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Exceptions Are the Norm

Palestinian Child Detainees in East Jerusalem

By Brad Parker

Palestinian children who live in East Jerusalem increasingly describe their daily reality as living in a big prison due to the unstable and unsafe situation created by the persistent presence of Israeli forces and settlers in Palestinian neighborhoods, which complicates daily life and creates difficulties.
Although East Jerusalem is considered part of the occupied West Bank under international law and Israeli military law should apply to all individuals living in the occupied territory, Israeli authorities consider East Jerusalem to be part of Israel and apply Israeli civilian law to Palestinian residents. The legal distinctions between East Jerusalem and the West Bank trace back to 1967, when Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, following the Six Day War. Contrary to principles of international humanitarian law and international law, Israel carried out a de facto annexation of East Jerusalem on June 28, 1967, a move unrecognized by the international community.
Photo by Ahed Izhiman.
Over the years, Israeli authorities have taken various administrative, legislative, and demographic measures to unilaterally annex Jerusalem. One result is that Palestinian children in East Jerusalem are generally subject to the Israeli Youth Law, which theoretically applies equally to Palestinian and Israeli children, providing those in conflict with the law special safeguards and protections during the whole process – arrest, transfer, interrogation, and court appearances. These protections include the use of arrest as a last resort, advance notice before questioning takes place, minimal use of restraints, and the presence of a legal guardian or adult family member during questioning.
In 1991, Israel ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which stipulates that children should only be deprived of their liberty as a measure of last resort, must not be unlawfully or arbitrarily detained, and must not be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Despite this, in practice, Israeli authorities implement the Israeli Youth Law in a discriminatory manner, denying Palestinian children in East Jerusalem their rights from the moment of arrest to the end of legal proceedings. The primary vehicle for this is the overuse of exceptions in the absence of the necessary accompanying circumstances. In other words, for Palestinian children in East Jerusalem, exceptions have become the rule.
Photo by Ahed Izhiman.

As Jerusalem increasingly came into the limelight amid heightened violence in the fall of 2015, Israeli lawmakers introduced a series of policy changes that appeared to target Palestinians, particularly youth, from East Jerusalem. On November 2, 2015, the Knesset, or Israeli parliament, passed amendments to the Israeli penal code and Youth Law. The newly minted laws reduced judicial discretion in cases that involve throwing stones or other objects, instituting mandatory minimum sentences of no less than one-fifth of the maximum potential sentence and restricting suspended sentences strictly to special circumstances. The amendments also allowed juvenile courts to fine the families of children convicted of offenses under Israel’s penal code, such as stone throwing, up to NIS 10,000 (US$2,800). The changes followed amendments to the penal code in July 2015 that imposed a maximum 10-year prison sentence for throwing stones or other objects at moving vehicles with the possibility of endangering passengers or causing damage, and a maximum of 20 years for throwing stones with the purpose of harming others.

In August 2016, Israel’s parliament approved a new law enabling Israeli authorities to imprison minors as young as 12 years old when convicted of serious violent crimes. The legislative move came as Israeli lawmakers sought to punish Palestinian children like then 13-year-old Ahmad Manasra who Israeli prosecutors charged with attempted murder for allegedly carrying out a stabbing attack in East Jerusalem in October 2015. The law, passed by the Israeli Knesset on August 2, 2016, enables Israeli authorities to imprison a minor convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter even if he or she is under the age of 14. The actual serving of the sentences would be deferred until the children reach the age of 14. Israel’s civilian criminal justice system previously prohibited custodial sentences against children under 14 in accordance with international juvenile justice standards.
It should be noted that for Palestinian children who live in the occupied West Bank, Israeli military law already allows for any person 12 years old and older to be imprisoned. Under both Israeli civilian law and Israeli military law, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 12, meaning that no person under 12 years old can be criminally prosecuted for an alleged offense.
International juvenile justice norms demand that detention only be used as a last resort and prioritize rehabilitation and reintegration. This new law prioritizes the criminalization and punishment of children in complete disregard of international law.
Since 2016, Israeli forces have increasingly targeted Palestinian youth for interrogation and arrest in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Palestinian children in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, Issawiya, and other neighborhoods experience unprovoked violence from Israeli military and police and Israeli settlers. As tensions escalated in May 2021, oppressive and repressive Israeli military and police tactics increased.
It is clear that the Palestinian children in East Jerusalem will increasingly bear the brunt of discriminatory policing and excessive use of force at the hands of Israeli forces in an effort to control the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem.Brad Parker is an attorney and senior adviser for policy and advocacy at Defense for Children International – Palestine.

  • Brad Parker is an attorney and senior adviser for policy and advocacy at Defense for Children International - Palestine.

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