Today, to mark Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, about 1,000 prisoners have begun a hunger strike in protest against decades of arbitrary arrest and inhumane treatment. Approximately 6,300 Palestinians are currently held in Israeli prisons and detention centers, including 300 children.
In 2014, as part of a National Lawyers Guild delegation to Palestine, we met with a young Palestinian boy from the village of Beit Ummar near Hebron in the occupied West Bank. Mohammed, 15, described his arrest by the Israeli occupation forces, transfer to three different detention centers, time in solitary, and eventual release three months later after a confession for stone-throwing was extracted from him under torture. Since his release, he had picked up smoking and quit school because he would have had to repeat his previous grade as a result of his absence for three months.
Mohammed is not alone. After release from detention, many children exhibit signs of PTSD, nightmares, behavioral changes, and loss of interest in school. Some will have to repeat grades and some will quit school.
Palestinian children from the occupied West Bank are in fact routinely imprisoned by the Israeli military. At the end of February 2016, there were 440 Palestinian children in the Israeli prison system, including 104 between the ages of 12 and 15. Since 2012, Israel has held about 200 Palestinian children in custody each month.
Children are often coerced into signing confessions in Hebrew without understanding the language or content of the statement. The most common charge for children is stone-throwing, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years.
Oftentimes, arrest and imprisonment are used as retaliatory tactics aimed at countering youth activism or as a means of retribution against older family members. To take just one example, Hamza Hammad was held in administrative detention (a tactic often used by the Israeli military of keeping Palestinians in prison without charge or trial) for 10 months. At 16, he was the youngest Palestinian held in administrative detention and had been detained since February 28, 2016. He was arrested at 2 am, when the Israeli military raided the family’s house after blowing up their front door. He had previously been arrested as well and subjected to torture.