Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem is laying the blame on Israel’s police for ignoring the systematic abuse and violations of Palestinian minors’ rights during interrogations. The organization has received dozens of complaints by Palestinian residents under the age of 18 who have been beaten and threatened during interrogations in Etzion police station, which is in charge of the Hebron and Bethlehem areas. Many of those minors and their families were afraid or reluctant to press formal charges.
According to B’Tselem, some of the events described included torture. Once defendants admit to breaking the law (usually stone throwing), the beating and threats cease.
Palestinians are tried in military courts, where almost 100 percent of defendants are convicted. In many cases, the leading evidence against a defendant is his or her testimony during police or army interrogations.
Over the last three-and-a-half years, B’Tselem received 56 complaints of beatings, abuse and threats towards minors in Etzion police station. Minors between the ages of 12 and 18 have been threatened with sexual abuse, violence against their parents (including threats to kill them), and electrical shocks. In at least one case, a 14-year-old was made to listen to blood-curdling screams from a nearby room, while being told that the same fate awaits him. Others were beaten, at times while their hands were tied.
B’Tselem has transferred 31 complaints to the Justice Ministry unit in charge of investigating police violations. Twenty families eventually decided to withdraw their complaint, fearing retribution from the authorities, and the Ministry is not willing to look into cases which are not submitted by the victim him/herself. The remaining 11 cases were either dropped by the Ministry or the investigation was never concluded.
Here are two of the testimonies collected by B’Tselem:
M.A., resident of Husan, 15-years-old at the time of his arrest.
The interrogator “Daud” took me outside with a soldier. They blindfolded me. The plastic cable ties were still on my hands. They put me in a car and started driving. I don’t know where they took me. We reached some place outside Etzion and they forced me out of the car. My hands really hurt because of the cable ties. They took off my blindfold. I didn’t know where I was. They tied me to a tree, and then they raised my cuffed hands and tied them to the tree, too. It hurt a lot. “Daud” started punching me. After a few minutes, he took out a gun and said: “I’ll murder you if you don’t confess! Out here, no one will find you. We’ll kill you and leave you here.
M.H., resident of Husan, 14-years-old at the time of his arrest.
The interrogator made me go into a room. He grabbed my head and started banging it against the wall. Then he punched me, slapped me and kicked my legs. The pain was immense, and I felt like I couldn’t stand any longer. Then he started swearing at me. He said filthy things about me and about my mother. He threatened to rape me, or perform sexual acts on me, if I didn’t confess to throwing stones. His threats really scared me, because he was very cruel and it was just the two of us in the room. I remembered what I’d seen on the news, when British and American soldiers raped and took photos of naked Iraqis.
The Justice Ministry has informed B’Tselem that it will look into the claim regarding the “systematic nature” of human rights violations in the station.
Palestinians are subject to military control, and lack the legal defenses Israeli citizens receive. Among other things, children are often not interrogated by a policeman who specializes in minors, and a lawyer is often not present during the interrogation. Furthermore, children are made to sign documents in Hebrew (which most of them don’t speak), and are tried by military tribunals for long periods in prison, even for minor offenses.