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Adjournment speech: Middle East

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (21:32): The treatment of Palestinian children by the Israeli military, particularly the use of solitary confinement, is an issue of growing global concern. Senator Claire Moore tonight has made a most significant and informative speech on this matter. Another aspect of this abuse is that Palestinian children are being detained under appalling circumstances. Palestinians in the West Bank live under military law, while Israeli settlers live under Israeli civil law. Two people on one piece of land live under two different sets of laws, with the military laws granting people they impact on far fewer rights and safeguards.

Defence for Children International has collected testimonies of 429 Palestinian children who have experienced military detention. They found that 15 per cent of these children were held in solitary confinement for more than two days. They also found that the use of isolation by Israeli authorities does not appear to be related to any disciplinary, protective or medical rationale or justification. In fact, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that it is used solely for interrogation purposes to obtain a confession. The UN special rapporteur on torture indicates that the imposition of solitary confinement of any duration on juveniles is cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and violates article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 16 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and therefore should be completely banned. Israel has actually signed both of those treaties.

Palestinian children interviewed by Defence for Children International, however, were held in solitary confinement for an average of 13 days, with the longest reported as 45 days. Defence for Children International report:

The children taken to Kishon … detention center … inside Israel, describe being held in isolation in a small cell measuring approximately … (6.5 x 10 feet). The children report either sleeping on a concrete bed, on the floor, or on a thin mattress that is often described as "dirty" and "foul smelling." There are no windows and no natural light. The only source of light comes from a dim yellow bulb that is reportedly kept on at all hours. Meals are passed to children through a flap in the door. Cell walls are reported to be gray in color with sharp or rough protrusions that are painful to lean against.

The only clear reason that solitary confinement would be used for a child in the context of an interrogation is to lead to a confession, and, in 90 per cent of these cases gathered by Defence for Children International, it did.

Take the case of Abdullah, for example. Abdullah, 17 years of age, was held in solitary confinement for 26 days. He was arrested at 3 am in the morning in his own home. He was bound, blindfolded and transported to a military base in the Jewish only settlement where he was strip-searched and then later transported to the Al-Jalame interrogation and detention centre inside Israel. This is how Abdullah described what happened to him:

On the first day of my arrival to Al-Jalame, I was taken to an interrogation room to be interrogated … He accused me of throwing Molotov cocktails and stones. He interrogated me for two hours. He was shouting at me to intimidate me, but I did not confess.

He shouted at me and threatened to beat me. Another interrogator came in, shouting at me and threatening, 'I'll smash your head if you don't confess. And if you don't talk from your mouth, I'll make you talk from your ass.' I was really scared of him.

The report goes on to say that over the course of 12 days, all in solitary confinement:

Abdullah was interrogated three separate times and confessed to throwing two Molotov cocktails during the third interrogation session. His detention was extended at least six times—

by military courts. The testimony references the use of intimidation and assault. The evidence is that the use of abuse, as well as informants posing as fellow prisoners, is common.

The most disturbing thing is that the trend to use solitary confinement, particularly for young people, appears to be increasing. The Israeli government must be held accountable to international norms in the way it interrogates and imprisons children and juveniles. It must take international advice and cease the use of solitary confinement for Palestinian children and juveniles. That is a really important step that needs to be taken.

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