In February 2017, President Trump made the following statement regarding U.S.-Israeli/Palestinian policy: “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like, I can live with either one.” Fast-forward to October 2017, and the United States announced its withdrawal from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), citing UNESCO’s “anti-Israel bias” by its recognizing the legitimacy of Palestine (the United States will remain an non-member observer). Meanwhile, Israel is prosecuting approximately 500-700 Palestinian children in military court every year, systematically violating its obligations under the Geneva Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Amendments to domestic legislation to enable long-term detention of Palestinian children as young as twelve years old and countless reports of coercive and violent techniques employed in arrests and interrogations paint an ugly picture of a country that still enjoys a virtual free pass by leaders of the international community.
Malak Al-Khatib was fourteen years old when four Israeli soldiers — over the course of her arrest for allegedly throwing rocks — beat her with a blunt object until she lost consciousness, kicking her while on the ground and stepping on her neck. She was blindfolded and continuously beaten along the way to the police station, and was aggressively interrogated for hours; officers ordered her to confess, and threatened to arrest family members. The confession she signed was in Hebrew, with no translation provided. The endemic abuse and torture of Palestinian children has only grown in recent years: “in 2015, Israel held an average of 220 Palestinian children in custody each month (taken from Palestine into Israeli territory and detention facilities), an increase of ten percent over the previous year.” As of April 2017, there were roughly 6,500 Palestinian political prisoners in Israel, including 300 children. Some of those children are placed in administrative detention, where detainees can be held for up to six months without a charge or trial, which can be indefinitely renewed.
Israel’s endemic crackdown on Palestinian children is evidenced by amendments to legislation impacting children regarding offenses, detention length, and minimum age of imprisonment. In 2016, the government passed a law enabling authorities to imprison minors as young as twelve years old when convicted of violent crimes. This law effectively impacts only those living under Israeli civilian law, since Palestinians are subject to an Israel military law that has already allowed those twelve and over to be imprisoned. In these military prisons, over ninety-nine percent are convicted, oftentimes through coerced confessions. Amendments to the penal code include a mandatory 10-year sentence for throwing stones without intent to cause harm and twenty years when there is intent. Palestinian groups believe that including “stones” into the code was meant to specifically target Palestinian children.
Israel has been allowed to enact and enforce this legislation with impunity from the international community, despite the numerous obligations and treaties that are violated. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention unequivocally prohibits the act of occupying power Israel from removing Palestinian children from occupied territory and detaining them in Israel: “Individual or mass forcible transfer . . . to the territory of the Occupying Power . . . are prohibited, regardless of their motive.” Article 76 adds that occupied persons convicted of offenses must serve those sentences within the occupied territory [Palestine]. Still, the High Court of Israel ruled that detaining Palestinian children like Malak Al-Khatib within Israeli territory is acceptable, that Israeli legislation “overrides the provisions” of international law. Additional violations are seen in Article 14 of the ICCPR, which requires courts to take into consideration the detainee’s age (Malak was just 14). Article 40(2)(iv) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires states to ensure that children are “not compelled . . . to confess guilt” (Malak’s family was threatened if she did not confess). Article 15 of the CAT requires evidence obtained through coercion and torture to be excluded from trial, yet, “Israeli military court judges seldom exclude these confessions.”
The violence between Israelis and Palestinians is not one-sided. Indeed, Palestinian armed groups launched approximately twenty rockets into Israel from Gaza in 2015, allegedly tortured or ill-treated 258 people, and killed at least twenty Israeli civilians and soldiers. However, Article 2 of the CAT emphasizes the non-derogability of torture: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever . . . may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Despite Israel’s blatant disregard for international law, the United States remains Israel’s largest military donor. The remainder of the international community must step up in its place and maintain collective pressure to compel Israel to end its crackdown against Palestinian children.