New Report on Israel’s Abuse of Palestinian Children

I strongly encourage you to read Guardian reporter Harriet Sherwood’s devastating new piece, which investigates allegations of human rights abuse of Palestinian children inside Israel’s Al Jalame prison.

I’m already anticipating the angry comments I invariably get when I share this kind of information. But what else should I do?  As an American Jew, what else am I supposed to do with the news that that Israel – the Jewish state, the “only democracy in the Middle East” and America’s “special ally” – is abducting, abusing and torturing Palestinian children?

I don’t know anything else to do but to bring this information into the light of day, urge you to share it, and encourage you to voice your outrage to your elected leaders.

Here’s the start of the article:

The room is barely wider than the thin, dirty mattress that covers the floor. Behind a low concrete wall is a squat toilet, the stench from which has no escape in the windowless room. The rough concrete walls deter idle leaning; the constant overhead light inhibits sleep. The delivery of food through a low slit in the door is the only way of marking time, dividing day from night.

This is Cell 36, deep within Al Jalame prison in northern Israel. It is one of a handful of cells where Palestinian children are locked in solitary confinement for days or even weeks. One 16-year-old claimed that he had been kept in Cell 36 for 65 days.

The only escape is to the interrogation room where children are shackled, by hands and feet, to a chair while being questioned, sometimes for hours.

Most are accused of throwing stones at soldiers or settlers; some, of flinging molotov cocktails; a few, of more serious offences such as links to militant organisations or using weapons. They are also pumped for information about the activities and sympathies of their classmates, relatives and neighbours.

At the beginning, nearly all deny the accusations. Most say they are threatened; some report physical violence. Verbal abuse – “You’re a dog, a son of a whore” – is common. Many are exhausted from sleep deprivation. Day after day they are fettered to the chair, then returned to solitary confinement. In the end, many sign confessions that they later say were coerced.

These claims and descriptions come from affidavits given by minors to an international human rights organisation and from interviews conducted by the Guardian. Other cells in Al Jalame and Petah Tikva prisons are also used for solitary confinement, but Cell 36 is the one cited most often in these testimonies.

Between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are arrested by Israeli soldiers each year, mostly accused of throwing stones. Since 2008, Defence for Children International (DCI) has collected sworn testimonies from 426 minors detained in Israel’s military justice system…

Human rights organisations say these patterns of treatment – which are corroborated by a separate study, No Minor Matter, conducted by an Israeli group, B’Tselem – violate the international convention on the rights of the child, which Israel has ratified, and the fourth Geneva convention.

14 thoughts on “New Report on Israel’s Abuse of Palestinian Children

  1. i_like_ike52

    I generally avoid commenting on tendentious reports like this one, which are of the sort: “are you still beating your wife?”. I have not read the report, nor do I intend to because I have no way of verifying the information. I know only certain things….Israel is a state based on the rule of law. Israel does not, contrary to you inflammatory description “abduct Palestinian children, abuse them or torture them”.
    Israel does also face security problems. Throwing rocks, even by children is against the law. People have been killed by rocks thrown by children. Israel also has to confront armed terrorist groups that are not only a danger to Israel but to the ruling Palestinian Authority. That is why the PA often passes on information about Islamic extremist groups that threaten them to Israel so that Israel can do the work for them (and so they can keep their hands “clean” and blame Israel at the same time).
    Israel has MANY organizations who don’t love Zionism, or the “occupation” any more than you or the Guardian does, who monitor human rights. Israel has numerous Knesset members who are members of anti-Zionist parties, many of them Arabs, in addition to MERETZ which, although a Zionist party, opposes “the occupation”. If there are systemic abuses of human rights as claimed by these “exposes”, these people would be mobilized and highly motivated to do something about them. Thus, I reject the claim of articles like these that they are uncovering “hidden human rights abuses” that no one supposedly cares about.

    1. Vicky

      “I have not read the report, nor do I intend to because I have no way of verifying the information. I know only certain things….Israel is a state based on the rule of law.”

