Stages of Detention

No Way to Treat a Child: Isolated and Alone

I have been a member of JVP for many years, for the last 6 years in the North New Jersey chapter. Before that, for nearly all of my adult life, I took part in a number of movements for human rights and justice: against the Vietnam War and both of the Iraq Wars, for the national and human rights of Puerto Rico, for Women’s Health and reproductive rights, against police brutality, for labor rights as a member of a healthcare union, for solidarity with Cuba, and so on. Still, even after all that, it was nevertheless truly shocking and disturbing, especially as a Jew in whose name Israel claims to act, to learn of the particularly violent and cruel way that Israeli government/military treats Palestinian children whom they arrest, interrogate, and prosecute in military courts! About 700 children are arrested annually, sometimes dragged out of their homes in the middle of the night. From that moment, 3 out of every 4 experience some form of physical violence.

Their treatment is documented by Defense for Children International-Palestine, which reported in December of 2020 that many of these children are subjected to solitary confinement for interrogation. They have documented 108 cases in the years 2016–2019 in which children were held in isolation for 2 or more days. The isolation was to obtain confessions or gather intelligence, not for discipline, protection, or medical reasons. Although Israel is proclaimed a “democratic” state by the US government, and compared favorably to its neighbors, it is clear that it is an outlaw state, as international law prohibits solitary confinement for children.

Conditions in solitary confinement for these children are unsanitary, no window, stress positions, 24-hour lighting, meals pushed through a door flap. The average number of days in isolation is 14! And 40% or more are held for 16 days. All were boys. None had access to legal advice or to their parents before being interrogated.

Solitary confinement has been designated a form of torture for adults, let alone children. “Confessions” elicited in such conditions are notoriously false. No doubt, many readers are aware of the case of the Central Park Five, who were legally children, and against whom there was no physical evidence whatsoever of the rape and assault of which they were accused. Even so, after being held in isolation, and following psychological manipulation by police interrogators, several of them “confessed”. It was only many years later, when the actual rapist met one of the Five in prison and then confessed, leading to much popular pressure and legal action, that the Five were exonerated, having spent their youth and young adulthood incarcerated.

There is a heroic and determined member of Congress, Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, who has annually sponsored a bill that would prohibit our tax dollars from being spent to fund Israeli military detention of Palestinian children. It was numbered H.R. 2407 in the previous session of Congress, titled Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act (informally knows as the No Way to Treat a Child Act). It had roughly two dozen co-sponsors in the last Congress, including Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District.

The Northern NJ Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace will be following up in the new Congress to get updated information, so that we can urge all our representatives to cosponsor and pass this legislation once and for all! We invite you to join us!

Bella August is a retired social worker, who moved from New York City to New Jersey 27 years ago, and who has been involved in political/justice activism since the late 1960s. She has been a member of JVP for many years.