OP-ED

Ahed Tamimi and the plight of Palestinian child detainees

By Mia Swart 13 August 2018

Ahed Tamimi, a 17-year-old Palestinian campaigner against Israel's occupation, looks on after arrival at her village Nabi Salih, near the West Bank town of Ramallah, 29 July 2018. Tamimi, who was arrested in December 2017 after she was filmed slapping an Israeli soldier near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, was released from prison after serving nearly eight months in detention. EPA-EFE/ALAA BADARNEH

Israel is one of very few countries in the world that places children in administrative detention. There are currently approximately 350 children in Israeli prisons.

After eight months in prison, Ahed Tamimi was released from an Israeli prison at the end of July. The 17-year-old Tamimi was arrested in December 2017 for slapping and kicking an Israeli soldier outside her family home in the village of Nabi Salih after learning that her 14-year-old cousin had been shot in the face by an Israeli soldier.

The Tamimi case attracted an extraordinary amount of media attention – she has been nominated for a peace prize in Ireland and was recently invited to visit South Africa later in 2018 as part of the Mandela centennial celebrations. An Italian street artist honoured Tamimi by painting her face on the separation wall. The artist was subsequently detained for “vandalising” the separation barrier.

During a press conference after her release from prison Tamimi spoke of her interrogation by Israeli soldiers and the fact that the Israeli law on detention was not adhered to. She was, for example, entitled to have a female guard present during the questioning, which was not the case.

Much has been said about the fact that Tamimi’s case focused attention on the position of children in Israeli detention. Over recent years there has been a sharp increase in the number of Palestinian children in detention. There are currently approximately 350 children in Israeli prisons. It is particularly disturbing that the largest percentage of these children are in pre-trial detention. It is often not clear what these children have been arrested for. Israel is one of very few countries in the world that places children in administrative detention. The progressive Israeli non-governmental organisation B’Tselem has stated that the rights of Palestinian minors are abused from the moment of their arrest.

Even Israeli law itself is not applied to Palestinian children. The violence and torture against child detainees is not limited to physical abuse and start from the moment of their arrest. The methods of interrogation are of particular concern. A video released in April shows Tamimi being interrogated by two male soldiers. One soldier tells Tamimi she had the “eyes of an angel” and that if she does not provide information, other children from her village might be harmed.

The practices used against children include long hours in interrogation rooms from the moment of arrest, poor living conditions in the occupation prisons, ill treatment in these prisons and harsh penalties that are imposed such as long prison sentences. Children are subjected to arbitrary procedures including beating, torture, assault and abuse in the arrest and interrogation centres. Some children do not make it to these centres and are killed in cold blood. So far this year, Israeli forces have killed 31 children. Some of these killings happen during the raids of family homes. To date there have been a chilling absence of prosecutions for these crimes committed against Palestinian children.

There can be no doubt that the actions of the Israeli occupation authorities violate international law. This makes it particularly disturbing that the ill treatment of children violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child which is one of the most widely ratified international conventions. The brutal interrogation methods used against children amounts to torture.

The prohibition against torture is contained in the Geneva Conventions as well as the 1984 UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT). The content of both the Geneva Conventions and UNCAT is customary international law. This means that the content of these conventions is even binding on states that have not ratified these conventions. UNCAT remains one of the most widely ratified conventions. Israel already signed UNCAT in 1986 and has submitted periodic reports to the UN Committee against Torture. On various occasions however the Committee against Torture has found that Israel’s use of interrogation techniques violates UNCAT. Israel however continues to justify the use of torture both before the High Court of Justice (Supreme Court) and its reports to the Committee against Torture. The torture of children continues to feature as a regular feature of Israel’s detention policy. A Unicef report has described the ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention as “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”.

The large mural of Tamimi was painted on the portion of the separation wall near Bethlehem. It appears near the mural of the Palestinian hijacker Leila Khaled. Unlike Khaled, Tamimi advocates non-violent resistance. The space for resistance in Palestine is becoming smaller and the ongoing Friday demonstrations this year are showing the rising impatience on the side of Palestinians.

Tamimi’s image could not loom larger. DM

Mia Swart is a Research Director, HSRC, and a non-resident fellow, Brookings Doha Centre.

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