The Israeli Security Services are forcing Palestinian children into making false confessions through intimidation and torture, according to ABC’s Four Corners programme, broadcast this week.
“Imagine in…(your city): regular late night raids on family homes, by heavily armed soldiers, to take away children in blindfolds and handcuffs for interrogation. Imagine a military prison where the inmates include children as young as 12, in shackles.”
This is the reality of life for Palestinian families across the West Bank and Gaza, as footage and witness testimony reveals in the documentary Stone Cold Justice (full programme below). More than 720,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been through the system since Israel began occupying the Palestinian Territories in 1967.
A Unicef report last October, reported that during interrogation by Israeli Security Forces, Palestinian children had been “threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member” in efforts to gain confessions for alleged offenses, most commonly for throwing stones.
The ABC report has put faces to these Palestinian children and families.
Fourteen year old Qsai Zamara says he was taken from his bed, in the middle of the night by the Israeli Army and transported to an Israeli prison.
“There was this big machine with all the electric wires in it, connected to the electricity. He wanted to give me electric shock with it,” he said
Fifteen year old Fathi Mahfouz says he was arrested under false pretenses and taken to an Israeli prison where he also received electric shocks.
“Because I didn’t confess he sent me to a room that has a cross in it, and hung me on it. I was hung and he kept hitting me,” he said.
These stories have become achingly familiar to Australian barrister Gerard Horton, who has interviewed hundreds of Palestinian children through his organisation Military Court Watch. He says these ordeals are a regular occurrence across the West Bank.
“[In one incident] someone put food on his genitals and the dog was then made to eat the food off that part of his trousers,” Mr Horton said.
“[One] particular interrogator specialises in threatening children with rape, and he makes very specific allegations.
“He will name someone who apparently is waiting outside the interrogation room who will, if the child doesn’t confess, will come in and rape that child.”
Informants and Intelligence Gatherers
It is not just Unicef and the Palestinians themselves who are providing evidence and testimony against the Israeli Security Forces, but voices within Israeli society itself. Prominent Israeli lawyer Gaby Lasky, who specialises in cases of Palestinian children in the Israeli justice system argues that as part of its intelligence gathering process, Israel has begun ‘mapping’ children.
This means waking children up in the dark of night to take their fingerprints, identification and even documenting the beds they sleep in. The documentary contains footage of Israeli soliders partaking in this mapping exercise.
Both Ms Lasky and he director of the YMCA near Bethlehem, Nader Abu Amsha, who deals with many of the 700 Palestinian children detained each year by the Israeli army – attest to Palestinian children also being recruited as informants by Israeli Security forces. He said children were being used to gather intelligence and that this was “breaking children forever”.
Mr Horton also asserts this to be true. Having taken hundreds of affidavits from Palestinian children, he said in some cases attempts were made to recruit children to be informants. He reports that while under arrest for alleged throwing of stones, children are faced with this undetermined stretch of prison, threat and torture, while the solider promise immediate release “if you just from time to time provide us with a little bit of information about who the troublemakers in the village are”.
Spokesperson for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Yigal Palmor was unrepentant on the matter, saying in his interview for the Stone Cold Justice programme:
“There has to be a pattern because the interrogators will want to gather information about possible violence emerging from a certain area or from certain people,”
“And I think that’s perfectly legitimate to ask people who are arrested for being involved in violent actions, to ask them where they come from, why they have been involved in such violent actions, who sent them and whether there are more people coming from the same place with the same intent.”
The Devastating Impact on the Children
The YMCA’s Nader Abu Amsha said questioning children about their communities was causing psychological damage to children.
“They (Israeli security services) are trying to know information about the village and about the life of people, the families, the attitudes of the community,”
“The most vicious and the most horrible thing [is] to push people to collaborate as collaborators with occupiers, to put them under the stick and carrot process. If you reject this, if you are [to] refuse this, you will be punished, you will stay longer in prison and if you accept being a collaborator… you will receive some kind of rewards and you will be dealt with differently and you will be happy.”
“So this kind of converting a child who’s not responsible for his act to be a collaborator is not just helping in information gathering for the Israelis it’s breaking this child forever.”
The Unicef Report last year found that:
“the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and
It is understood that in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights.”
It is inconceivable that a generation of children, broken and traumatised by Israeli Security forces throughout their childhoods, will likely grow into a generation of adults who see peace and co-existence with such brutal an occupier as either possible or desirable. With its brutalization of children, Israel is sowing the seeds for a bloody and hate filled future.