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Palestinian boy during a protest against administrative detention at the Ofer Prison gate. Photo by Ahmad Al-Bazz, Activestills, 19 Dec. 2019
From the field

Occupation routine, December 2019: Four teenagers held for months without trial

Since 2015, hardly a month has gone by without Israel holding Palestinian minors in administrative detention – after the practice was avoided for some four years since December 2011. At the end of April 2016, the number peaked at 13 and since 2017, the average has been two to four a month. At the end of December 2019, the Israel Prison Service was holding at least 186 Palestinian minors as security prisoners or detainees, at least four of them in administrative detention. Five other Palestinian minors were being held for illegally entering Israel, which is considered a criminal offense.

Israel’s military justice system regularly violates the rights of Palestinian minors. They are often arrested in the dead of night, led away handcuffed and blindfolded, and interrogated with physical and verbal violence or threats while they are tired and confused, cut off from their environment and without family members or other adults acting on their behalf. They usually meet their legal counsel for the first time in the military courtroom, and only then hear the charges against them. Instead of upholding their rights, Israel has created a façade of such protection by establishing a military juvenile court (which, in practice, focuses on authorizing plea bargains rather than examining evidence and investigating allegations), by legally shortening the incarceration periods (which can be repeatedly extended anyway), and by giving parents a minimal opportunity, subject to exceptional circumstances, to be involved in the trial (which usually does not take place as the proceedings end with a plea bargain).

In administrative detention, the minors do not even know the allegations against them. The judicial review is meaningless in these cases, too, as the judges sign off on almost all detention requests. The violation of minors’ rights in administrative detention is compounded by uncertainty, as the detention orders can be extended time and again, so detainees never know when they will be released. This ambiguity makes the situation much harder for the minors and their families, as it is unclear when they will be able to go back to their lives. B’Tselem’s field researchers collected testimonies in the cases of three minors, two of whom are still incarcerated and the third was released in early January 2020.

Hafez Zayud, 16, Jenin:

On 7 July 2019, Hafez Zayud, a 16-year-old high-school student from Jenin, was arrested by the Palestinian Authority’s preventive security service. He was held in Jenin for about a month and interrogated before being released on 9 August. Less than two weeks later, on Monday night, 26 August, Israeli soldiers and police officers searched the family home and arrested Hafez, leading him away handcuffed and blindfolded. The next day, a police officer informed his father, Ibrahim Zayud, 42, that Hafez was being held in the Shomron (Salem) camp and let him speak briefly to his son. About four days later, an administrative detention order was issued against Hafez for four months, later reduced to three after an appeal. A few days before his scheduled date of release, Hafez was remanded in administrative detention for another three months. Unless the order is renewed again, he is set to be released on 24 February 2020.

Hafez’s mother, Hiba Zayud, 35, a married mother of four, shared her feelings in a testimony she gave B’Tselem field researcher Abdulkarim Sadi on 26 January 2020:

Hafez Zayud. Photo courtesy of the family

Hafez is my eldest son. He was arrested in late August and for the first few months, we couldn’t even visit him. It took a long time for us to get a permit to visit Megiddo Prison. My husband and I first saw him there in mid-November. I couldn’t sleep the night before, I felt so worried and was so looking forward to seeing him. We got to the prison at around 9:30 A.M. We waited for about an hour and a half until they called the families of the prisoners to come in. We gave Hafez some underwear, socks, pajamas and towels that they let us bring in. When I saw him, I was shocked – he was behind a glass partition, which I hadn’t expected at all. I didn’t know I wouldn’t be able to hug or kiss him.

My husband supported me so I wouldn’t cry in front of our son. When I asked Hafez to stand up so I could get a proper look at him, he said his feet were tied. How could they tie my son’s feet inside the prison itself?

After the visit, which lasted only 45 minutes, I went home feeling like we’d only had a few seconds together. I tried to remember Hafez’s face. He’s being held with no clear charges against him. Because we’re allowed to visit him only once a month, we’ve only seen him twice since then. The last time was on 6 January. I can’t visit him now because I’m nine months pregnant and the journey is too hard. My husband will visit him alone in February.

Hafez’s younger brothers keep asking about him – when he’ll be released, when he’ll come home. I was very surprised when he was arrested by the Palestinian and Israeli security forces. We have been given no explanation for the punishments that suddenly landed on him, with no defined allegations. Hafez was supposed to graduate high-school this year. If they keep him in prison, it will jeopardize his studies and his future.

