The Israeli Prison Service (IPS) transferred at least 33 Palestinian child detainees on Monday from Ofer prison to Damoun without the presence of adult representatives, a move slammed by Palestinian activists and civil organisations.
In a statement, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS) warned it undermines the responsibility to provide caretaker rights for minors.
“This move puts the minors at risk of abusive measures by the IPS in the absence of their adult overseers,” PPS said.
Amina al-Tawil, a researcher at the Palestinian Prisoners’ Center for Studies, said the transfer is in violation of the law that states prisoners under the age of 18 cannot be moved from one prison to another without adult representatives.
“In addition to the risk of being physically abused by Israeli forces, this transfer puts the lives of these Palestinian children in danger,” she told Al Jazeera, speaking from Ramallah.
“During this cold weather, the minors will not have access to heaters or even adequate clothing to keep warm,” she said. “Some of them have also sustained injuries during their arrests, which can get worse throughout the move.”
The transfer of Palestinian prisoners is a notorious process that involves “the bosta” – a vehicle with blacked-out windows and tightly divided cells with metal chairs, to which prisoners are chained. Usually, such rides can take up to 12 hours or more, with no rest stops, food, or toilet breaks.
Ofer prison is located on the outskirts of the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, whereas the Damoun facility is in the coastal city of Haifa.
“Damoun is one of the worst prisons,” al-Tawil said. “Its cells, according to released prisoners who had previously spent time there, are full of mould and not fit for human conditions, and does not provide daily necessities.”
Damoun also houses Israeli prisoners held on criminal charges, such as murder, robbery, and drug smuggling. While Israel does not house Palestinian security prisoners – those arrested by the Israeli army – in the same cells as Israeli criminals, the threat to Palestinians comes via transfer processes in shared bostas.
“This close contact puts the lives of Palestinian prisoners – men, women and children – at risk, as Israeli prisoners make gestures of slitting their throats, threats, and constant stream of verbal abuse,” al-Tawil said. “A child will no doubt get affected by this, adding more pressure to his or her mental state.”
The IPS has, at the time of publication, given no reason for the transfer of Palestinian minors, and did not respond to Al Jazeera for comment. Palestinian groups described the move as “arbitrary”, and despite being the norm for Palestinian adult prisoners, this case involving dozens of children is unusual.
According to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, more than 12,000 Palestinian children have been detained by the Israeli army since the year 2000, and serve time in the same detention facilities as adult Palestinian prisoners.
Humanitarian groups such as UNICEF have long documented Israeli violations against Palestinian children, who are prosecuted in Israeli military courts. It is common practice for Israeli forces to interrogate the children without the presence of their parents or guardians, and many have reported being coerced into signing confessions written in Hebrew – a language they do not know.
Currently, there are 200 minors in Israeli jails, scattered in Ofer, Damoun and Megiddo. Palestinian adult prisoners in Ofer usually take care of them by helping them adjust to their new circumstances, drawing up lesson plans, offering psychological support, and representing them in any dispute with the IPS.
Loay Mansi, a former Palestinian prisoner and overseer of child prisoners in Ofer, told local Palestinian news agencies that alongside lessons about Palestinian culture and history, his role was to provide an education to the minors that would help them for life after prison, such as Arabic and English classes.
Mansi, who spent 15 years in Israeli prisons before being released late last year, also called on children and human rights organisations to visit Damoun prison “to see first-hand the suffering of the Palestinian minors and the extent of Israeli violations committed against them”.