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Israel accused of child torture

Human-rights organisation wants action to help young Palestinian prisoners. Reva Klein reports

Palestinian children and young people are being arrested, interrogated, tortured and held in Israeli prisons in flagrant disregard of international human rights agreements.

Prisoners report being beaten on the head and genitals with fists, guns, batons or other objects, often after being hooded with sacks covered in human waste. They are also exposed to extreme temperatures, deprived of sleep and bound in painful positions.

The accounts are documented in Stolen Youth, the first book to catalogue verified cases of Palestinians under 18 who have been held in Israeli military prisons.

Around 370 Palestinians aged 12 to 17 are currently incarcerated in adult prisons and detention centres. The young people's cases are heard in military rather than civil courts, presided over by officers who may not have any legal training. There are no juvenile courts, judges, or probation officers specially trained to deal with children arrested in the Occupied Territories.

According to the book, 95 per cent of the children arrested are charged with throwing stones at Israeli soldiers patrolling the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. After detention in the Occupied Territories those ssent to prison serve their sentences inside Israel, often far from their homes.

Israel defends its policies, saying the lives of its people are at stake.

Today's stone-thrower could be tomorrow's terrorist, the government says, and punishment is needed to deter further attacks.

Palestinian children can be detained under military law for up to six months without an indictment and can be refused access to a lawyer for up to 90 days. "Sentencing is dictated by the political situation," says Adah Kay, one of the book's three authors, all of whom are associated with Defence for Children International (DCI) in Ramallah.

Since the current intifada erupted in September 2000, the proportion of sentences of six to 12 months doubled to 40 per cent of all children charged. Almost all the cases documented by DCI and other human rights organisations, featured allegations of physical or psychological abuse.

One former prisoner from Bethlehem, who wishes to be known only as Jamal, was imprisoned for a total of 18 months between the ages of 14 and 17. He was first taken into custody after refusing to collaborate with Mossad, the Israeli secret service.

Jamal recalls the violence he endured after his arrest. "They came to my family home in the middle of the night and drove me to a detention centre blindfolded.

"At least 10 soldiers punched me for over three hours before putting me in a tiny dark, damp cell overnight. There was no room to lie down and there was no toilet. After that, I was put in isolation for 10 days and then in prison for seven months."

Co-author Catherine Cook said: "Although Israel has ratified the major international human rights treaties, it denies the applicability of these standards in the Occupied Territories because it says the situation is one of armed conflict, not occupation."

Stolen Youth: the politics of Israel's detention of Palestinian Children by Catherine Cook, Adam Hanieh and Adah Kay is published by Pluto Press in association with Defence for Children International-Palestine Section

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