      The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are under martial law. This means that there is no age of criminal responsibility and child detainees are not accorded any rights that take their age into account. There is no obligation for them to be given access to an attorney, for example. This is very common practice in East Jerusalem as well. When seven-year-old Ali Siyam was arrested in Silwan last summer, his lawyer (an Israeli, Lea Tsemel) was denied access to him at the police station. When she tried to push past the police into the interrogation room, she was arrested herself.

      I suggest that you take a look at the data compiled by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and Defence for Children International’s Palestine section. Yesh Din also has good information on this topic. Here you will find the highly motivated Israelis you speak of, the ones who are doing their utmost to change this situation. Such organisations have been meticulously compiling data on the treatment of minors in Israeli prisons for years, which ranges from the terrifying (being arrested and taken blindfolded from the home in the middle of the night) to the horrific (physical torture). This Guardian report is not a one-off aberration; there is a lot of detail out there for you to explore if you want to look. The question is, do you want to look?

      Logic alone should tell you that the imposition of martial law on a civilian population, including children, is going to lead to situations that are unsavoury to say the least. As for rock-throwing, theoretically it could kill people (although I have to say that I have never feared for the lives of soldiers riding in armoured jeeps when stone-throwing kids appear on the scene). Occupation definitely kills people, and significantly reduces their quality of life. Young children may be ‘breaking the law’ by throwing stones at an occupying military, but that military is committing a far more terrible offence against those children.

      I have worked with young people who were detained and who still carry the psychological scars. My landlady’s thirteen-year-old son is one of them. He was twelve when the IDF snatched him from the street and shoved him into their jeep. He hadn’t done anything wrong, and even if he had, pouncing on him like that and trying to take him away without even letting his parents know would still have been unjustifiable. Fortunately my landlady heard the screaming and rushed outside, blocking the path of the jeep with her body. After a heated argument, during which my landlady challenged them to show CCTV footage of the alleged stone-throwing (our street is full of military cameras), the soldiers let the children go. Their ordeal was short-lived. Their trauma isn’t. My landlady’s son is still wary of being outside on his own. When he’s playing outside he likes one of us to be out there with him all the time, and he won’t go out of sight. What a way for him to live. The worst of it is that what happened to him was mild. Far, far more horrible things are going on all the time, and I am always relieved and grateful whenever this receives some press attention.

      I am also very grateful to the Israelis you mention who work against this. For a lot of people the knowledge that they live in a state that arrests five-year-olds (Yahya al-Rishaq, detained in Silwan in June 2011, the youngest detainee I know of to date) comes as a terrible realisation. For a while they don’t want to believe that this goes on at all. Next comes the clutching at straws, the inevitable, “There must have been a reason.” Then it’s, “I’m sure it’s just a few bad apples. When I was in the IDF, I never…” I have watched the change happening in people. Some of the bravest, most principled activists I know are Israelis who faced up to what is happening here and took a stand against it. Words can’t express my respect for them, because even the acknowledgement meant their world getting turned upside-down for a while. Never an easy thing to go through.

    2. Rafat

      I work as a field researcher for a Human Rights Association in Jerusalem, TRUST ME, Israel targets underage children, imprisons them, take them into interrogation, interrogators use all methods to make them confess, takes them to courts, some are imprisoned and some are confined to home imprisonment depriving them of their right to live their childhood and go to their schools. Accusations range from throwing stones to going to Al-Aqsa mosque to Pray!

      I do urge you to go to this website:

      which is an ISRAELI organization that documents child arrests in Palestine by ISRAEL!
      Different United Nations Organizations, the International Committee of Red Cross, Save the Children, Human Rights Watch and many many more international organizations do not lie!!

  2. Wendy Carson

    If we as Jews do not recognize inhumane treatment of any children then we as jews have not learned anything of our own history of atrocities.we must do what ever takes to never harm a child.

    1. Steve

      When have you last checked out Cook County Jail and Cook County Juvenile Detention? My guess is the rock throwers (whose intention is to injure whoever the rocks hit) are subject to milder conditions than the Cook County conditions.

      1. Shirin

        So, if conditions are bad in Cook County jail, then there is no cause for concern over the way Israel is treating Palestinian children?

        There are no words.

