Israeli police are systematically interrogating Palestinian children as young as eight in an attempt to quell stone-throwing in East Jerusalem’s most volatile neighborhood, according to a new report by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.
The report corroborates an Oct. 29 Monitor story describing Israeli arrests of minors in Silwan, but also gives a firmer outline of the scope and nature of such arrests. At least 81 minors have been arrested or detained on suspicion of stone-throwing in the past year, nearly half of them since a fatal September scuffle between Palestinian residents and a security guard for Jewish families in the area, B’Tselem said.
Some families were made to sign papers that said they'd be liable to pay Israel $1,300 if their children were proven to have thrown stones. B'Tselem calls that an "especially high fine" and says the tactic was used during the first Palestinian intifada in the late 1980s as a deterrent.
B'Tselem reported that 1,267 criminal files were opened against Palestinian minors in East Jerusalem from Nov. 1, 2009, to Oct. 26, 2010, but that does not include Israeli detentions that did not lead to the opening of a criminal file – a statistic Israeli police said they could not give the organization.
But the report focused mainly on the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, which sits in the shadow of the Temple Mount and is emblematic of an intensifying Israeli-Arab struggle for sovereignty in Jerusalem.
Jews, who believe Silwan to be the ancient City of David, where the biblical king once lived and ruled, have increasingly moved into the neighborhood and pursued archaeological projects. The influx of Jewish residents and activity has riled Palestinian residents, who see the moves as part of a broader effort to push Palestinians out of East Jerusalem and prevent them from ever establishing a capital there – rendering Palestinian plans for statehood unfeasible.
Silwan, like the rest of East Jerusalem, has been governed by Israeli law since Israel annexed the area following the 1967 war – a move not recognized by international law.
But even under Israeli law, minors in Silwan are accorded more rights than Israeli police are giving them, reports B’Tselem.
Below are some excerpts of the report’s findings:
- Many arrests were made at night, taking the minors from their beds and rushing them to interrogation.
- Often, the interrogators prevented the parents from being present during the interrogation, although their right to be present is enshrined in law.
- Many minors complained they were treated violently when they were taken from their home at night, and all the youths who gave testimonies to B’Tselem on their arrest by special forces reported severe violence at the time of arrest.... Their complaints of violence were disregarded or treated with scorn, and in the isolated cases in which the Department for the Investigation of Police opened an investigation, it was closed without any proceedings being taken against the persons responsible.
- The police detained for questioning four minors under age 12, which is (below) the age of criminal responsibility, meaning they are not subject to criminal proceedings.
Those findings reflect the experience of a youth interviewed by the Monitor in October shortly after he was arrested at 4 a.m., handcuffed, and taken to a police station.
“They started screaming in my face and banging on the table,” said the 13-year-old, wearing a black T-shirt and a baseball cap. “The interrogator asked me did you throw stones? I said no, but they insisted.”