Tuesday, April 10, 2007

MIDEAST: Israelis Torturing Palestinian Children


Nora Barrows-Friedman

West Bank, Apr 10 (IPS) - Mohammed
Mahsiri, a resident of Dheisheh
refugee camp in the occupied West Bank,
sits in a crowded café, a red
kuffiyeh wrapped around his neck and an
iconic portrait of Che Guevara
emblazoned on his black t-shirt.

About a year and a half ago, he
tells IPS, he and his friend were walking
down the street when Israeli
military jeeps surrounded them, shouted at
them in Hebrew to stop,
and forced them inside a jeep.

"I was taken to a detention centre
and interrogated," Mohammed says. "The
interrogation would begin at 2 o'clock
in the afternoon and would finish
after eleven pm. I was beaten all
the time, especially if the soldiers did
not get the answers they wanted.

"I was sent to be beaten by other
soldiers and forced to stand in the rain
with only thin clothes on. They
would try to convince me that I did
something that I did not do in order
to get the confession they wanted.
After being tortured at the
detention centre for one month, I was in
prison for 13 months."

Shocking photographs of torture
at U.S. military bases and detention
centres in Iraq and Afghanistan
outraged people across the globe, but
Palestinians say they have endured
similar treatment inside Israeli
interrogation centres since the
1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

But Mohammed Mahsiri's story is
different. He endured considerable
physical and psychological torture
by Israeli interrogators and prison
guards when he was just short of 17 years old.

What is being witnessed and documented
within the detention centres and
prison camps is widespread, systematic
violation of international laws
experienced by Palestinian children
under 18 years old, including torture,
interrogation, physical beatings,
deplorable living conditions and no
access to fair trial, according to
reports by human rights groups and
legal observers.

Under Israeli military orders in
force inside the occupied West Bank and
Gaza, any Palestinian over the age
of 16 is considered an adult, while
inside Israel the age of an adult
is 18 -- even though Israel is a
signatory to the International
Convention of the Rights of the Child,
which defines all children as under 18 years old.

Moreover, Palestinian children
over 14 years old are tried as adults in an
Israeli military court, and are
often put into prisons with adults. These
are also direct violations of international law.

According to the latest figures
offered by an independent group, there are
398 Palestinian children currently
inside Israeli detention centres and
prisons. Ayed Abuqtaish, research
cocoordinator with Defence for Children
International's Ramallah offices,
told IPS that the youngest child being
held in prison is just 14 years old.

"Usually, the Israeli troops invade
the child's house in the middle of the
night, in order to frighten the child
and his family," Abuqtaish told IPS.
"Many Israeli soldiers and vehicles
surround the house, and other soldiers
invade or force their way into the house.

"They intimidate the child to prepare
him for interrogation. When the
child arrives at the interrogation
centre, they employ different methods
of torture."

There are widespread reports of
physical beatings, Abuqtaish says, "but
currently, they concentrate mainly
on psychological torture like sleep
deprivation, or depriving him of
food or water, or putting him in solitary
confinement, or threatening him
with the demolition of his home or the
arrest of other family members.
Children have also reported that the
Israeli interrogators have
threatened to sexually abuse them."

Israel has consistently defended
its policies of interrogation inside
detention centres and prisons, saying
that it is a necessary tool against
the war on terror. In 1987,
according to Israel's Landau Commission of
Inquiry into interrogation policies,
the state determined that "a moderate
degree of pressure, including
physical pressure, in order to obtain
crucial information, is
unavoidable under certain circumstances."

"Israel is a state party to the
International Convention Against Torture,"
Abuqtaish said. "In its reports
to the committee, Israel always says that
their use of 'moderate physical
pressure' is consistent with the
obligation of the treaty, but,
needless to say, 'moderate physical
pressure' is obviously torture in itself."

Palestinian children in the Israeli
prison system are not given any legal
advocacy and are denied most of
their rights, involved lawyers say.

Arne Malmgren, a Swedish lawyer,
has worked as a legal observer inside
Israeli military courts during
trials of Palestinian children. "The
Israeli court system does not
look like any other court system in the
world," Malmgren told IPS.
"Israeli military staff, the judge, the
prosecutor, the interpreter -- they
are all in military uniform. There are
plenty of soldiers with weapons inside the courtroom.

"The small children come into the
courtroom in handcuffs and full chains;
there can be up to seven children
at the same time in the courtroom. One
lawyer described it as a cattle
market. The trial is more like a plea
bargain -- before the proceedings,
the prosecutor and the lawyer have
already agreed on the child's
sentence, and then they just ask the judge
if he agrees, and he almost always does.

"There are no witnesses, nothing.
And the worst thing is what happened
before the child arrives at the
courtroom -- when they interrogate these
young boys and girls to get them
to sign confessions to things they may or
may not have done."

As negotiations between Palestinian
and Israeli officials move forward
this week in a possible prisoner
exchange deal that may include the
release of all imprisoned Palestinian
women and children in a swap for an
Israeli occupation soldier captured
by Palestinian groups in Gaza last
June, many Palestinians, including
Mohammed Mahsiri, are hoping to see
relatives, friends and loved ones come home.

"When I was released from prison, it
was the best day of my life," Mahsiri
tells IPS. "We were beaten every day.
The food was very bad. It was the
hardest thing we had to face.
No child should ever have to experience

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