The law is not enough to protect Palestinian children

In East Jerusalem, Israeli Police have been arresting and interrogating children as young as six, often without informing their parents.

By Alma Biblash

Palestinian children from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan demonstrate against the route of the Jerusalem Marathon, which led to a closure on Palestinian neighborhoods in the city.
Palestinian children from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan demonstrate against the route of the Jerusalem Marathon, which led to a closure on Palestinian neighborhoods in the city.

On Tuesday at around 2 p.m., two eight-year-old children were arrested by Israeli police officers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. The officers claimed the children were throwing stones — the kids say they were only playing in the street. Minutes later, they were already being driven to the police station.

This is a good time to remind the police that according to Israeli law, the age of criminal responsibility is 12, and despite the Netanyahu government’s checkpoints, closures, and concrete barriers, Israeli law — which stipulates that the police cannot under any circumstances detain or interrogate a child under the age of 12 — still applies to the residents of East Jerusalem.

The children were held at the station where not a single policeman took the time to notify their parents. The parents, who searched for their children everywhere, eventually turned to local activists, who then called a lawyer to help track down the children. By that time it was already 5 p.m. Attorney Muhammad Mahmoud, a well-known figure in the corridors of the courts and police stations, arrived at the Oz station to demand the children be released. According to Mahmoud, the head officer at the station asked to keep the minors in detention and turn them over to interrogators. After Mahmoud insisted, the two were eventually released. Just like that, without anyone having to answer for the fact that two small children were held — illegally — for hours. Just like in so many other cases.

On October 21, a 10-year-old boy was arrested at his relative’s home in Silwan. Despite his age, he was taken in for investigation. His mother arrived at the police station where she was refused entry. The boy’s 13-year-old cousin, who was also arrested, was interrogated without the presence of a parent. On October 25, two brothers, age 6 and 9 — also from Silwan — were taken to the police station and only released after several hours. These are just two examples from one neighborhood in recent weeks. One can assume that many such cases go under the radar.

Israeli laws pertaining to the rights of teenagers during arrest and interrogation are actually fairly progressive on paper. They ensure that teens are interrogated at appropriate hours and with the presence of one of the parents. It also ensures that teens are not handcuffed in public, and that they are interrogated by someone who has been authorized to do so. Suffice to say they ensure many important things. However, when it comes to police conduct vis-a-vis Palestinian children in East Jerusalem, it is not difficult to see that the laws turn into nothing more than a mere series of recommendations.

Read: Who protects Palestinian children from the police?

In the past six months alone there have there been dozens of documented cases of police arresting minors without informing their parents and, unsurprisingly, interrogating them without a parent present. At least nine of them were under the age of criminal culpability. The law allows for the interrogation of a minor without parental supervision only under exceptional circumstances and with the approval of an officer. But in Jerusalem the exception is the rule, and the approval for interrogations are granted almost automatically. The courts, despite protestations by attorneys, permit this kind of conduct to continue. Even the Shin Bet has role when it takes in children for its own interrogations.

The children of East Jerusalem have been under attack for several years. In Silwan there isn’t a single child who has not experienced arrests firsthand — either their own, or that of their relatives or friends. Many children report both physical and verbal abuse against them during arrest, schoolteachers report that children are distracted by police conduct, while parents are trying to prevent their young ones from walking the streets unaccompanied.

If Israeli police or the public believe that arresting children will prevent stone throwing, they are simply wrong. Attempts to ease the regulations on using deadly force and legislating minimum sentences for stone throwers will only increase harm caused to children.

We are holding an entire generation of children ransom in a sick, violent society built on police control and a struggle for survival — a place where the rights and needs of children are meaningless. When these children are released, they are usually more disempowered and far angrier. As long as the frustration, rage, and inability to imagine a better future grows, their resistance will grow as well.

The Jerusalem police spokesperson has yet to respond to the above claims. A response, if it is received, will be published here.

Alma Biblash is a feminist and human rights activist based in Jaffa. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he/she is a blogger. Read it here.

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