A UN human rights watchdog on Thursday accused Israel’s police and military of abuses against Palestinian children ranging from torture to solitary confinement and threats of death and sexual assault in prisons.
In a report on Israel’s record, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said it expressed its “deepest concern about the reported practice of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children arrested, prosecuted and detained by the military and the police”.
The committee said soldiers arrested Palestinian youngsters regularly during night-time sweeps, tying their hands painfully and blindfolding them, and often transferring them to detention centres without informing their parents.
It also said that arrested Palestinian children were subjected systematically to physical and verbal abuse, threatened with death, physical violence, and sexual assault against themselves or members of their family, as well as having access restricted to toilets, food and water.
“These crimes are perpetrated from the time of arrest, during transfer and interrogation, to obtain a confession but also on an arbitrary basis as testified by several Israeli soldiers as well as during pre-trial detention,” said the committee.
It had obtained its information from other UN rights bodies, military sources and Israeli and Palestinian rights groups. Israel did not cooperate with requests for information on the issue, it said.
Besides spotlighting abuses in Palestinian territories, it also expressed grave concern at the number of Palestinian youngsters who have been held in Israeli jails.
It said that an estimated 7,000 children aged from 12 to 17 years, but sometimes as young as nine, have been arrested, interrogated and detained since 2002 — an average of two per day.
Most were taken in after being accused of throwing stones at Israeli forces and settlers, an offence which can carry a 20-year penalty.
In April this year, 236 children were in military detention centres, with dozens aged between 12 and 15, the report said, drawing on data from UNICEF and Israeli rights group B’tselem.
The committee expressed its “deepest concern that children on both sides of the conflict continue to be killed and injured”, but underlined that children in the Palestinian territories were “disproportionately represented among the victims”.
In addition, it said, while Palestinian children suffer discrimination in “all aspects” of their life, those from the Israeli Arab, Bedouin and Ethiopian-origin communities also face it.
A spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry rejected the findings of the report, which he said were “not based on any direct investigation on the ground”.
Yigal Palmor compared the report to a March report by the UN’s children fund UNICEF which blamed Israel of “systematic” ill-treatment of Palestinian minors detained by the Israeli military, following which Israel said it would “study the conclusions” and “work to implement them”.
“In this case, we are not talking about any kind of investigation,” Palmor said of the Thursday report.
“Israel submitted its own extensive reports and information to the committee, which chose to ignore them almost en bloc,” he alleged. “This is clearly not a bona fide action, and the resulting report obviously does not aim to promote any real improvement as the UNICEF report did, but only to grab headlines.”