Israel finally agrees that Palestinian minors are not legally adults

October 6, 2011
Sarah Benton

Caabu welcomes Israel’s decision to class Palestinian minors as children
Press release, CAABU (Council for Advancing Arab-British Understanding)

Caabu has welcomed the announcement that Israel will class all Palestinians aged under-18 as minors, but urges further action to protect children from abuse.

At present Israel’s military court system classifies Palestinians in the Occupied Territories as an adult from the age of 16, two years below international norms.

However, following an extensive lobbying campaign by a number of human rights organisations, including Caabu, the Israeli military has announced it will treat 16 and 17 year olds as children.

Caabu’s Parliamentary Officer, Graham Bambrough, cautiously welcomed the announcement, but said that the Israeli military must go further:

“Caabu is pleased that the Israeli military has committed to bring to an end the gross injustice that sees Palestinian children aged 16 and 17 tried as adults, in contravention of international law. However, the entire military justice system remains stacked against the Palestinians brought before it, especially children. Trials are conducted in Hebrew, confessions that are later retracted remain common place and allegations of abuse are rife. Sadly it is still the case that many children will meet their lawyer for the first time in the court room.”

“In particular, the Israeli military must commit to the video recording of all interrogations of children and to end the practices of cuffing minors with painful plastic tags for prolonged periods of time, as well as the degrading shackling of children in court.”

Caabu has taken four parliamentary delegations to visit the military courts in the past ten months. Delegates have included Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats Rt Hon Simon Hughes MP, former Minister for the Middle East Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw MP and former Director for Public Prosecutions Lord Ken MacDonald.

The issue has been extensively debated in the House of Commons and House of Lords, and raised in detail with both the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israeli embassy in London.

1. For further comment or information contact Graham Bambrough via or 07734329182
2. At present, whilst all Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are subject to military law, Israeli minors in settlements live under Israel’s civil code. Palestinian children are classified as adults from 16, while for Israeli children the age is 18. Palestinian children in the West Bank are tried in a military court, Israelis in a civilian one. An Israeli child has to see a judge within 24 hours of arrest; a Palestinian within eight days. An Israeli minor can be held on remand for 15 days, a Palestinian three months. In Israel there are severe limitations as to when a child can be handcuffed, but there are no such protections for Palestinians. What’s more a Palestinian child’s sentence is decided on the basis of their age at the time of sentencing, and not at the time when the alleged offence was committed.
3. Israel arrests and prosecutes 700 children per year and since 2000 over 7,000 Palestinian minors have been prosecuted in military courts.
4. Further information on the treatment of children in the military court system can be found in Caabu’s new report Britain and Palestine: A parliamentary focus –

Prosecution of children 16-18 in Israeli military courts

Extract from a report, Defence for Children International ± Palestine Section, Follow-up to the Concluding Observations (Israel), Twelve Months On
Reporting period:1 August 2010 to 31 July 2011
Submitted to UN Human Rights Committee, 1st August 2011
Published by The Centre for Civil and Political Rights, Geneva

3. Overview
3.1 Each year approximately 700 Palestinian children from the occupied West Bank are prosecuted in Israeli military courts after being arrested, interrogated and detained by the army, police and security agents. It is estimated that since 2000 alone, around 7,500 Palestinian children have been detained and prosecuted in the system.

3.2 Within this system, children are frequently arrested from the family home by heavily armed soldiers in the middle of the night. The children are then painfully tied and blindfolded before being placed in the back of a military vehicle and transferred to an interrogation and detention centre. It is rare for a child, or his/her parents to be told the reason for arrest, or where the child is being taken. The arrest and transfer process is frequently accompanied by both physical and verbal abuse.

3.3 On arrival at the interrogation and detention centre, the child is questioned in the absence of a lawyer or family member, and there is no provision for the audio-visual recording of the interrogation as a means of independent oversight. Few children are informed of their right to silence. Children are frequently threatened and physically assaulted during interrogation often resulting in the provision of a coerced confession, or the signing of documents which the child is not given a chance to read or understand.

3.4 Following interrogation, children are brought before a military court which has jurisdiction over children as young as 12 years old. Once a child turns 16, they are considered to be an adult. In the overwhelming majority of cases bail will be denied and an order for detention until the end of the legal process will be made.

Most children ultimately plead guilty, whether the offence was committed or not, as this is the quickest way out of the system. In 2009, custodial sentences were imposed on children by the military courts in 83 percent of cases, in contrast to a custodial sentence rate of 6.5 percent in the Israeli civilian juvenile justice system.

3.5 A juvenile military court was established in September 2009, following mounting criticism relating to the prosecution of children as young as 12 years in the same military courts used to prosecute adults. In practice, the juvenile military court convenes every Monday and Thursday, using the same facilities and court staff used by the adult military court. Children continue to be brought into court in groups of twos and threes, wearing leg chains around their ankles and dressed in the same brown prison uniforms worn by adults.

Handcuffs are usually removed from the child on entering the court room, and replaced on exiting. On occasion, adults and children have been observed being brought into court together.

At the time of writing, there appears to be few substantive differences between the adult and juvenile military courts, beyond a general attempt to separate children from adults.

3.6 Once detained a significant proportion of children are transferred to prisons and detention facilities inside Israel, in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits such transfers out of occupied territory. The practical significance of this is that many children receive infrequent or no family visits.

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