Australian reporter and lawyer exposé of Israeli abuse of Palestinian child prisoners prod government action

No 371 Posted by fw, December 18, 2011

Every so often a story comes along that rekindles hope that activists’ efforts are making a difference. An email yesterday from Sonja Karkar, editor of Australians for Palestinians, recounts one such story. Sonja writes:

“Something’s changing here in Australia.  This is the second report by John Lyons in The Australian newspaper about the appalling treatment of Palestinian child prisoners at the hand of the Israeli military and courts.  It shows how media reports and public revulsion at such practices can prod our politicians into action when diplomatic representatives should have raised hell a long time ago.   The tireless work of Australian lawyer Gerard Horton at Defence of Children International – Palestine has been invaluable in raising the issue in the public domain and we must all help him keep up the pressure to ensure that change happens swiftly and the rights of these children are respected.

(Read John Lyons’ first report on Palestinian child prisoners here on this blog: Palestinian children emerge “scared and broken” from Israeli military justice system).

What follows are selected passages from Lyons’ second report.  (A series of dashes like this —– in the body of the post indicate the location of omitted paragraphs from the original piece). To read the complete article, click on the linked title.

Rudd seeks action on torture allegations involving Palestinian children by John Lyons, The Australian, 17 December 2011

AUSTRALIA will raise concerns with Israel about its juvenile military court system, which has been accused of jailing and torturing Palestinian children as young as 12. Following a report in The Weekend Australian Magazine three weeks ago, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has instructed Australian diplomats to visit the juvenile military court. The diplomats have been told to report to Mr Rudd on the conditions they find at the Ofer military prison, near Jerusalem.

According to a statement from Mr Rudd’s office, he has also instructed Australian officials to initiate a meeting with Israeli authorities to raise concerns about the system under which Palestinian children are tried. Sixty of Israel’s leading psychologists, academics and child experts have written to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that “offensive arrests and investigations that ignore the law do not serve to maintain public order and safety“.

The Weekend Australian Magazine reported that allegations included: a boy kept in solitary confinement for 65 days; other boys in solitary confinement with the lights on 24 hours a day; a seven-year-old boy in Jerusalem taken for interrogation who says he was hit during questioning; three children being given electric shocks by hand-held devices to force them to confess; dog’s food being put on the head and near the genitals of a blindfolded boy and a dog being brought in to eat it while his interrogators laughed.

The magazine reported that, since January, 2007, Defence of Children International has collected and translated into English 385 sworn affidavits from Palestinian children held in Israeli detention who claim to have suffered serious abuse: electric shocks, beatings, threats of rape, being stripped naked, solitary confinement, threats that their families’ work permits will be revoked and “position abuse” – which involves a child being placed in a chair with their feet shackled and hands tied behind their back, sometimes for hours.

—–

Gerard Horton, an Australian lawyer dealing with many of the cases in his role at DCI, said one Israeli interrogator working in the settlement, Gush Etzion, “specialises in threatening children with rape” to get confessions. One woman involved in the YMCA’s rehabilitation program for children who have been under Israeli detention, Fadia Saleh, told The Australian as part of its investigation:

Last week, one boy described to me how dogs were present in the army jeep. In those jeeps, you have chairs on each side and an empty space in the middle – the children are put there, on the floor. Sometimes soldiers step on them. Every time the child moved, one of the dogs would bite him. When he arrived at the interrogation centre, his arm was bleeding. It was a short trip but he felt like (it was) a year.

The Weekend Australian Magazine reported that, while diplomatic and parliamentary missions from many countries had visited the juvenile court, Australian diplomats had appeared to show no obvious interest in the court. Mr Horton said Australia had been “conspicuously silent” about possible human rights abuses against Palestinian children. He told the magazine: “It is disappointing that, of all the diplomatic missions in the region, Australia has been conspicuously silent on the issue of the military courts.

Australia’s Ambassador to Israel, Andrea Faulkner, was told of the treatment of children more than a year ago. Although informed of the issue, neither Ms Faulkner nor any other Australian representative has visited the court. .  . . This week, an Australian official has begun meetings on the issue in preparation for a visit to the juvenile court by Australian diplomats.

—–

Authorities in Israel did not want to discuss individual cases of children but the country’s international spokesman Yigal Palmor said there were “many things” that needed to improve and that Israel was working with human rights groups and making “slow reform and improvement”.

—–

In recent times, the military court has been visited by diplomats or parliamentary delegations from the UK, the US, the European Union, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Cyprus and
the United Nations.

A spokeswoman for Mr Rudd said that, during Israel’s last appearance before the UN Universal Periodic Review Working Group, Australia questioned Israel about reported mistreatment of detainees. She said the government universally opposes the detention of minors.

“The Australian government’s long held view is that all children, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender or other differences, should enjoy the same legal and human rights protections,” she said.

In closing her email, and this post, Sonja Karkar asks readers to –

Please write letters to The Australian saying how much you appreciate John Lyons’ reports exposing the issue of Palestinian child prisoners in Israel Letters to Editor <letters@theaustralian.com.au> and also to Australia’s Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd <Kevin.Rudd.MP@aph.gov.au> supporting his move to act on torture allegations against Palestinian children.

MY COMMENT – And the Harper Government? Does it continue to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to outrageous Israeli abuses of Palestinians, including the jailing and torture of children as young as 12?

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