A Palestinian child prisoner detained by Israeli forces in late July recently tested positive for COVID-19, the first known case involving a Palestinian child detainee confirmed by Defense for Children International – Palestine.
Israeli forces detained the 15-year-old Palestinian boy* around 4 am on July 23 from his home in Al Jalazoun refugee camp located north of the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah. He was transferred to Israel’s Shikma prison, located inside Israel in Ashkelon, for interrogation, according to Iyad Misk, a DCIP lawyer. Israeli authorities postponed his interrogation after he tested positive for COVID-19.
Despite being infected with COVID-19, Israeli authorities extended the boy’s detention for another eight days since he has yet to be interrogated, according to information collected by DCIP. He is currently being held at an Israeli police station in Akka and is expected to be transferred soon to another location to be placed in quarantine.
“There is no way Israeli forces can justify the detention of a child currently infected with COVID-19,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCIP. “By extending this boy’s custodial detention, Israeli authorities are recklessly endangering his health and well-being along with the health of other detainees. Israeli authorities must release all Palestinian child detainees immediately.”
After initially containing the virus in May, cases began to rise in June in Israel and across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. To date, Israel recorded at least 78,512 cases with a total of 24,583 active cases, and 569 deaths, according to Haaretz. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, there have been at least 17,434 total cases, including over 450 new cases recorded on August 6, and 94 deaths, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
At the end of June, 151 Palestinian children were detained in Israeli prisons and detention centers, an increase of six percent from May, according to data released by the Israel Prison Service (IPS). 48 percent of Palestinian child detainees were held in pretrial detention, according to IPS data. Israeli authorities held 79 percent of Palestinian child detainees at prisons and detention centers inside Israel, which amounts to unlawful transfer in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Palestinian children imprisoned by Israeli authorities live in close proximity to each other, often in compromised sanitary conditions, with limited access to resources to maintain minimum hygiene routines, according to documentation collected by DCIP. COVID-19’s impact is exacerbated by these living conditions making Palestinian children in Israeli prisons and detention centers increasingly vulnerable.
On March 19, DCIP called on Israeli authorities to immediately release all Palestinian child detainees in Israeli prisons due to the rapid global spread of COVID-19.
In May, three United Nations officials also called on Israeli authorities to release all child detainees and to end arrests during the pandemic, declaring in a joint press statement, “[t]he best way to uphold the rights of detained children amidst a dangerous pandemic, in any country, is to release them from detention and to put a moratorium on new admissions into detention facilities. We call on the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to do so immediately.”
Globally, the World Health Organization, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and U.N. human rights experts have all issued guidelines and statements highlighting the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in detention settings.
Israel ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, obligating itself to implement the full range of rights and protections included in the treaty, including that the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration in all decisions affecting children, and detention must only be used as a measure of last resort for the shortest period necessary.
Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that automatically and systematically detains and prosecutes children in military courts that lack fundamental fair trial rights and protections. Israel detains and prosecutes between 500 and 700 Palestinian children in military courts each year. Nearly three out of four Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces experiences some form of physical violence, according to documentation collected by DCIP.