No way to treat a child: The action of DEI Belgium and Dynamo International – Street Workers Network about the situation of children detained in Palestine

Clément Tilly, intern of the French Civil Service at Dynamo International, participated in the meeting organized by Defense of Children International (DEI) Belgium, on the presentation of «The situation of children detained in Palestine» and on the partnership between DEI and Dynamo International. Here is his article.


Every year, Israeli military authorities detain and prosecute 700 Palestinian children. The main implication of the military judicial system in the occupied territories is that the legislative and judicial authorities are held by a military leader. Neither the laws nor the way in which they are applied are subject to a democratic body that would have a say in them. This is how all aspects of Palestinian life are regulated and controlled.

This system creates particularly severe military decrees such as the 1651 order. The latter provides the legal basis for the arrest and detention of Palestinians, including administrative detention that may take place for prolonged periods without trial. For example, the offence of “stone throwing” can be punished by 10 years in prison under this decree. Insulting “the honour of a soldier”, without even being clear what that entails, is punishable by one year of detention. The decree allows the military to arrest any individual at any time without any particular reason. Children under the age of 12 cannot be prosecuted in court, but this does not prevent them from being detained and sometimes questioned for several hours before being released. Those over the age of 12, on the other hand, can be arrested and brought before a judge on mere suspicion, which means that no control is exercised over these arrests. Clearly, the judicial system to which these children are delivered is far from being independent from the military authorities.

When arrested, the children are then detained in prisons, often isolated and interrogated in a way that is tantamount to torture under international law, for the sole purpose of removing confessions from them, whether they are real or invented. Children and their families are threatened, names are asked of them (which perpetuates the circle of arrests of minors). However, most of the children have done nothing and have been victims of raids in the middle of the night. They are generally being arrested for belonging to communities located next to occupancy infrastructures (strategic roads, separation walls, checkpoints, etc.) or to have been close to places of protest rather than for having committed crimes. During the arrests, these minors are very often victims of physical or verbal violence (tied hands, blindfolded eyes, etc.).

As soon as the young Palestinians are arrested, they are locked up and cannot be released on bail even though that is the norm under the civil justice system in Israel. Even worse, they cannot see their families, or even a lawyer, until they are referred to a judge, sometimes up to 72 hours after they are taken. In fact, martial law allows the detention of children from 24 hours (for 12-13 years) up to 72 hours (for 16-17 years) before a possible trial. Far from the maximum 12 hours allowed by the courts in Israel.

So the exception becomes the norm, and even more so, when it comes to children from the occupied territories. Children are therefore often detained for several months (between 6 and 9 months on average), sometimes even before their trial begins, and this obviously has disastrous consequences for their development and especially for their education. Most of the time, they will be sentenced to a suspended sentence for imaginary or exaggerated offences and will have to enter a probation period of 3 to 5 years during which the slightest misbehaviour will lead them directly to prison. Thus, the policy of terror carried out against young Palestinians through martial law touches on its goal: to exercise fear control over these Palestinian children, their families and their communities. So the system is not broken, it’s working as intended.

It is important to remember that the principles and norms of international law require that the detention of minors be a measure of last resort and used for a minimum period of time. However, the situation in Palestine is the exact opposite of these recommendations since the application of martial law in 1997 when the Israeli army began to occupy the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The action of DEI Belgium and Dynamo International – Street Workers Network

In 2015, the “No Way to Treat a Child” campaign was born in the United States under the leadership of activists and with the help of Defense of Children International (DEI). The idea is to put pressure, through awareness campaigns, on the American Congress in order to make the issue a central point of policy towards Israel. The United States has a portion of its external budget allocated to Israel’s military support. So it would be possible to pass a law prohibiting American financial assistance from being used for this kind of practice, which would be a major step forward. The campaign is also present in Europe and tries to influence European institutions as well as civil society actors such as Dynamo International.
In these spheres of decision-making, the aim of the campaign is to put the subject of human rights and the rights of the child on the table. When it comes to the Israel/Palestine problem, the discussions revolve more around international politics, such as the subject of the two-state solution. More rarely are addressed topics such as children locked up and tortured or human rights violations that are committed in the occupied territories. On site, the organization also aims to train Palestinian lawyers on the specificities of child law.

In addition, the collaboration between DEI Belgium, DEI Palestine and Dynamo International has resulted in a five-year project, aimed mainly at developing a more protective and respectful environment for Palestinian children, through the creation of “Centres de défense socio-légale” (CDSL). These centres are designed to provide quality socio-legal assistance to children and their families by ensuring a participatory approach that focuses on the child and his or her best interests. Multidisciplinarity is also a central aspect of the CDSL and professionals from different disciplines (law, medicine, psychology, street work, etc.) will be involved in these centres. Activities of awareness-raising and reintegration assistance are also planned. The International Network of Street Social Workers is a partner with the aim of strengthening the street work dimension of the project and collaborating on the structuring of a Palestinian platform of street workers that could eventually integrate the network.

The objective of the combined action of Dynamo International and DEI is therefore to bring about structural changes in the justice system Palestinian children are confronted to and to ensure their rights in the face of the many abuses of this system.

For further information: DEI Palestine; campaign “No Way to Treat a Child”; Defense of Children International