AL-KHALIL (HEBRON): Mass arrest of schoolchildren

24 March 2013
AL-KHALIL (HEBRON): Mass arrest of schoolchildren

(Note: It was incorrectly reported earlier that the last three children were released on 24 March.  Those three remained at Ofer military prison as of 26 March.)

Three children under the age of 15 remain under Israeli military custody after the 20 March arrest of twenty-seven Palestinian children, ages seven to 15, while on their way to school in the West Bank city of Hebron.

  video by B’Tselem

The principal of the Hebron Public School reported that he was standing at the gate to his school at 7:30 a.m. on 20 March when about 22 soldiers arrived and immediately began taking children from the street without speaking with the principal, teachers or the children. The street was full of children on their way to five area schools. Several adults arrived and tried to prevent the soldiers from taking the students but soldiers pulled the children away.

Israeli soldiers arrested 27 students, age seven to 15. They made them walk to checkpoint 29 and violently forced them into the jeeps. Some of the children reported injuries. The soldiers drove them to the police station near the Ibrahimi Mosque, brought 25 children inside and released two on a nearby road. They questioned the students without parents, a lawyer or teachers present and without permission from parents or other adults. Eight of the children were in grades one through four.

Obaida Babyeh, age 15, a student at the Ibrahimi School, was one of the two released near the station. He said, “We were passing to go to our school and they arrested us. The soldiers pushed us into the jeep, then they took us away from the school checkpoint. They hit me on my knee. Then the commander came and talked with them in Hebrew. The commander slapped me and my friend on the face and let us go.”

Teachers from the school came to the police station but were not allowed in. Soldiers told the teachers that they were checking the children against photographs and would release children whose photos they did not have. A Palestinian adult who was being detained in the police station when the children were arrested reported that the children were handcuffed and blindfolded.

At 2:00 p.m. soldiers released the eight youngest children and transported the remaining 17 to the Jabarah and Junaid military stations where they continued to question them. Some were questioned at both locations. The students were fingerprinted, photographed and questioned multiple times without the presence or consent of family, lawyers or teachers. Throughout the incident the children were held together with adult detainees.

Ahmad Abed Al Ra’aoof Sudky Burqan, age fourteen and a student at Hebron public elementary school, said, "I was in a small store with my friend on our way to school. When we came out of the market to go to our school the soldiers grabbed us from behind. They took us to checkpoint 29, and then pushed us into the jeep. They took us to the first police station [Ja’abra], then to another one [Junied]. They questioned us, and took our finger prints. I was there from 7:30 a.m. until 7:00 p.m."

Later that night soldiers released fourteen of the children. Three of the children were transported to Ofer military prison and continue to be held there.  Israel is currently detaining 195 Palestinian children, 93 of them in Ofer prison.

For several weeks prior to the incident, members of Christian Peacemaker Teams and other internationals monitoring checkpoints near the schools observed soldiers asking children about photos on a camera before allowing them to pass through to their schools. Students attending school near the Old City must pass through military checkpoints each day as they walk to and from school.

On 20 March, Israeli officials committed at least four clear violations of rights guaranteeed to these children under international law.

Parents or legal guardians should be informed of the arrest of children within the shortest possible time thereafter, in a language understood by the child and the parents or legal guardians. (The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), article 9 (1) and (2); Beijing Rules, Rule 10.1)  

All children should be free from compulsory self-incrimination, which includes the right to silence. ‘Compulsory’ should be interpreted broadly and not limited to physical force. The age of the child and the length of the interrogation, the child’s lack of understanding and the fear of unknown consequences may all lead a child to give a confession that is not true. (Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) article 40(2)(b) (iv); CRC General Comment No. 10, paragraphs 56-58; Convention against Torture, article 15; ICCPR, article 14(3)(g) and (4); Geneva IV, article 31)

There must be independent scrutiny of the methods of interrogation of children. This should include the presence of a lawyer and relative or legal guardian and audio-visual recording of all interrogations involving children (CRC, art 40(2)(b0(ii) and (iv); CRC General Comment no. 10, para 58; ICCPT, art. 14(3)(b); HRC General Comment no. 20, para 11; HRC Concluding Observations, Israel (29 July 2010), ICCPR/C/ISR/CO/3, para 22; Convention against Torture, art. 2; UN Committee against Torture, General Comment No. 2, para 14, and Concluding Observations, Israel (14 May 2009), CAT/C/ISR/CO/4, paras 15, 16, 27 and 28)

Children should not be held with an adult population while in custody. Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, parties should establish separate facilities for children deprived of their liberty, including distinct, child-centered staff, personnel, policies and practices.

According to UNICEF (Children in Israeli Military Detention; Observations and Recommendations, February 2012),  approximately 700 Palestinian children aged 12 to 17 are arrested, interrogated and detained by the Israeli army, police and security agents each year. In the past ten years approximately 7000 children have been detained, interrogated, prosecuted and/or imprisoned within the Israeli military justice system. This is an average of two children each day.