Ban Ki-moon and the detention of Palestinian children

The connection between settlements and the military regime that detains some 1,000 Palestinian each year is becoming harder and harder to ignore.

By Gerard Horton

Palestinian children with Israeli soldiers during the weekly demonstration in Nabi Saleh, May 29, 2015. (Natasha Roth)
Palestinian children with Israeli soldiers during the weekly demonstration in Nabi Saleh, May 29, 2015. (Natasha Roth)

In recent weeks some media attention has focused on whether Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon would, or would not, include Israel on the UN’s list of states responsible for violating children’s rights in armed conflict. This follows the receipt of a draft report in which Ban’s special envoy for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, recommended that Israel should be listed, citing as one reason, the high proportion of children killed during last summer’s war in Gaza.

In the end, Ban opted not to include Israel or Hamas on the list following what media sources described as intense pressure from the U.S. and Israel.

The list in question is attached to a report submitted to the Security Council by the secretary-general around this time every year. The report considers 23 conflict situations which heavily impact children, including Israel/Palestine. For the third consecutive year the report has included a section on the treatment of Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military in the West Bank.

According to the report, the UN has obtained 122 affidavits from children detained by the Israeli military in 2014. The report confirms that the information “has been documented, vetted and verified for accuracy by the United Nations.” According to the secretary-general, the children reported being subjected to “ill-treatment, such as beatings, being hit with sticks, being blindfolded, being kicked and being subjected to verbal abuse and threats of sexual violence.”

As we approach the 50th anniversary of Israel’s military rule over the West Bank, it is worth considering these allegations in the wider context. According to UN sources, since June 1967, approximately 760,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been detained by Israeli forces. Some of these individuals were released within hours or days, while others continue to be prosecuted in military courts and imprisoned. The military authorities acknowledge that around 1,000 Palestinian children from the West Bank are currently detained each year, of which those 12 years and above, can be prosecuted in military courts. Most are accused of throwing stones.

Read +972’s full coverage: Children Under Occupation

These recent allegations do not come out of the blue. In 2013, UNICEF published a report following a review of over 400 affidavits in which it concluded 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.” Again in February 2015, UNICEF warned that “reports of alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention have not significantly decreased in 2013 and 2014.”

Allegations of this nature have also been raised by the U.S. State Department in its annual global report on human rights for a number of years now.

While these allegations are not new, few ask the question – why? One recent report released by a group of lawyers does ask this question and concludes that there is a clear link between the detention of Palestinians and the policy of successive Israeli governments of transferring parts of its own civilian population into West Bank settlements.

Consider this: there are now about 370,000 Israeli civilians living in the West Bank amongst 2.7 million Palestinians. These figures do not include East Jerusalem. The task of guaranteeing the protection of these Israelis living in what international law considers to be occupied territory falls on the Israeli military. And although there are highly publicized outbreaks of violence from time-to-time, it is important to note that according to the U.S. State Department no settlers were killed in the West Bank as a result of the conflict in 2012. Now how do you suppose any military would go about achieving this remarkable result?

The Israeli military protects its civilians in the West Bank by securing and suppressing the immediate territory around each settlement. This also involves securing the extended network of roads used to link the settlements to each other and back to Israel. Evidence of just how the military goes about this task has been well documented by former Israeli soldiers and members of Breaking the Silence.

Essentially, the military adopts a policy of “making its presence felt” in the Palestinian towns and villages situated in close proximity to settlements or strategic roads. The objective is to ensure that swift punishment follows any act of resistance, big or small (reactive strategy), but more importantly, that the Palestinian communities are subjected to constant intimidation until they understand that resistance to the settlement project is not a viable option (proactive strategy). The effective combination of these reactive and proactive strategies is intended to intimidate the Palestinian population into submission, thereby enabling the settler population to go about their daily lives, by-and-large, with little disturbance.

This strategy was succinctly articulated by one soldier in a testimony describing the tactics used to suppress Palestinian villages in the Nablus region of the West Bank as follows:

A patrol goes in and raises hell inside the villages. A whole company may be sent in on foot in two lines like a military parade in the streets, provoking riots, provoking children. The commander wants more and more friction, just to grind the population, make their lives more and more miserable, and to discourage them from throwing stones, to not even think about throwing stones at the main road. Not to mention Molotov cocktails and other things. Practically speaking it worked. The population was so scared that they shut themselves in. They hardly came out.

It is no coincidence that in 200 cases recently submitted to the UN involving Palestinian children detained in the West Bank, every child lived within a few thousand meters of an Israeli settlement or road used by settlers. Further, it is apparent from the evidence that not only are the settlements a primary driving force behind why children find themselves in military detention; the settlements also provide a network of holding facilities and interrogation centers used to process the children once they are taken into custody.

Is it any wonder then that those supporting settlement activity in occupied territory devote so much of their time and effort into trying to persuade everybody else that the settlements are anything other than the primary driving force behind the conflict? But how many of these individuals actually appreciate or care that their actions are isolating Israel?

Gerard Horton is a lawyer and co-founder of Military Court Watch.

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