One of the ways communities are threatened and deterred from engaging in activism is through child arrests and interrogations.
In East Jerusalem for example, the police arrests children on a daily basis. Some of the arrests are used to pressure the relatives of human rights defenders and/or the entire community. Child arrests are a systematic violation of the Youth Law, designed to provide special protections for the rights of minors during interrogations, arrest and incarceration. The Youth Law applies in full in East Jerusalem, while in the Military Youth Courts where Palestinian minors from the West Bank are tried, the rights of minors and Israeli law should be given weight.
But laws are one thing and actions another. Cases of arrest raids in the middle of the night, investigations without the presence of a parent in the room and at times without even notifying the family at all, sleep prevention, no access to bathroom or food, violence and threats – these are all tactics used routinely to collect information and intimidate, including children under 12 years old, which is the legal age of criminal responsibility according to the law.
Investigating minors is an effective tool for collecting information. Children’s judgment, ability to handle pressure situations and comprehend the ramifications of their actions is not developed. Taking advantage of this fact for police purposes in general, and certainly when the target is damaging human rights defenders in order to undermine non-violent protests – is unacceptable and constitutes a blatant violation of children’s rights. It leads to false confessions, prolonged arrests and imprisonment, and severe, long-term psychological effects on kids and, in effect, on the entire community.
Communities in which human rights defenders are active find themselves at times torn between the need to protect their children (and many times their women as well) and the struggle to fight for and realize their basic rights.