"I won't move until I say
goodbye to my mother."
"For speaking these words, Diyaa was knocked to the floor of
his family home, kicked, and beaten by Israeli soldiers who, two weeks earlier,
had done the same to his two friends. It was 3 am, and Diyaa's parents could
only watch as their 16-year-old son was dragged to an army jeep, blindfolded,
and—like thousands of Palestinian children before him—forced into a military
detention center in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
What happened next, according to affidavits given by Diyaa
and his friends, fits a pattern of Israeli abuse designed to coerce confessions
from Palestinian children. Among the most troubling of their experiences were
prolonged periods of solitary confinement.
true that, in the United States, children and juvenile offenders are sometimes
held in solitary confinement—either as a disciplinary measure or to separate
them from adult populations—in Israeli military detention, Palestinian children
are held in solitary confinement for interrogation purposes," said Brad
Parker, international advocacy officer and attorney for DCI-Palestine.
"Using solitary confinement in this way is conduct that
amounts to torture under international law," says Parker. The United
Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has explicitly found that solitary
confinement, when "used intentionally during pretrial detention as a
technique for the purpose of obtaining information or a confession"
amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
In more than 97 percent of cases documented by DCI-Palestine
between 2012 and 2013, "children held in solitary confinement were not
properly informed of their right to silence, were denied access to legal
counsel and did not have a family member present during interrogation,"
according to a May 2014 report prepared by the organization. In the same time
period, more than three-quarters of child detainees were strip searched,
subject to physical abuse, and denied access to food and water.
Isolation, interrogation, and beatings
On the day of his detention, 16-year-old Diyaa remembers
being thrown into a windowless cell, where he was to spend the next 15 days.
During that time, he emerged only to be escorted to an interrogation room. He
estimates that he was interrogated 15 times, for two hours each—all with his
feet and hands bound to "a low metal chair."
The interrogator accused Diyaa of throwing stones, an
offense that, according to a November 2009 Israeli military order, could carry
a sentence of up to 20 years. "I kept saying I wanted to see a
lawyer," Diyaa recalls.
"He asked me when I threw stones and with whom, but I
did not answer. He interrogated me for about two hours. He did the same the
following five days."
On the fifth day, Diyaa relented. "I had to confess to
throwing stones because of my horrible detention conditions in the cell. I also
thought they would transfer me to a regular prison if I confessed." But
even after his "confession," Diyaa was thrown back into his cell. His
isolation was to last another 10 days, punctuated by more interrogations and,
this time, beatings.
"One of the jailers used to beat me whenever I knocked
on the door to ask for something," Diyaa told DCI-Palestine. "He
would come to the cell with another jailer, tie my hands and feet, and kick me
hard while I was on the floor, and punch me on my stomach and head without any
The aim, it turned out, was to extract another
confession—for a specific stone-throwing incident to which Diyaa's friend had,
according to the interrogator, already admitted.
But in sworn testimony to DCI-Palestine, Diyaa denied any
involvement in the incident:
interrogator said that my friend Thabet accused me in his statement of
throwing stones with him at a settler car, that the car overturned and
the passengers were injured. I told him that was not true, and that I
was at the local supermarket when I heard about the incident."
Diyaa's friend Thabet, it turns out, had just admitted to
stoning a car carrying residents of an illegal settlement near his hometown of
Nablus, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But the 16-year-old's
"confession" came after four days of solitary confinement and abuse.
According to Thabet,
an Israeli interrogator told him: "If you don't confess, I'll have both of
your parents arrested, brought here to this room, and killed."
was scared they would actually do what they said they would do about
arresting and killing my parents," Thabet told DCI-Palestine. "So I
confessed. I confessed to throwing stones several times at a settler
car, and the stones hit the car and overturned it, and that the
passengers were injured, as I [recall]."
Fending for themselves
Until their "confessions," Diyaa, Thabet, and a
third friend—17-year-old Bashar, also accused of stone-throwing—were left to
fend for themselves, deprived of family visits and legal counsel. Parker says
this, too, is part of a pattern of Israeli abuse:
"[Child detainees] are often denied access to an
attorney until after being subjected to several days of prolonged interrogation
and isolation," according to Parker. "The apparent goal," he
says, "is to obtain a confession" at all costs.
of abuse by Israel is grave," said Richard Falk, a former United
Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the
Occupied Palestinian Territory. Falk, who is also a professor emeritus
of international law at Princeton University, called Israel’s use of
solitary confinement against children "inhumane, cruel, degrading, and
unlawful; and, most worryingly, it is likely to adversely affect the
mental and physical health of underage detainees."
According to the cases DCI-Palestine documented in 2012 and
2013, some 20 percent of Palestinian child detainees were subjected to solitary
confinement during their interrogations. Any "confessions" extracted
by this practice are suspect, say legal experts.
"Israeli military court judges rarely exclude
confessions or other evidence extracted from coercive interrogations,"
says Parker. "Palestinian child detainees are denied access to counsel,
ill-treated and tortured, and then find themselves before a military court
process that falls drastically short of international juvenile justice
As of September, DCI-Palestine recorded 182 Palestinian
children in Israeli detention. Since 2000, an estimated 8,000 Palestinian
children have been detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court
Samer Badawi is a freelance contributor to Defense for
Children International Palestine. Based in Washington, DC, he spent the summer
reporting in Gaza for +972 Mag. Follow him @samwithaner.