900 testimonies confirm UNICEF's finding of widespread abuse
[2 November 2021] – In October MCW collected its 900th testimony from a child detained by the Israeli military in the West Bank. This body of evidence collected between 2013 and 2021 tends to confirm UNICEF's 2013 conclusion that "the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the [Israeli] military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process". This body of evidence can be analyzed under three broad categories: arrest, transfer and interrogation.
The Arrest: - A majority of detained children (55%) continue to be arrested from their homes in the middle of the night. Night arrest operations tend to intimidate targeted communities and children report being "shocked" or “terrified” when confronted with heavily armed soldiers in their homes or bedrooms. This sense of fear only increases in cases where the front door is broken in or blown open using explosives. Due to widespread criticism of this practice the military introduced a pilot scheme to issue summonses in lieu of arresting children at night in 2014. According to the military, no records of the scheme were kept and it is now largely defunct. Although the military authorities informed UNICEF that written notification must be provided to parents in every case where a child is arrested from home, this is only occurring in about half of all cases (53%) and the form provides no information about the child's legal rights.
The Transfer: - The overwhelming majority of children (95%) continue to be zip-tied following arrest. Most children report that the ties are painful and the military's own Standard Operating Procedures for their use are ignored in 90% of cases. Although lawyers for the military authorities informed Israel's Supreme Court in 2019 “that military orders and regulations forbid blindfolding of detainees, and action to clarify the rules has been taken and will continue to be taken on a continuous basis” - the evidence indicates that children are blindfolded in 85% of cases. Physical abuse, such as punching, kicking and slapping continues to be commonplace (65%), as is the practice of transporting children to interrogation centres on the metal floor of military vehicles (58%). And as before, most children arrive at the interrogation centres - bruised, tired, scared and hungry.
The Interrogation: - Although every child has the right to silence under Israeli military law, only 19% were told - and almost no child dared exercise this right. There is no right for a parent to be present, but the military acknowledges a discretion to permit parental attendance - a discretion that was exercised in just 4% of cases. Under military law the child can consult with a lawyer prior to questioning, but this only occurred in 15% of cases. The net effect of all this is that almost every child is alone and oblivious as to how to try to protect themselves. For the interrogator, mixing intimidation with threats (55%) is generally sufficient to extract a confession, along with statements implicating others. It should also be recalled that there is no prohibition against an interrogator lying to the child to obtain a confession. And if all this were not enough, 72% of children are then shown documentation written in Hebrew.
During the same period (2013-2021) evidence provided by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) establishes that a majority of children (56%) were forcibly transferred and unlawfully detained outside the West Bank in prisons located inside Israel in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court - both treaties classify this practice as a war crime. The forcible transfer of detainees out of occupied territory is one ground upon which the US, EU, UK, Canada and Australia imposed targeted sanctions on Russia arising from the conflict in Crimea. It should also be noted that Israeli authorities continue to rely on the Fourth Geneva Convention as the legal basis for prosecuting Palestinians, including children, in military courts - 54 years after the 1967 war.
Papers relating to the forcible transfer of Palestinian children from the West Bank to prisons inside Israel were submitted to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in March 2015 - six years later the practice continues at an accelerated pace.
While it is generally accepted that without accountability there can be no rule of law, a number of prominent democracies continue to actively block legal redress arising from the issues referred to above. It should be noted that applying a rules-based order to strategic adversaries while ignoring the rules in the case of a strategic partner, is not a rules-based order and has a tendency to erode confidence in democratic values and institutions everywhere.
 This briefing note was distributed by Israeli military personnel at Ofer military court near Jerusalem on 19 October 2021.