Last month, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) raided the home of Zine al-Majid in the Saadia neighborhood of the Old City of Jerusalem with the intent of arresting his four-year old son, Muhammad.
“I told the officer, ‘you want to arrest him; should I send milk and diapers with him?’” al-Maijid told the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, a human rights organization in the Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Although it seems preposterous, this is not the first time the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have attempted to arrest a young child living in either the West Bank or the occupied areas of East Jerusalem. Around the same time as Muhammad al-Maijid’s attempted arrest, five-year old Wadi Maswedeh was arrested for throwing a stone in Hebron. Last year, the Israeli Defense Forces tried to arrest two and a half year old Mo’men Shtayeh from the West Bank village of Kufr Qaddoum, accusing him of carrying a slingshot.
Muslim Odeh, a 14 year old living in the Silwan neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem has been arrested 14 times.
Palestinian children as young as 12 can be sentenced and imprisoned. However, children much younger are often arrested, detained and interrogated—according to a United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) report, 100 percent of Palestinian children who had been detained reported that they had been painfully handcuffed and almost 100 percent of those surveyed claimed that they had been beaten in the head or the face while in detention.
Israel is the only country in the world that arrests, tries and prosecutes children in military courts—a court system designed specifically for Palestinians that operates under a different set of rules than normal Israeli civilian courts. Because of this, the legal process for a Palestinian child arrested by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is different than that of an Israeli child arrested by the Israeli civilian police forces. For example, while an Israeli child can be detained for a maximum of twelve hours before seeing a judge, a Palestinian child can be detained for up to four days. An Israeli child will be detained for a maximum of six months before a trial—in civilian courts, but a Palestinian child can be detained for up to one and a half years before being tried in an Israeli military court—with a 99.79 percent conviction rate.
If convicted, 6.5 percent of Israeli children detained will face a prison sentence—80 percent of them are bailed out of jail before their trial. Meanwhile, 90 percent of Palestinian children detained will face a prison sentence—only 13 percent have a chance of bail before their trial that leads to an almost inevitable conviction.
Until recently, a Palestinian child remained a minor only until they were 15 years old—after which they would be tried and sentenced as adults. Although the laws have changed to qualify all Palestinian children under the age of eighteen as minors, the change in legislation came with the advent of the military juvenile court system—meaning that Palestinian children can still be tried and convicted in the military court system, regardless of their age.
Many criticized the change as “purely cosmetic.”
Palestinian child rights is a significant issue for Palestinian society because, as in many Middle Eastern countries, almost 50 percent of the population of the West Bank is under the age of eighteen. Since the year 2000, at least 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and prosecuted in the Israeli military detention system—and several children experience multiple arrests during their lifetimes, which can lead to harsher sentencing once they reach adulthood. Although a scathing report from UNICEF prompted the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to consider new procedures—such as arresting children by day, rather than by potentially traumatizing night raids. However, a recent Haaretz investigation showed that though a pilot program had been discussed, it has yet to be implemented—and other human rights organizations report that in the meantime, the situation has gotten worse rather than better.