Equal laws, discriminatory practice: the plight of Jerusalem children
Published Tuesday 29/10/2013 (updated) 06/11/2013 10:57
A Palestinian boy detained by Israeli forces in the east Jerusalem
Shuafat refugee camp. (AFP/Jonathan Nackstrand)
Rifat Odeh Kassis is the General Director of Defense for Children International's Palestine Section.
The principle of equality before the law is a well-established principle in civil legal systems.
However, this principle is absent in the Palestinian territories currently occupied directly by Israel, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where the state of Israel systematically implements the law in a discriminatory way against Palestinians – including Palestinian children.
In these occupied territories, unequal treatment before the law occurs in two primary ways. The first way is the existence of two legal systems (the Israeli military legal system and the Israeli civil system).
Discrimination arises between the civil laws applied to areas under Israel’s legal jurisdiction and Israeli military law – which is applied to Palestinian children in the West Bank but not to Israeli settlers living in the same area.
The second way is through the discriminatory application of Israeli civil law, as is the case in East Jerusalem.
Indeed, Israel’s treatment of East Jerusalem is unjust from the very beginning: after the June 1967 war, Israel annexed the eastern part of Jerusalem to its borders, and in 1980 the Knesset declared "united" Jerusalem the Israeli capital, thus formalizing the annexation. Despite the fact that the annexation is legally void, Israel applies its own civil law in East Jerusalem, which constitutes a violation of international law.
Theoretically, Israeli civil law grants more protection than the Israeli military law applied to Palestinian children living in the West Bank. Yet in practice, when it comes to Palestinian children, Israel discriminates against them all. The law itself is not the criterion; the standard, rather, is the child’s nationality, especially during arrest and interrogation.
Israel's Youth Law provides special safeguards to minors in conflict with the law, regardless of their nationality, during the entire legal process: arrest, transfer to investigation centers, investigation, and appearance in court. The reality, however, is otherwise.
Over the past three years, Defense for Children International-Palestine section (DCI-Palestine) has documented poor enforcement of the protection afforded to Palestinian children in conflict with the law from East Jerusalem, especially during the arrest and interrogation phases. In short, children from East Jerusalem do not enjoy the rights enshrined by Israeli law.
The Israeli Youth Law was enacted in conformity with the aims of the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC), which strives to protect the rights of children in conflict with the law.
The application of this law to Palestinian children from East Jerusalem violates the basic principles of the UN CRC, namely articles two and three: the right to non-discrimination and the best interests of the child. Also breached is the article 37 (b): "No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time...
Under the applicable law in East Jerusalem, children should only be arrested as a measure of last resort, and children below the age of 12 years are not criminally responsible and must not be detained. All children have the right to remain silent and are permitted to be accompanied by a parent whilst being questioned by the police in cases where they are not formally under arrest.”
Evidence collected by DCI-Palestine from child prisoners tells a different story about the treatment of Palestinian children from East Jerusalem who come into conflict with the law.
In 2012, DCI-Palestine collected 31 testimonies from children living in East Jerusalem who were prosecuted in the Israeli civil court system. A high percentage of children report experiences of physical violence, verbal abuse, humiliation, intimidation, and not being informed of the reason for their arrest; likewise, scores of children were questioned without the presence of a parent.
In 30 out of 31 cases (97 percent), children report experiencing some form of physical violence, such as beating, punching, slapping and kicking. The same percentage of children report that they were not told why they had been arrested and were not read their rights.
In 28 out of 31 cases (90 percent), children report exposure to verbal abuse, humiliation and intimidation. Ninety per cent also report being shown or told to sign papers in Hebrew without translation.
In 27 out of 31 cases (87 percent), children report being interrogated in the absence of a family member.
In 21 out of 31 cases (68 percent), children report being arrested from their family homes between midnight and 5:00 am.
In 9 out of 31 cases (29 percent), children report being exposed to position abuse.
In short, the ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian child prisoners – whether they are from East Jerusalem or elsewhere in the West Bank, whether they are bound by the military or civil legal system – is pervasive. This systematic abuse violates the principles of non-discrimination and the child’s best interest as enshrined in the UN CRC.
As an occupying power, Israel denies fair treatment to Palestinian children in East Jerusalem, although it adamantly defines Jerusalem as part of Israel. So, along with the injustice and indignity that characterize Israeli policies toward Palestinians, its hypocrisy is also clear.
In East Jerusalem, the “only democracy in the Middle East” proves its disregard for democratic law on a daily basis: our work is to advocate for its true and equal enforcement. Our work, in other words, is to do our children justice.