To mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, Al Mezan highlights its recent monitoring and documentation concerning the torture and abuse of Palestinian children attempting to cross the Israeli-imposed buffer zone, or access-restricted area, in Gaza. This documentation shows patterns of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment (CIDTP) affecting all 91 children interviewed, including verbal and physical assault, attack by military dogs, and restraint in painful positions, while in Israeli custody.
The Israeli military uses live fire to enforce its movement restrictions in the access-restricted area in the Gaza Strip; however, some Palestinian children in Gaza, citing socioeconomic distress due to Israel’s unlawful closure and blockade that maintains dire humanitarian conditions, were undeterred in their attempts to leave Gaza. Between 2015-2019, 91 children, who were arrested attempting to cross the perimeter fence, reported abuse during arrest and detention. Of the 91 children, 34 reported verbal abuse and six reported being restrained in painful positions for long periods of time, a prevalent torture technique by Israeli interrogators. During their arrest, 33 children reported being beaten and 27 said that military dogs were set on them. Eighty-three reported being forced to take off their clothes in a humiliating manner prior to their arrest, with many remaining unclothed for the duration of their transfer to the detention center, and 85 children reported being blindfolded for that period as well.
The Israeli forces at the separation fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel fired live ammunition in 66 of the cases, and four reported being injured even before their arrest. Al Mezan’s monitoring and documentation in that period shows that the military killed eight children in the buffer zone who were attempting to leave Gaza.
These patterns of abuse have been reported for years, in particular in the access-restricted area by sea, where fishermen both inside and outside the Israeli-imposed permitted fishing zone are routinely subjected to unwarranted attacks and harassment, arbitrary arrest, and physical and verbal abuse in custody. The majority of these fishermen are released back into Gaza within one day, indicating that the Israeli authorities lack the grounds to detain them. Some medical patients from Gaza who received Israeli-issued permits to seek treatment via Erez crossing have also reported abuse within the checkpoint that would amount to prohibited torture and ill-treatment.
The prohibition of torture is absolute, and while Israel has ratified the UN Convention Against Torture (UN CAT), to date, Israeli law does not include a prohibition or criminalization of torture. Further, a 1999 Supreme Court decision allows interrogators that used techniques amounting to torture and ill-treatment to be protected from indictment in “ticking bomb” cases under the “necessity defense” clause of Israel’s penal code.
Pervasive trends therefore continue to be documented of state actors and the military torturing and abusing Palestinians, including Gazan children, with impunity. The criminal complaints that Al Mezan pursues on behalf of victims from Gaza are not examined through independent or thorough procedures, and are delayed, with crucial scarce evidence lost, which compounds the fact that the Israeli authorities do not refer torture and ill-treatment victims to hospital where their injuries could be documented.
Palestinians are also vulnerable to torture and CIDTP by Palestinian authorities across the occupied Palestinian territory, making the 91 children susceptible to added abuse upon their release by Israel back into the Gaza Strip. While Palestine also signed UN CAT, the provisions of the Convention have not been incorporated into Palestinian law. Fundamentally, the political division between the authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip contributes to the breakdown in the rule of law, in which torture and other forms of ill-treatment are able to persist.
Al Mezan is alarmed by the reports of the 91 children of torture and CIDTP and demands justice on their behalf. As the prohibition of torture is a peremptory norm of international law that gives rise to the obligation by all States to take action against those who torture, Al Mezan calls for concrete steps by the international community to end Israel’s practices of torture and ill-treatment against Palestinians. The competent Palestinian authorities must also take all legislative, judicial and administrative measures to end abuse. Finally, Al Mezan’s long engagement with the Israeli justice system definitively evidences the need for the International Criminal Court to urgently conduct a genuine investigation into the use of torture and CIDTP on Palestinian territory.
 HCJ 5100/94, The Public Committee against Torture in Israel v. the State of Israel