Israeli security forces have choked, beaten, and coerced confessions from Palestinian child detainees, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on Monday.
Based on interviews with five children aged between 11 and 15 years old — whose accounts are corroborated by photos, videos, and eyewitness testimonies — the report by the international NGO contains multiple allegations of abuses by Israeli soldiers and police officers ranging from interrogating minors without a parent or lawyer present to punching, kicking, and verbally abusing them.
"They put a black cloth bag on my head, and were shouting: 'We're going to beat you, you're going to tell us who was with you throwing stones,'" 11-year-old Rashid from Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem told HRW. "Then they were pushing me around, and cursing me, in Arabic. They kicked me in the shin, and my leg turned different colors. I was freezing. They kept putting me into a car and taking me out." Rashid's father said his son suffered nightmares for several days after his arrest.
In another case, Ahmed, also aged 11, was put in a chokehold while being arrested outside the gates of his school in the Al-Tur neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The incident, which was caught on video, caused the boy to urinate on himself in fear. An adult onlooker, detained after he tried to intervene in the arrest, was later strip-searched and beaten in front of Ahmed at a police station in Jerusalem's Old City.
In all of the cases investigated by Human Rights Watch the parents said that the Israeli authorities did not notify them of the arrests and interrogated their child without a lawyer or guardian present. Three of the children of interviewed said they signed confessions in Hebrew, a language they didn't understand.
Other children interviewed by the NGO described being awoken in the middle of the night whilst in detention and being interrogated for hours at a time. The children who confessed to crimes — resulting in two cases in a prison sentence and house arrest in a third — all claimed they had done so after either violence or threats of violence against them by Israeli security services.
"There were seven police, they said: "If you don't talk we'll beat you." I refused and they punched and kicked me," 15 year-old Fares Shyukhi told HRW. "They took me to a cell until afternoon the next day, with three other guys, they were 16 and 17-year-olds. Then the interrogator said I had to sign three papers, in Hebrew. I couldn't read them but I didn't hesitate."
Similarly, Khaled Sheikh, who said he was blindfolded and hit by soldiers whilst under arrest, served 110 days in prison for throwing rocks and burning a tire after signing Hebrew paperwork that he did not realize was a confession. Hossam Sheikh, Khaled's father, said his son was handcuffed with blood on his face when he visited him at the police station. "The blood was on his forehead, there was a bump on the back of his head, and another bruise on his cheekbone. You could see it too at the court hearing," he told HRW researchers.
All the child detainees interviewed by HRW were arrested on suspicion of being involved in stone throwing — a form of protest adopted by Palestinian youths during the first Intifada, that has killed at least 14 people — while two were also accused of more serious offenses; carrying a knife and throwing a Molotov cocktail at a Jewish settlement.
Israel's Youth Law and military orders applicable in West Bank require parents to be notified of a child's arrest and for minors to be able to consult a lawyer but does not permit the presence of parents during interrogations relating to "security offenses" - a category that includes stone throwing.
This is not the first time that Israel has come under fire for mistreatment of minors during arrest and detention.
In 2013 UNICEF reported that: "The ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child's prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing."
According to Addameer, a Ramallah and Jerusalem-based prisoner and human rights NGO, 164 child prisoners are currently being held in Israeli prisons including 17 detainees under 16-years-old.
"The majority of children report being subjected to ill treatment and having forced confessions extracted from them during interrogations," the organization says in a statement on its website. "Forms of ill treatment used by the Israeli soldiers during a child's arrest and interrogation usually include slapping, beating, kicking and violent pushing. Palestinian children are also routinely verbally abused."
The release of HRW's findings follows the fatal shooting of 17-year-old of Mohammed al Kusbah by a senior Israeli army officer in early July. Colonel Israel Shomer initially said that he had shot al Kusbah, who threw a rock at his vehicle smashing the windscreen, as he believed his life was in "mortal danger". However while the stone-throwing remains undisputed, the officer's version of subsequent events have now been thrown into doubt by medical reports and video footage indicating the teen was running away at the time of the shooting.
In response to a submission of the preliminary findings of Monday's report, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Israel's Ministry of Justice "failed to address the specific allegations of unnecessary force during arrest and subsequent ill treatment, while asserting that security officials had adhered to the law in all cases," HRW said.
"Israel has been on notice for years that its security forces are abusing Palestinian children's rights in occupied territory, but the problems continue," Sarah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa Director at Human Rights Watch said in a statement. "These are not difficult abuses to end if the Israeli government were serious about doing so."
"As Israel's largest military donor, the US should press hard for an end to these abusive practices and for reforms," she added.
Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem