Ramallah: Over the past five years, Israel's military has arrested more than 800 Palestinian minors for pelting stones at Israeli soldiers, and jailed many of them, a rights group said in a report released Monday.
According to a report by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, from the beginning of 2005 until the end of 2010, at least 835 minors were arrested and tried in military courts in the West Bank on stone-throwing charges.
The report said that 34 of the arrested minors were 12 to 13 years old, a total of 255 were 14-15 years of age and 546 of them were aged 16-17 years.
The report said that the Palestinian minors were charged with criminal offences and tried in Israeli military courts under the military legislation which Israel has applied in the West Bank. The military legislation grants the Palestinian minors no rights at all. They are denied the right to speak with an attorney and are not provided with any kind of protection.
Eisa Qaraqei, the Palestinian Minister for Detainees' Affairs, told Gulf News that the Israeli forces detain the Palestinian minors and put them in special detention centres in Israeli colonies in the West Bank where even representatives of human rights groups cannot reach them.
He said the Israeli forces do not tell the minors' families where there are and do not allow them to visit their children He stressed that the Israeli military does not grant the minors the right to speak to attorneys to represent them in court.
The B'Tselem report said the way the Israeli military handles Palestinian minors does not conform to international and Israeli law and damages the youngsters' development.
The B'Tselem interviewed 50 Palestinian minors who were detained by the Israeli military and their testimonies proved disturbing. They said they were arrested in the middle of night, taken from their homes and denied the right to be accompanied by their parents.
The Palestinian minors said they were threatened prior to the military investigation and denied basic human rights such as eating, drinking and going to the bathroom.
The Israeli military justice system implies that the minors remain in custody until the end of the official procedures, whereas the majority of the minors prefer a deal, in which they confess to the charges in exchange for a shorter sentence fearing that if a trial is held, they will be kept in jail during the lengthy period of time it takes to complete the trial. The B'Tselem said that imprisonment for up to 20 months is the usual penalty for stone throwing.
The report said that the vast majority of the Palestinian minors in Israeli jails are denied the right to family visits.
Qaraqei said that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has repeatedly raised the issue of the rights of jailed Palestinian minors, especially with regard to family visits, but so far the Israeli military has been denying the youths their basic human rights.
B'Tselem said that the detained Palestinian minors are also denied access to a telephone. Qaraqei said that the Israeli authorities have also denied them the right to carry on their academic studies as a collective punishment.
Calls for changes
B'Tselem said that the poor conditions of the Palestinian minors in Israeli detention centres and prisons has prompted military judges to come up with calls for changes in the way these Palestinian minors are handled, but no action has so far been taken to end the infringement of the minors' rights.
Israeli military judges have called for the military courts to operate under the Israeli Youth Law, even though the Youth Law itself is not incorporated in the military legislation.
The Israeli human rights group said that Israel is obliged to ensure the rights of the Palestinian minors under its responsibility, and bring the provisions of military law on a par with those of Israel's Youth Law.