Coronavirus: Palestinian children languish in Israeli jails ‘not fit for humans’

Dozens of children remain in detention amid the Covid-19 pandemic. They must be released to their families immediately

Palestinian children walk past a mural depicting the coronavirus and a prison cell in Gaza City on 28 April 2020

Claire Nicoll reports in Middle East Eye:

I heard the chains before I saw them enter. Four teenage boys shackled together by the wrists and ankles shuffled into the defendants’ box in the small courtroom.

One of them, Ahmed*, looked particularly young, as he stood on tiptoes to peer over the edge of the box. He was accused of throwing a stone, a charge he denies, and was waiting to hear a verdict from the military court.

The boys’ short trials – at most five minutes each – were held entirely in Hebrew, with a soldier occasionally translating the odd word into Arabic for them. The boys looked scared and confused as they awaited their fate. They kept trying to speak to their lawyers, but this was not allowed.

I was at the Ofer military court in the occupied West Bank in February, watching the trials of Palestinian civilians by Israeli military judges. This court system does not apply to Israeli children, who are instead governed by civil law – as is the case for most children around the world.

When Ahmed’s time came, it was decided that there was additional evidence to bring, so he would need a retrial. Ahmed looked desperately at his father, Munther*, who was sitting next to me, as he was chained before being taken back to prison.

Munther was handed an information sheet in Hebrew that he could not read. As he was leaving, Munther said that he felt like he was abandoning his son: “I just don’t know how to help him.”

Each year, around 500-700 Palestinian children are detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system. The most common charge is stone-throwing, for which the maximum sentence is 20 years. Currently, more than 190 Palestinian children remain in detention in Israeli prisons – the majority of whom, like Ahmed, are in pretrial detention and have not been convicted of any offence, despite calls by the United Nations to release them before coronavirus spreads.

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