Suliman ‘Abd a-Rahman, 17, Yabrud:

On Thursday night, 19 December 2019, soldiers entered the ‘Abd a-Rahman family’s home in the village of Yabrud, north of Ramallah. They ordered Suliman ‘Abd a-Rahman, 17, to get dressed and led him away, blindfolded and handcuffed, without telling the family where he was being taken.

Suliman’s father, Salem, 53, related in a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad on 31 December 2019:

Suliman ‘Abd a-Rahman. Photo courtesy of the family

After they left, none of us – his mother, his brothers and sisters, and I – could get back to sleep. I started making phone calls first thing in the morning. I called the Red Cross, the Authority for Prisoners’ Affairs and human rights organizations, to try and find out what happened to my son. I was very worried.

Only at around 2:00 P.M., an Israeli intelligence officer called me and informed me, without giving his name, that my son had been interrogated at Ofer Prison and brought before a judge. I drove straight away to the Ofer court, where a lawyer from the Palestinian Prisoners Club (Nadi al-Asir) was waiting for me. I was allowed into the courtroom for a minute to see my son from afar and then they took me out.

Suliman looked exhausted. When the hearing was over, the lawyer told me he’d been remanded in custody for 72 hours, and that they were going to hold him in administrative detention based on classified material. After the 72 hours were over, another hearing was held. The lawyer said it was in camera and that he wasn’t allowed to participate, either. Eight days later, another hearing was held, again without the lawyer, who told me they hadn’t even given him prior notice. He said they had called him after the fact and told him that the court had authorized an administrative detention order for four months and that Suliman had been transferred to the youth wing at Ofer Prison.

From what I know about administrative detention, I understand he’s being held with no specific charges against him and no certain date of release, because when the four months are up, they can renew the detention order. It’s the worst kind of imprisonment. Imagine a kid that age not knowing what’s going to happen next and what lies ahead. I’m sure he’s worried and confused, which could have a lasting effect on his physical and mental health. We still haven’t seen ‘Abd a-Rahman and have no idea if they’ll even let us visit him. The uncertainty is stifling and making us even more anxious.

Suliman Abu Ghosh, 16, Qalandiya Refugee Camp:

Suliman Abu Ghosh, 16, an apprentice at a hairdressing salon, was arrested twice in 2019 and held in administrative detention for four months each time. The first time, in mid-January, soldiers came to the family home at night, when Suliman was out, and ordered his father, Muhammad, to bring him to Qalandiya checkpoint in the morning. When Suliman went to the checkpoint, he was detained for two hours and released, but then immediately summoned to Ofer Prison. After a brief interrogation, he was taken, blindfolded and handcuffed, to a prison cell at the youth wing, where the guards took off the blindfold and handcuffs and frisked him in his underwear.

In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad on 12 January 2020, Suliman recounted:

Suliman Abu Ghosh. Photo courtesy of the family

Two or three days later, I was interrogated by the Shin Bet. The interrogator took my fingerprints and a mugshot. Then he administered what he called a DNA test with no explanation, and I was taken back to the wing. The next morning, at 6:30, I was handcuffed and taken to the waiting room at the Ofer court, where I was given breakfast – a yoghurt and two slices of bread. At 2:00 P.M., the hearing began. I saw my parents from a distance in the courtroom, but wasn’t allowed to go over and talk to them. The entire hearing consisted of the judge deciding to postpone it for a week. I didn’t even know why it was held, what I was charged with or why I’d been detained.

The next day, in another ISA (Shin Bet) interrogation, Abu Ghosh was asked why he had published photographs of his brother, Hussein, who was shot and killed by the security guard at the settlement of Beit Horon on 25 January 2016 after stabbing two Israeli civilians together with another Palestinian. One of the victims, Shlomit Krigman, succumbed to her wounds the following day. In the interrogation, Abu Ghosh was told that he was suspected of endangering state security, ties with the enemy, possessing weapons and attempts to carry out terror attacks. He was told he would be remanded in custody for 72 hours. The next day, another court hearing was held without his parents being there or even receiving notice, in which the military prosecution indicted Abu Ghosh on charges of incitement. After the judge decided to release him on bail, the prosecution asked to remand him in custody for 72 hours to issue an administrative detention order. The judge agreed to 48 hours.

