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News Brief: Al Mezan issues a report: The Torture and Abuse of Children Fleeing Gaza's Humanitarian Catastrophe

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26 October 2020 |Reference 52/2020

The Al Mezan Center for Human Rights is issuing a report that looks at the alarmingly systematic use of torture and abuse against children who are trying to flee the catastrophic conditions of the Gaza Strip.


In the context of Israel’s 13-year closure and blockade, an alarming number of child residents are undertaking dangerous routes out of the Strip, in search of better living conditions and the chance at a dignified life. Al Mezan’s new report focuses on the arrest of these children, in particular 91 child victims who tried to cross the perimeter fence into Israel between 2015-2019.


Alarmingly, all 91 children told Al Mezan about some form of torture, ill-treatment or abuse by the Israeli and, to a lesser extent, Palestinian authorities with whom they came into contact.


The children reported being beaten with rifle buts and punched, verbally abused and forced to maintain stress positions by the Israeli forces. They reported being exposed to an array of violent and coercive questioning methods by Israeli interrogators, including sleep deprivation, severe beatings, and insults or humiliation.


Some children also reported being deprived of food, water and access to a toilet while in Israeli custody. A couple of children reported attempts by agents to coerce them into becoming informants for the Israeli security services.


Compounding the children’s ill-treatment, the survey shows that 70 of them were re-arrested in the Gaza Strip, this time by the Palestinian security services. Nearly a third of this group said that they were beaten and insulted within their detention.


Al Mezan’s documentation indicates that the Israeli military uses excessive and harmful means—that include lethal force, injury and arrest—to control the buffer zone. As a result, eight children were shot and killed and six wounded in the reporting period.


Still, Gaza’s residents sought to flee. Of the 91 children surveyed for the report, 59 said that they did so out of economic distress. Eleven children cited violence in the home, a factor that Al Mezan views as interrelated with poverty, and an additional four children said that they were driven by both factors. The remaining children cited depression and lack of adequate shelter, among other reasons, for fleeing Gaza.


According to Al Mezan’s investigations, over 70 percent of the children are from big families and 78 percent of the children’s families earn less than 1,000 ILS (USD 292) per month. The high dropout rates among the children (65 of the 91 had dropped out of school) may point to a perceived lack of a future.


Al Mezan’s analysis of the children’s accounts leads us to conclude that a spectrum of prohibited torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment (CIDTP) was used against the children in a widespread, systematic and institutionalized manner. To this end, Al Mezan put forth a number of recommendations and calls for action from the international community and Palestinian duty-bearers. A summary is repeated for emphasis here:


The international community:

  • Must take urgent and effective action to put an end to Israel’s closure and blockade of the Gaza Strip.
  • Must ensure prompt, thorough and impartial investigations according to international standards, and bring perpetrators of violations against children promptly to justice.
  • Must push for effective legislation to be implemented that fully criminalizes torture in line with UN CAT in Israel and Palestine.
  • Must publicly condemn the conduct of the Israeli occupying power and Gaza’s security services as constituting the violation of children’s rights, of international humanitarian law, and of international criminal law.
  • Finally, recalling Israel’s obligations under international law and the duty to protect Palestinian children in occupied territory, the international community must take prompt and effective action to ensure the respect of international law, to provide effective protection for children, and to put a stop to the Israeli military’s use of excessive force.


Gaza’s authorities

  • Must end all forms of torture and CIDTP against children.
  • Must stop criminalizing the children who attempted to flee and must instead treat them as victims.
  • Must provide assistance and rehabilitation to the children and look into providing social protection services for their families.
  • Must provide the necessary support to eliminate and address violence against children in the home.
  • Must, through the Ministry of Education and service institutions in the Gaza Strip, set up educational and cultural programs to safeguard out-of-school children’s right to education and address the causes of school dropout.
  • Must take all measures possible, within the context of Israel’s occupation and closure, to implement decent living standards, including by providing healthcare, food, and educational services to the population, as a means of dissuading children from undertaking dangerous routes out of Gaza.


The full report (in English) is available for download at the link