A UN human rights body on Thursday accused Israeli forces of mistreating Palestinian children, including by torturing those in custody and using them as human shields.
Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, captured by Israel in the War of 1967, are routinely denied registration of birth and access to healthcare, decent schools and clean water, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said.
“Palestinian children arrested by [Israeli] military and police are systematically subject to degrading treatment, and often to acts of torture, are interrogated in Hebrew, a language they did not understand, and sign confessions in Hebrew in order to be released,” it said in a report.
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had responded to a report by UNICEF in March on ill-treatment of Palestinian minors and questioned whether the committee’s investigation covered new ground.
“If someone simply wants to magnify their political bias and political bashing of Israel not based on a new report, on work on the ground, but simply recycling old stuff, there is no importance in that,” ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
Kirsten Sandberg, a Norwegian expert who chairs the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, said the report was based on facts, not on the political opinions of its members.
She said Israel did not acknowledge that it had jurisdiction in the occupied territories, but the committee believes it does, meaning it has a responsibility to comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The report by its 18 independent experts acknowledged Israel’s national security concerns and said that children on both sides of the conflict continue to be killed and wounded, but that more casualties are Palestinian.
Most Palestinian children arrested are accused of throwing stones, which can carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, the committee said.
The watchdog examined Israel’s record of compliance with the children’s rights convention as part of its regular review of the pact from 1990 signed by 193 countries, including Israel.
The committee regretted what it called Israel’s persistent refusal to respond to requests for information on children in the Palestinian territories and occupied Syrian Golan Heights since the last review in 2002.
During the 10-year period examined by the committee, an estimated 7,000 Palestinian children aged 12 to 17, but some as young as nine, had been arrested, interrogated and detained, the report said.
Many are brought in leg chains and shackles before military courts, while youths are held in solitary confinement, sometimes for months, the report added.
It voiced deep concern at the “continuous use of Palestinian children as human shields and informants,” saying 14 such cases had been reported between January 2010 and March this year.