Abu Ghosh continued in his testimony:

There was another court hearing and I was put in administrative detention for four months. At the hearing, I had no idea what was going on. Afterwards, the lawyer apologized and said he’d tried to get me out, but there was apparently classified information about me that he couldn’t see. He reassured me that because I was a minor, they wouldn’t extend the detention. Then I was taken back to the youth wing.

I spent most of the detention with other minors on the wing. We had games and regular hours for studying Hebrew, Arabic, maths and other subjects. I was very anxious and stressed the whole time. I kept wondering why I was in detention even though I’m just a kid. Until my trial, I didn’t even know what administrative detention was. My lawyer explained that you’re put in prison based on a secret file, with no specific charges. I felt it was unjust, because the detention was arbitrary and unfounded. My lawyer reassured me that the detention order wouldn’t be renewed, but I couldn’t be sure of that.

My mother and brothers visited me in prison three times, but my father couldn’t make it because of his work.

On 13 May 2019, I was released at the Beit Sira checkpoint. My family and friends were waiting for me there and took me home. I went back to my life, working with my father at a stationery shop in Ramallah and as an apprentice at a hair salon.

About four months later, on 4 September 2019, an ISA agent called Muhammad Abu Ghosh and ordered him to bring his son to Ofer Prison. Upon his arrival, Suliman Abu Ghosh was told he was entering administrative detention. He was handcuffed, strip-searched and taken to the youth wing. The next day, Abu Ghosh was interrogated at the ISA facility in the Russian Compound in Jerusalem, with his hands and feet tied.

He recounted:

After a few hours, I don’t know exactly how long, I started getting worried and scared because I didn’t know what was going on. I felt very lonely. The dim lighting in the cell was spooky, and there was no way to pass the time with just a mattress and blankets there. Then I was taken for interrogation. The interrogator asked me whether I knew why I was there. I said it was because of my sister Mais, who was arrested on 28 August 2019 and I knew she’d been interrogated at the Russian Compound. I signed a document in Arabic that detailed my rights, after they asked me if I’d heard about terror attacks and I said I hadn’t. Then they took me back to the cell. An hour or two passed, and then I was taken again for interrogation. The interrogator said I was in administrative detention and asked whether I had a weapon, and whether I’d ever fired at an Israeli tower or infrastructure or bought or sold arms. I denied everything. After about ten minutes, they took me back to the cell.

I fell asleep. When I woke up, I was taken for interrogation again. The interrogator asked whether I wanted to see my sister, and I said yes. A few minutes later, they brought her in and the interrogator let me hug her. She looked terrible. It looked like she’d been dragged by the hair, which was all in a mess. She was pale, with red eyes and black rings under them. She looked like she could barely stand. She was stooped over, with her head down, and couldn’t stand up straight. It was obvious she’d been tortured and was in a lot of pain. When I hugged her, she didn’t respond and didn’t hug me back. She said: “When you get home, take good care of Mom and Dad and everyone”. I said: “I’m not going home. I’m in detention. From here I’ll be taken to Ofer Prison.” She looked shocked, as if it seemed strange to her that I’d been arrested. She said to the interrogator: “You told me you wouldn’t arrest him.” He answered in an indifferent tone of voice: “We’re sending him back to Ofer.” I asked him: “What did you do to her? Why does she look like that?” Then they sent her out of the room and I was left alone. After that, a police officer took me back to the cell. Half an hour later, I was transferred to a police van and taken to Ofer Prison.

I later learned that I’d been at the Russian Compound for a day and a half. At Ofer, they interrogated me again and then remanded me in custody for another 72 hours. The next day I was taken to the courtroom at Ofer, but no decision was made in the hearing. None of my family were there. The day after, I was issued an administrative detention order for four months. Two months later, I was taken to court for a hearing on an appeal filed by the Addameer organization, which demanded my release or reduction of the detention to three months. No decision was made in the hearing itself. After I went back to the youth wing, I was informed that the detention had been authorized for four months, but that it wouldn’t be extended. My family visited me just once, and I was released on 2 January 2020.

I don’t know what to say. I’m scared they’ll put me in administrative detention again. It’s hovering over my entire life and future.