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From the field

New report by B’Tselem and HaMoked on detention of Palestinian teens in East Jerusalem: Israel systemically abuses minors, denies their rights

A new report, Unprotected: The Detention of Palestinian Teenagers in East Jerusalem, published today (25 October 2017) by human rights NGOs HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual and B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories reveals broad, systemic abuse by Israeli authorities – including the police, the Israel Prison Service and the courts – of the human rights of hundreds of Palestinian teenagers arrested every year in East Jerusalem. 

According to 60 affidavits that B’Tselem and HaMoked collected from May 2015 to October 2016, Palestinian teenagers from East Jerusalem are pulled out of bed in the middle of the night, unnecessarily handcuffed and interrogated without being given the opportunity to speak to a lawyer or their parents before the questioning begins and without being informed of their right to remain silent. They are then held under harsh conditions, repeatedly remanded to custodial detention for additional period of days and even weeks, even once their interrogation has ended. In some cases, all this is attended by verbal abuse or threats and physical abuse.

The boys find themselves alone in a threatening and bewildering situation, with no one explaining what they are suspected of, what their rights are, whom they may confer with, how long the process will take and when they will return to their homes and families. Until they are released, they have no adult they can trust by their side and their parents are kept away. These arrest and interrogation practices leave authorities free to pressure the detained minors into confessing to allegations. And indeed, many sign involuntary confessions, some which are false and others written in a language they do not understand.

With a view to granting legitimacy to this cruel policy, the authorities cloak it in various legalistic justifications: they rely on the slim exceptions provided in the law or adopt a literal, technical interpretation of the protections it affords minors, thereby rendering these safeguards hollow and meaningless. Yet by doing so, authorities do no more than create a semblance of legality:

  • The arrest: The affidavits collected for the research show that arrest is the police’s preferred course of action: only in 13% of the cases did police refrain from arrest, even though – under Israeli law –  minors may be arrested only as a last resort.
  • Physical restraints: Restraints may be used on minors only in exceptional cases, yet the affidavits show that this is the rule rather than the exception: In 81% of the cases, the boys were handcuffed before being placed in the vehicle that took them to the interrogation site; 70% were kept in restraints during the interrogation sessions.
  • Night interrogation: Israeli law prohibits interrogating minors at night, subject to specific exceptions. Nevertheless, a quarter of the boys said they were interrogated at night, in contravention of the law. 91% of boys who were arrested at home were arrested at night, and some arrived at the interrogation after a sleepless night.
  • Violation of rights:
    • The right to remain silent: Interrogators informed the boys of their right to remain silent in only 71% of the cases, but most of the boys (70%) did not understand what this meant and were afraid to remain silent.
    • The right to counsel: Interrogators allowed only 70% of the boys to speak to a lawyer prior to the interrogation, and even then only by means of a brief meeting or a phone conversation, which failed to help the minors understand their rights.
    • The right to have a parent present during the interrogation: While the law grants this right to minors suspected of an offense and not to detainees, the police does have discretion on the matter and can extend it to a minor in detention. In 95% of the cases, the boys were in the interrogation room on their own, without parents or other relatives.
  • In the interrogation room: The lack of protection and the fact that the boys find themselves alone in the interrogation room mean that interrogators are able to harm them physically and emotionally, taking advantage of the loopholes in Israeli law that allow using violence during interrogation and of the fact that the mechanisms in place for investigating complaints regarding ill-treatment and torture are ineffective. Twenty-five percent of the boys who gave affidavits for this report said interrogators employed some degree of violence against them; 55% reported shouting, threats and verbal abuse from the interrogators; 23% said they were denied access to the toilet, and 26% said their requests for food and/or drink were denied. Forty-three percent of the boys received their first meal more than ten hours after being taken into custody. This method of interrogation is partly what led to 83% of the boys signing confessions, 80% of which were in Hebrew, so they did not understand the statements they were signing. 
  • Holding conditions: The law stipulates that minors be held in age-appropriate conditions.  Holding conditions at the Russian Compound police station in Jerusalem, where most of the teenagers who gave affidavits for this report were taken, are light years away from these provisions, and do not allow the detainees to maintain their dignity. The supply of toiletries was incomplete and irregular, and none of the boys received a change of clothes.  In addition, during their detention at the Russian Compound, none of the boys were given any opportunity for meaningful activities and most remained locked in their cells for most hours of the day and night. They were allowed to contact their families in rare cases only.

These practices cannot be viewed as separate from the policy of Israeli authorities to encourage Palestinian residents to leave East Jerusalem: strict bans imposed on residential construction, forcing East Jerusalem residents to live in overcrowded conditions or risk building without a permit and then live in fear of demolition; stringent policies with regards to family reunification do not allow East Jerusalem residents who married Palestinians from elsewhere in the West Bank or from the Gaza Strip to live with their spouses in the city; and institutional, systemic discrimination practiced in municipal and state budgeting, as a result of which East Jerusalem residents suffer from substandard infrastructure and a chronic shortage of public services.

Given all of the above, one of the grave conclusions arising from the report is that real change will come only if the reality in Jerusalem is completely overhauled. The reality described in this report is part of the underpinnings of Israeli control over the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem. So long as this control continues, Israeli authorities will in all probability continue to treat Palestinians in East Jerusalem as unwanted, less equal people, with all that implies.