Ramallah, occupied West Bank – Jamil was only 16 years old when Israeli soldiers raided his Bir al-Basha home near Jenin late last year. It was a few hours before dawn when he was awakened by a hard nudge, blindfolded and handcuffed, then taken away in his pyjamas and house slippers.
His ordeal took place in stages: At an Israeli military base, where he was beaten and forbidden from using the bathroom, at a detention centre where he was interrogated without a lawyer or parent present, and finally, when he was placed and held in an isolated cell for 13 days.
Like Jamil, an increasing number of Palestinian children are being subject to solitary confinement specifically for interrogation purposes while in Israeli detention, according to Defence for Children International.
“The use of isolation against Palestinian children as an interrogation tool is a growing trend,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCI’s Palestine chapter. “This is a violation of children’s rights and the international community must demand justice and accountability.”
In a recent report, the Geneva-based group said that of the approximately 100 cases it documented of children held in the Israeli military detention system, 21 percent were in solitary confinement during the interrogation process.
The cases recorded in 2013 affected children aged 12 to 17, and the numbers represented a two percent increase from the prior year. DCI said that minors held in solitary confinement spent an average of 10 days in isolation. The longest period of confinement documented in a single case was 29 days in 2012, and 28 days in 2013, the group said.
Globally, this measure is often taken to separate juveniles from the adult prisoner population. But in the case of Palestinian children, DCI says, it is being used to either extract confessions or gather intelligence against other individuals.
“The use of solitary confinement by Israeli authorities does not appear to be related to any disciplinary, protective, or medical rationale or justification,” the report said.
This seemed to be the case with Jamil, who was placed in Cell 36, a solitary holding room in Al-Jalameh Prison in Israel. “[The interrogator] … accused me of throwing stones several times, but I never confessed,” Jamil said. “In later rounds of interrogation [however], I confessed to throwing stones even though I did not. I confessed hoping he would get off my back and get me out from the cell.”
The minor was kept in solitary confinement for 13 days which he describes as “painful”. At one point, he was placed in another cell with an older Palestinian man, who later turned out to be an informant. “He asked me to tell him everything,” Jamil said. “He showed me a list of people’s names and asked me if they threw stones at Israeli cars. I told him that they all did it and I saw them doing it. I did not know he was a snitch.”
The group wants Israeli authorities to cease this practise and military judges to exclude evidence obtained through coercion by the use of solitary confinement. It is also demanding that the prohibition of isolation of juveniles be enshrined in Israeli law.
The Israeli prime minister’s spokesperson was unavailable for comment at the time of publication. The Foreign Ministry declined to address the report’s findings.
DCI had released a comprehensive report two years ago charging that there was a pattern of abuse towards children detained under the Israeli military court system. Back then, an Israeli spokesperson denied that isolation was used as an interrogation technique or as punishment to exert confessions out of minors.
The Israel Security Agency said that Palestinian children were given special protection because of their age, and that no one, including minors, was kept in isolation to extract confessions or as a punitive measure.
It also said that the children had a right to legal counsel and Red Cross visits.