700).
We asked Yasin about the conditions of his detention. In Gush Etzion Detention Centre he was given a single bread roll and two cups of water each day. This is inadequate according to the UN Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) which states: “Every prisoner shall be provided by the administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served. Drinking water shall be available to every prisoner whenever he needs it.”
He continued to be tortured and was made to stand for up for the full two days of his incarceration, his hands tied to the wall. Yasin shared his cell with others and when there was disquiet, the soldiers sprayed tear-gas inside.
When Yasin was moved to Ramallah, he was given food every day, though he describes this as “very basic and unhealthy”. His parents sent him money each month to purchase food from the market within the prison. Yasin tells us that his cell was cold and damp in the winter and hot in the summer, causing him to contract chest and breathing problems. Under the UNCRC (1989), “Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated …. in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age”. Yet although Yasin was promised appropriate medical care, it was never received.
Yasin went on to describe how the boys in the detention centre were woken up three times each night by soldiers “banging very loudly” on their door. The boys were made to stand up immediately while a headcount took place. (Our interview with Yasin takes place one month after his release and he tells us that this routine has not left him, he still wakes up three times each night. Shortly after the interview, Yasin became distracted by his mobile phone and, to capture his attention, our translator said “Listen!” loudly in Arabic. Yasin stood up suddenly and checked the window, before noticing what he was doing and sitting down again. He explained to us that “Listen!” was a warning he was used to hearing from his cellmates when the soldiers were coming.) Yasin’s parents inform us that he still experiences “nervousness, asthma and headaches”. When we ask about their experience, his mother shares that, while her son was the one “actually locked away”, she and her husband were in a “psychological prison”, thinking about him “constantly” – about whether he was safe from violence, or whether he was sleeping and eating well.
According to the Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Addameer, there are 300 Palestinian children in Israeli military detention. On 11 August 2016, the Israeli Knesset made it legal for Palestinian children living in the West Bank to be detained from the age of 12. Child prisoners commonly report human rights abuses, including torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary restraint and the withholding of basic food and medical provisions.
*Not his real name.
Five years ago a delegation of UK lawyers reviewed the treatment of Palestinian children under Israeli military law and published their findings in a report called Children in Military Custody. In June 2017 Miltary Court Watch found that just 2.5 per cent of these recommendations have been implemented, despite the issues being raised repeatedly by UK government officials.
If you’re in the UK, write to your elected representative and ask them to raise this issue with the Foreign Office. https://www.writetothem.com/