Something which made an impression on me was how many of the Palestinian men whom I met had done a spell in jail, on account, for example, of having been caught throwing stones when they were young men during the first intifada.  I have now discovered that, since 1967, over 700,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned: that is approximately 20% of the entire population and, since the overwhelming majority of prisoners are male, about 40% of the entire male population. As a leaflet of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign comments: ‘Imprisonment of Palestinians is an essential element in Israel’s occupation and control of the OPT’. Around 7,155 Palestinians were, in 2009, held in Israeli jails; around 100 Palestinians a week being arrested. Torture is not uncommon. A proportion of prisoners are held under administrative detention, sometimes for years, without charge or trial. Many of these people are held in prisons in Israel proper, outside the OPT, which is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, making it very difficult for their families to visit them. Conditions in prison are often appalling. (For further details of all this seen the PSC leaflet listed below.)

Even more disturbing is the extensive detention of children, on whom it can have a profound psychological effect: many  are traumatised by their experience. We met with a British lawyer working for Defence for Children International in Ramallah. About 700 Palestinian children are detained each year, around 6,500 since 2000. The organisation has two lawyers working full-time in the Israeli courts providing advocacy for these children. A considerable similarity pertains between the cases. There is unrest near the wall, a settlement, or a bi-pass road. Stones are thrown, maybe just against the Wall. The Israeli army will arrive between midnight and 4.00 a.m. and start arresting children. For anyone showing any form of resistance there will be consequences. The children are lined up in the street, their hands tied with plastic cords behind their backs (which may cause swelling or bleeding), blindfolded and thrown into the back of a military vehicle, often face down. The parents are not told where their child is to be taken. The transfer to an interrogation or detention centre may last from 20 minutes to several hours. It is not uncommon for children to be kicked or slapped during the transfer.

The children are then interrogated by one to three interrogators. They are often intimidated and mistreated to extract information. The interrogators may shout, scream and slap a child across the face to get a confession. There may be threats against family members and, occasionally, sexual abuse. Confessions are often typed in Hebrew, which the child is unable to read but is made to sign; the military court judge will subsequently accept this confession to convict the child. Within 8 days the child is brought before a judge. Only 9% are given bail. A child of 12-15 years may be brought before military courts. Three children at a time may be brought into the court, their feet shackled together, or a child may be brought in individually. In almost no cases is there a full evidentiary hearing, even when the child says they didn’t commit the offence. Each court appearance lasts about 2 minutes. These military courts are purely in the West Bank. There are few safeguards and the procedures bear no resemblance to civil courts. Children currently receive on average 4 months imprisonment for stone-throwing.

Specialist Literature:

- Torture and Ill-Treatment in Israel & the occupied Palestinian territory: An Analysis of Israel’s compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, United Against Torture (UAT), Annual Report 2008.

  1. -Defence for Children International Annual Reports. Downloadable.

  2. -Gerard Horton ‘Torture of Children’, Palestine News (PSC magazine), summer 2010.

  3. -‘Palestinian political prisoners’, leaflet, Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

  4. -John Dugard (UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967), Human Rights Situation in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories, 21 January 2008 (UN Human Rights Council: A/HRC/7/17.

  5. -B’Tselem provides statistics of Detainees & Prisoners.

  6. -Middle East Monitor Report, ‘Documenting the crime of torture in the Palestinian Authority’s Territories’.

Annie Tritt

Ofer Military Court

Gergey Pasztor

Boy in Bil’in

Palestinian youth temporarily detained at a Checkpoint; Israeli soldier


There are 5 prisons for children, 4 inside Israel proper, a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Parents have of course to obtain permits to travel to Israel to visit; it is estimated that up to 30% are denied. Children who are imprisoned for less than 6 months rarely receive any family visit. Further, 15-25 children each year are held in administrative detention without charge or trial. Under international law this is only allowed in situations of extreme national emergency and not as a substitute for criminal proceedings. There is little education in the prison; in one prison 2 hours a week and in another 9 hours. Subjects such as geography (!) are not taught. Israel has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, according to which there should be education. Much of the treatment of these children also contravenes the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits torture, as well as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Defence for Children International presses that all interrogations should be video-recorded as most abuse takes place under interrogation. (This would also protect Israelis against false accusations of torture.)

Isabelle Guitard

On our visit to DCI we saw a video, a case study of a young boy and of a girl taken into prison. The boy had been stripped naked and sexually abused in the van. In prison he had, on two occasions, tried to commit suicide. This boy came out of prison and got home. However we were told that this was not the end of the story. He had been so traumatised that, a few years later, he approached a check point with a cigarette lighter in the form of a gun, knowing that he would be shot dead, which he was.

The latest detention bulletin from DCI (December 2010) gives a total number of 213 children detained. Of these 76% reported some form of violence during their arrest,

European Hearings on Israeli Imprisonment

of Palestinian Minors

In Feb. 2011 a European rights group held a special hearing on Israeli imprisonment of Palestinian minors. The European Parliamentary Human Rights Committee is due to hold a hearing on the issue in the European Parliament in Brussels on 15 March 2011.

transfer or interrogation, 53% reported being interrogated in the absence of a parent (contrary to Israeli law) and 53% reported being threatened during interrogation. There is a particular problem at the moment with children being shot at while collecting gravel (to be used as building material) in the 300 metre exclusion zone on the Gazan side of the border fence in Gaza. 1,267 criminal files were opened against children who were accused of throwing stones in occupied East Jerusalem in the twelve months to October 2010. There is particular tension in Silwan, where a demolition of 22 Palestinian homes is planned to make way for an ‘archaeological park’.


- Child Detention in OPT: Mohammad’s Story

- ‘Israel in Child Abuse Claims’

More general podcasts on Israeli brutality against Palestinians are to be found here. (Warning: some viewers may find these disturbing.)

- ‘Brutality of Israeli Occupation Forces Against Palestinians

  1. -The Palestinian Tragedy

- A US Congressman pleading that the US should ‘call on our allies, the State of Israel, to stop shooting children’.

Defence for Children International, Palestine Section

Writing to Prisoners

It is possible to write to a Palestinian Prisoner held in an Israeli jail, the messages being transmitted by the families to the prisoner by local radio or texting. This is especially valuable in the case of prisoners held for decades. Jamal Hweel, who spent 8 years inside and is now a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council commented on a visit to London: ‘Its a window onto the outside world for them.’ Contact:

DCI-Palestine Report

Child Prisoners


Annual Report 2009