JERUSALEM: Over the past five years, Israel’s military has detained more than 800 Palestinian youths and children for pelting rocks at Israelis soldiers, and has interrogated and jailed many of them, a rights group said in a report released Monday.
Drawing on military statistics and interviews for its 70-page report, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem counted 835 minors who were taken into custody from 2005 through early 2011, including 34 children who were 13 or younger.
In the worst case, B’Tselem cited an 8-year-old who was seized in the West Bank in February.
Soldiers released the boy after realizing he wasn’t the child they were after: they wanted his 9-year-old brother. Troops then handcuffed the 9-year-old, blindfolded him and took him to a detention center where he was interrogated and held for five hours, according to the report. Israeli forces released the boy after it was determined he was a minor.
A military spokeswoman said around 160 civilians and soldiers were wounded in violent attacks by minors. Some 10 were wounded when Palestinian youths threw projectiles, but the spokeswoman, speaking of condition of anonymity, said she did not know the extent of their injuries.
B’Tselem acknowledged that while Israeli authorities needed to enforce the law, they said night raids, handcuffing, blindfolds, interrogations and the denial of access to lawyers for children for hours at a time were frequently disproportionate to the crime.
"The authorities need to enforce the law, but they should do it in lawful ways that is appropriate for the crime and the people committing the crime," said the report’s author, Naama Baumgarten-Sharon.
Military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich said that in general the military handled children with sensitivity and that their arrest was a justified response to violence.
The B’Tselem report noted the situation for child detainees improved after the military built special juvenile courts, but said Palestinian minors were denied rights afforded to Israeli children.
Israel has complained for decades about Palestinian children taking part in often violent demonstrations, charging that they are being exploited.
Many Palestinian parents see their children as young fighters resisting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
Rock throwing, specifically, is seen as symbolic of their struggle.
The issue has flared in the past few years as Palestinians hold weekly demonstrations in West Bank villages in which young men and boys pelt rocks and chunks of concrete at Israeli soldiers. Israeli soldiers have used tear gas, rubber bullets and sometimes live fire in response, killing some demonstrators and badly wounding others.
Of the more than 800 minors charged with hurling rocks over the past five years, only one youth was found guilty in a court trial. The other 93 percent were given jail terms in plea bargains, agreeing mostly because they feared being detained while they waited for their cases to reach trial, said Baumgarten-Sharon.
More than 500 of the youths were around 16 years old, the report said. Another 255 were 14 and 15, and 34 were 13 or younger. The older the youths, the more likely they were given longer sentences, sometimes of months in jail.
Military spokeswoman Leibovich said the children’s fate lay with their families and Palestinian groups, whom she accused of sending out children to confront Israelis.
"We are talking about minors that actually use rocks and explosive devices to target Israeli civilians and soldiers," she said.