The young boys were walking home from school when armed soldiers appeared from nowhere. They fearfully scattered apart, with one running into an orchard, not knowing what lay ahead.
A man in plainclothes grabbed him, tied his hands, blindfolded him and dragged him away.
The terrified 12 year old tried to twist free. But his weak attempts were met with kicks, punches and rifle butts. His captors forced him into a vehicle and drove him to a detention facility. There, they accused him of throwing stones; accusations that he denied.
They proceeded to interrogate him without his parents or a lawyer present. And after a few hours, they forced him into another vehicle and took him to a military base. They then proceeded to interrogate him in ways that traumatized him for life.
This type of incident is commonplace in Israel and Occupied Palestine. In fact, Israel is the only country in the world that tries children in a juvenile military system.
Under Israeli military law, Palestinian children reach the ‘age of criminal liability’ at 12. This subjects them to arrest, harsh interrogations and up to six months of imprisonment. Though, law aside, Israeli authorities still detain and interrogate children as young as 5.
Some are snatched off the street. Others are ripped out of their parents’ arms in broad daylight. And others are dragged out of their beds in violent night time raids.
Rarely are their panicked parents told why or for how long they are taking their children.
During transfers, children are blindfolded, hand-tied and subjected to physical and verbal abuse. They face painful restraints and prolonged exposure to the elements. And they are deprived of food, water, medical care and toilets.
When the interrogations begin, the captors tie the children to chairs. They then threaten them with death, physical violence or sexual assault. Not just against themselves, but also against family members.
The goal is a confession. And having broken down, children usually sign Hebrew confessions even though they can't read them. Israeli authorities then use these ‘confessions’ to prosecute the children. They never inform the children of their rights, nor do they offer legal counsel. In fact, the trial is often the first time children will meet their lawyers.
The only evidence against children is usually their confessions. Or those of other children obtained under similar duress. And bail is usually denied.
Israeli military courts have the authority to hold children for up to 90 days before a court hearing. This includes solitary confinement.
Children age 12-13 can face up to six months in prison. Children age 14-15 can face up to a year unless the crime carries a maximum penalty of five years or more. The maximum penalty for throwing stones—the most common charge—is ten years. Children above 15 are treated as adults.
Most plead guilty as it's the quickest path to freedom and avoiding pretrial detentions. They then serve time in grim Israeli prisons alongside political prisoners and hardened criminals
They then receive few or no visits due to the travel restrictions Israeli authorities impose on Palestinians.
The experience leaves children with post-traumatic stress. They go on to live with continuous nightmares, sleepwalking and bedwetting. And, of course, broken educations that lead to further lifelong consequences.
On average, Israeli authorities arrest 2 Palestinian children per day—the highest rate in the world. And at the time of writing, there are over 400 Palestinian children held in Israeli jails.