Btselem raps Israel for jailing Palestinian children

Palestinian youths hurls stones during an Israeli operation in Nablus, 1 March 2007 The Israeli military has reported a rise in incidents of stone throwing in recent years

An Israeli rights group has criticised the government for jailing Palestinian children, some as young as 12.

Israel's civilian courts forbid jailing any child under 14. But Palestinian children arrested in the West Bank are usually tried in military courts.

The group, Btselem, says the children are often given jail terms of up to two months. Most are arrested for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.

The Israeli military says the children are being exploited by "terror groups".

It called the report "unbalanced" and lacking in "detailed reference to the deliberations of sentencing and the deterrence that results from them".

The West Bank and East Jerusalem have been occupied by Israel since 1967.

One acquittal

Israel's military courts are violating the rights of Palestinian youngsters, says the Btselem report, No Minor Matter.

Out of 835 Palestinian children arrested for stone throwing between 2005 and 2010, only one was acquitted, it notes.

It says that in the past six years, 19 Palestinian children aged either 12 or 13 have been jailed for up to two months after being convicted of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.

Military justice for Palestinian minors

  • 835 Palestinian minors tried for stone-throwing in the West Bank, 2005-2010
  • Thirty-four of them were aged 12-13; 255 were 14-15; 546 were 16-17.
  • 93% of those convicted were given jail sentences
  • Only one acquitted
  • 97% of minors' stone-throwing cases ended with a plea bargain (around 50% usually)

Source: Btselem citing official Israeli military figures

The report also says many children are pressured into pleading guilty to get a lesser sentence.

In response to the report, the Israeli army said stone throwing was a serious criminal offence that could result in serious injury or damage to property.

"It is unfortunate that Btselem decided to deal with the subject in an unbalanced manner, while ignoring the exploitation of minors by terror organisations in a manner that violates international law and infringes upon their rights," it said in a statement.

It dismissed Btselem's concerns about guilty pleas as "perhaps besides the point", saying plea bargains were not unique to military justice and were "the sole and final decision" of the defendant and his legal counsel.

It also noted the creation two years ago of the Special Court for Minors in the West Bank where "military judges have displayed great sensitivity to issues of minors' rights".

"At times, minors have been released from detention by judges because their rights have been infringed," it said.

The Israeli army offered to investigate any allegation of improper conduct during the detention of minors.

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