Top court throws out case demanding Palestinian kids be allowed to call parents from prison

The Israeli Supreme Court refuses to hear arguments in a case about whether Palestinian minors imprisoned by Israel should be allowed to speak to their families on the phone.

Illustrative photo of Israeli soldiers detain a blindfolded Palestinian child. (Wagdi Ashtiyeh/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of Israeli soldiers detain a blindfolded Palestinian child. (Wagdi Ashtiyeh/Flash90)

Israel’s High Court of Justice refused to hear a petition by an Israeli human rights organization demanding that Palestinian minors held in Israeli prisons be allowed to call their parents.

Palestinian minors classified by Israel as “security prisoners” are subject to restrictions identical to those imposed on adult prisoners, including the denial of telephone contact with their parents. The prison service allegedly refuses to treat minors classified as “security prisoners” according to Israeli laws and rules regulating the treatment of children.

According to HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, which petitioned the court, the Israel Prison Service imposes these restrictions on all minors, without considering the severity of the allegations or the length of the prison term.

According to the justices, the case should have first been brought to lower court on behalf of one or more specific prisoners. In its petition, HaMoked decided to redact the names of the Palestinian minors whose testimonies it included, choosing not to bring the case in the name of a specific Palestinian minor.

Further, in justifying its dismissal of the petition, the justices pointed to a thus-far unimplemented pilot program by the Israel Prison Service to allow Palestinian minors in one out of four facilities in which they are held, to call their parents on the phone.

The petition argues that it is crucial for Palestinian minors to be allowed to have regular phone contact with their parents, detailing the psychological damage that they may face in absence of those phone calls. One 15-year-old Palestinian boy, whose full name did not appear on the petition, told HaMoked about how he had yet to contact his parents two months after he was arrested in the middle of the night.

Monday’s hearing lasted all but five minutes, during which HaMoked attorney Nadia Dakah barely got through her opening remarks before Justice Noam Solberg cut her off, demanding to know why the High Court should rule on a petition that does not include the names of any of the Palestinian minors in question.

State Attorney Udi Eitan claimed that even if the state wanted to deal with the specific cases of those whose testimonies are presented in the petition, it would not be able to do so since the testimonies are all anonymous and do not include the names of the minors.

Dakah explained that HaMoked’s petition was submitted to the right court, describing the near-impossibility of convincing a terrified minor to sign on to such a petition. “They have a difficult time knowing their rights during their detention, which generally lasts until the end of legal proceedings. All they are interested in is the proceedings against them, they find themselves in a very weak position. Prison conditions are not exactly their top priority,” she explained.

Solberg further argued that “work is being done” on the issue, most likely in response to the state’s claim that it would begin instituting a pilot program to allow phone access to prisoners, subject to certain, unspecified security restrictions.

While the state mentioned the program in its response to HaMoked’s petition, it did not go into detail about when the program would go into effect or which Palestinian minors it would include. Furthermore, the state did not expand on the nature of the security restrictions that would prevent certain minors from participating.

Dakah reminded the judges that the state announced the pilot’s existence only after HaMoked’s petition had been filed, and after three-and-a-half years during which the State Attorney ignored HaMoked’s attempts to bring the issue to its attention.

In its petition, HaMoked said it had repeatedly demanded that the Israel Prison Service allow Palestinian minors to make phone calls to their families, but turned to the High Court after the IPS sent a letter in June 2016 in which it claimed there is “no distinction between the nature and type of offense of which an adult inmate is suspected, accused or convicted and the nature and type of offense of which a minor is suspected, accused or convicted.”

When it came to using the telephone, the IPS stated that the “use of telephone contact is not deemed a right of the prisoner population.”