A United Nations human rights body accused Israel on Thursday of mistreating Palestinian children, including by torturing those in custody and using others as human shields.
Palestinian children in the Gaza and the West Bank, captured by Israeli forces in the 1967 war, are routinely denied registration of their birth and access to health care, 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 Foreign Ministry said it had responded to a report by the UN children’s agency UNICEF in March on ill-treatment of Palestinian minors and questioned whether the UN 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,” spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
The report by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that, while both Israeli and Palestinian children end up killed and wounded, Palestinians constitute a much larger proportion of these casualties.
Most Palestinian children arrested are accused of having thrown stones, an offense which can carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, the committee said. Israeli soldiers had testified to the often arbitrary nature of the arrests, it said.
The watchdog’s 18 independent experts examined Israel’s record of compliance with a 1990 treaty as part of its regular review of a pact signed by all nations except Somalia and the United States. An Israeli delegation attended the session.
The UN committee regretted 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.
“Hundreds of Palestinian children have been killed and thousands injured over the reporting period as a result of the state party military operations, especially in Gaza where the state party proceeded to (conduct) air and naval strikes on densely populated areas with a significant presence of children, thus disregarding the principles of proportionality and distinction,” the report said.
The 10-year period examined by the committee included the second Intifada, which took place between 2000 and 2005.
Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, but maintains a heavy blockade on the Hamas-run enclave.
During the 10-year period, an estimated 7,000 Palestinian children aged 12 to 17, but some as young as nine, had been arrested, interrogated and detained, the UN 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 said.
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 2013 alone.
Israeli soldiers had used Palestinian children to enter potentially dangerous buildings before them and to stand in front of military vehicles to deter stone-throwing, it said.
“Almost all those using children as human shields and informants have remained unpunished and the soldiers convicted for having forced at gunpoint a nine-year-old child to search bags suspected of containing explosives only received a suspended sentence of three months and were demoted,” it said.
Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and the Syrian Golan Heights, continued expansion of Jewish settlements, construction of the apartheid wall into the West Bank, land confiscation and destruction of homes and livelihoods “constitute severe and continuous violations of the rights of Palestinian children and their families,” it said.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank are deemed illegal by international law, a charge the Zionist state disputes.
The UNICEF report in March showed that Israel was the only country in the world where children were “systematically tried” in military courts.
Over the past decade, Israeli forces have arrested, interrogated and prosecuted around 7,000 children between between 12 and 17, mostly boys, UNICEF found, noting the rate was equivalent to “an average of two children each day.”
Figures from the end of January show that 233 children are currently being held in custody, 31 of them under the age of 16.