      2. Steve


        I think any youth who gets caught up in any criminal justice system should be worried about. I know a kid who was caught smoking hashish in Israel. It was no picnic for the kid in jail. Although food appears to be better than in cook county jail. In cook county jail you get 2 cold meals and a hot. Breakfast & Lunch are bologna sandwiches and dinner is chipped meat in a white sauce/broth. The meat is probably bologna as well.
        I don’t worry more or less about “Palestinian” youth in Israeli custody than I do about youth in Cook County Juvenile Detention or in Cook County Jail. I do worry more about “Palestinian” youth in PA or Hamas custody.

        From the tone of your reply makes me think that you would like Israel to disappear. And, you really don’t nearly care about “Palestinian” incarcerated youth as much as G-d forbid the disappearance of the State of Israel.

      3. Vicky


        When you put the word Palestinian in quotation marks like that, you are not in a good position to be accusing Shirin of wanting Israel to disappear. All she did was point out the fallacy of your argument – the idea that concern for these youngsters can somehow be neutralised by invoking County Cook jail. The youngsters in Cell 36 are Palestinians, end of story. You say that all young people in jail deserve to be worried about; denying someone’s nationality and heritage is a strange form of worry.

        Given that recreational cannabis use in Israel is extremely high, I’m very surprised that you know a young person who received jail time for it – most people are let off with a warning for the first offence (and yes, I know many Israelis who have been caught). It’s pretty much impossible to walk through Tel Aviv without smelling the stuff. If he was in the army, that is different; IDF is very strict about this.

        Either way, the legitimate comparison in this situation is not the difference between how this youth was treated and how County Cook youth are treated, but in the difference between how Israeli Jewish and Palestinian youth are treated for committing the same offence. There is already one massive difference: the Israeli minor is subject to civilian law. The Palestinian minor from the Territories is not, and as I have already pointed out, he has no legal rights. Can the same be said for County Cook youth?

        I share your interest in prisoner welfare, but I don’t think that trying to negate the suffering of these children is a legitimate way of expressing that interest. I’m active in two prisoner welfare groups as a penpal/befriender – one supporting Death Row inmates in the USA, one supporting prisoners in the UK. The fact that I work in Palestine and consequently talk about Palestine a lot doesn’t mean I care for these people any the less, and I daresay the same is true of Shirin and R’ Brant. As a rabbi, Brant must be active in many areas of social justice in his community. I’ve seen him write posts on these topics, and on not one of those posts did anybody feel it necessary to step in and say, “But what about XYZ situation?”. Most recently it was a post about an interfaith poetry workshop that he attended for local Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim children. No one is in the comments section asking him accusingly why he was at an Abrahamic poetry session and not at a craft fair organised by Jews and Jains, which suggests to me that such questions aren’t motivated purely by compassion.

  3. Marc Rosenberg

    Brant, you still don’t get it.

    #1 – Have you personally checked out the authenticity of this article? Would you bet your family’s life that there cannot possibly be another side?

    #2 – The Arab terrorists continue, as they have for many decades, wage war in cowardly ways by launching bombs from within mosques and schools, force pregnant women to be suicide bombers and yes, force their children to throw stones and use other more serious weapons against Israeli soldiers, the same children indoctrinated by their school textbooks that laughingly and unjustly overtly distort history to make them hate Jews. They do this because they are smart cowards– these tactics make it difficult for Israel to defend itself and make it easy to get sympathy from people who lack the common sense and good judgment to realize they are being manipulated by a propaganda machine that preys on anti-Israel sentiment.

    Marc Rosenberg

    1. Vicky

      Marc, you need to spend some time around Palestinian children. There are no sinister cowardly forces compelling them to grab stones and hurl them at the army. I know kids (and grown adults, come to that – it’s not just a kids’ past-time) who will throw stones at the army at any chance they get. They do this because life under military occupation is far from fun. You mention textbook content (which isn’t a representative picture) but not the curfews and checkpoints that have stopped Palestinian children from reaching school, the settler attacks that prevent children (especially those in rural areas) from getting there safely on a daily basis, the ongoing demolition of schools and homes in Area C, and the times when schools (including kindergartens) have been shut down across the West Bank for protracted periods. After the school closures during the First Intifada, being caught in the street with textbooks was used as grounds for arrest.

