RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Of the hundreds of Palestinian children locked in Israeli jails each year, the vast majority suffer nightmares, bed-wetting and anxiety after their release, Save the Children said in a report published on Monday.
The charity said that since 2000, the Israeli army had detained more than 8,000 Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank and prosecuted children as young as 12 in military courts, most of them suspected of rock-throwing.
Ninety-eight percent of detained children reported being subjected to violence, either physical or verbal, by Israeli soldiers, the charity’s program adviser Eyad al-Araj told a news conference in the West Bank, an ordeal that left psychological scars on almost all of them.
“Over 90 percent of these children suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder,” al-Araj said.
The report on Israeli detention of Palestinians under the age of 18 is based on a survey of 292 children who had been held and released by Israel.
Last year, 2,301 children were taken into custody, down from 3,470 in 2010, according to data collected by the Palestinian rights group Defense for Children International (DCI). There are currently 170 Palestinian minors in Israeli jails, DCI said.
“Detention has a devastating impact on children, their families and their societies,” said the report.
“Children suffer from effects including post-traumatic stress disorder, fear of leaving the house, in addition to psychological symptoms such as anxiety attacks and nightmares. Families become overprotective and refuse to let children out of the house,” it said.
The Israeli army says that rock throwing is a serious offence that can cause injury or death.
“Palestinian boys, sometimes as young as 13 or 14 engage in stone throwing by hand or sling shot on Israeli cars, or army vehicles,” said Arye Shalitar, an Israeli military spokesman.
“It sounds like the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is just arresting kids, but people don’t understand that these kids are very violent. Instead of playing soccer they are endangering the lives of Israelis.”
Speaking at the news conference, Saudamini Siegrist, head of UNICEF’s child protection programme, criticized Israel’s use of military courts to try Palestinian minors.
“Nowhere else are children systematically tried before military courts and tribunals so unsuited with the protection of their rights,” he said.
Ahmad Dsouqi said he was arrested at his home in the Jalazon refugee camp near Ramallah in a late night raid last year. He was 16 at the time.
“A big group of armed Israeli soldiers barged into our home, woke me up and dragged me out of bed. They handcuffed me, blind-folded me and threw me into their jeep,” Dsouqi told Reuters.
He was beaten during lengthy interrogations, not allowed to go outside and eventually forced to confess that he had thrown stones at Israeli soldiers, he said.
“The interrogators used to leave me in the interrogation room alone, handcuffed for long periods of time to pressure me to confess.”
Dsouqi was sentenced to 18 months in jail, but served half that when he was released during a prisoner exchange.
“I try not to sleep all day like in prison, and remind myself that I should make the most of time to ensure my future.”
A senior army officer said the military was aware of complaints of mistreatment of Palestinian minors and it was reviewing how detained youngsters were dealt with.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Ben Harding)
Corrects day report published