      Here Samuel Nichols, a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams stationed in Tuwani, describes an incident that occurred when the children tried to reach home from school without military protection. They were chased back to the school gates by masked armed settlers. Several hours later, after persistent phone calls from Sam, the military came to provide the escort that they are supposed to provide daily:

      “They opened up the back door of the jeep to keep an eye on the children following behind. I saw them laughing as the jeep sped up and the kids, some of whom were still shaking in fear, had to run to catch up.”

      A full report on the situation can be read here:

      It is not possible to look at this and cling to the assumption that children could have no possible reason for throwing stones at the army other than simple hatred of Jews. Round about last May, I had a conversation with a seventeen-year-old young man from a refugee camp near Hebron that might give you a deeper personal insight into how the military is perceived, and why:

      “These tactics make it difficult for Israel to defend itself and make it easy to get sympathy from people who lack the common sense and good judgment to realize they are being manipulated by a propaganda machine that preys on anti-Israel sentiment.”

      No manipulation is required when the army goes into a Palestinian house in the middle of the night, handcuffs a twelve-year-old, blindfolds him, and takes him away without his parents or access to a lawyer. (This is extremely common – midnight or the small hours of the morning are the usual times for child arrest in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as if to create maximum fear). Martial law and its ramifications for children are disturbing enough in their own right. So is martial law’s incorporation of the practice of administrative detention (indefinite detention without charge). You are right that there is ‘another side’ to this story, and I’ve heard it – the idea that the children of my neighbourhood are little terrorists-in-training and that all this is accounted for by an urgent need to protect Israel from their nefarious deeds, an idea that is earnestly put forward by people who have never seen these children and who don’t have to witness what their daily lives are like. How anybody feels protected by the knowledge that their state treats detained minors in this way is quite beyond me. The idea is a comfort blanket for people who need to believe that Israeli policy in the Territories is OK. Talking to the IDF in the Territories about this very topic, the response I get is rarely, “It’s necessary to security,” but often, “It’s an order.”

      Then there are the stories that come from ex-soldiers who participated in this. My background is in special education and mental health work; I have a particular interest in trauma. It’s not just Palestinian kids who enter adulthood traumatised. A few weeks ago I was talking to a former soldier, now twenty-three, who told me, “They never told us how we’re supposed to live with ourselves afterwards.” At the age of eighteen he was being instructed to stand guard while other soldiers beat up a group of Palestinian youngsters to ‘teach them a lesson’. Things only went downhill for him from there. Palestinian children who endure this are the primary victims of cruelty, but the soldiers who have been put in this position don’t always escape unscathed. This might partially account for why the leading cause of death in the IDF is not rock-throwing children, but suicide. These are not the hallmarks of a secure state. For anyone.

  4. Dave

    In your excerpt from that article about ‘children’ the only age mentioned is that of a 16-year old.

    Yet in the article you wrote immediately preceding not on one of the 4 high schoolers is ever referred to as a ‘child’, not by you or any of the commenters.
    Are you saying that Americans are more mature than Palestinians?

  5. Ken Kaufman

    I would think it would be of interest to read the entire Israeli response:
    Amir Ofek; The Guardian, Wednesday 1 February 2012.
    “Israel Does Not Mistreat Detained Palestinian Children.
    Palestinian minors have committed atrocities – but Israel’s military justice system respects their rights in custody.”

    Here is a part of the article:
    Gerard Horton, of Defence for Children International, tells your reporter: “We’re not saying offences aren’t committed – we’re saying children have legal rights.” Israel is in complete agreement. In the face of ever younger minors committing ever greater numbers of crimes, its efforts to maintain and even increase legal protections are impressive. When a minor involved in terrorist activity is arrested, the law is clear: no torture or humiliation is permitted, nor is solitary confinement in order to induce a confession – which challenges the veracity of the accounts in your article.

    Furthermore, a special juvenile court has been established to guarantee professional care for minors in detention. The above and other measures have succeeded in making legal proceedings easier for minors, and have almost halved their duration.


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