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“Treated like animals” – Palestinian children suffer inhumane treatment in Israeli-run prisons

8 in 10 child detainees were physically beaten while 9 in 10 experienced verbal abuse


RAMALLAH, October 29 2020 – Children in the Israeli military detention system face inhumane treatment such as beatings, strip searches, psychological abuse, weeks in solitary confinement, and being denied access to a lawyer during interrogations, new research by Save the Children found.

The charity consulted more than 470 children from across the West Bank who have been detained over the past ten years. It found that most children were taken from their homes at night, blindfolded, with their hands painfully bound behind their backs. Many of the respondents said they were not told why they were being arrested or where they were being taken.

“They destroyed the front door, entered my room, covered my face with a bag and took me away…They told my father that I would return the next day. I returned after 12 months,” said Abdullah* who was detained six times as a child.

Every year, hundreds of Palestinian children are detained by Israeli authorities. They are the only children in the world who are systematically prosecuted through military, rather than civilian, courts.[1] The most common charge is throwing stones – for which the maximum sentence is 20 years in prison

After their arrest, children are transferred to interrogation centres, where they report being forced to lie face-down on the metal floor of military vehicles, denied bathroom breaks, deprived of food and water, and physically assaulted.

“They arrested me on my way to school at a military checkpoint. They searched my bag and spoke to me in Hebrew – a language I do not understand. They handcuffed me, threw me on the floor and stepped on my back,” said Fatima* who was detained when she was 14.  

Children described the detention experience as “torturous”, “dehumanising”, “humiliating” and “terrifying”.

Amina* who was detained at 15 years old, said: “You do not feel like a human being in that place. We were treated like animals.”

Save the Children’s consultation showed that:

  • 81% endured physical beatings and 89% suffered verbal abuse.
  • 52% were threatened with harm to their families.
  • 86% were subjected to strip searches, leaving them humiliated and ashamed.
  • 88% did not receive adequate and timely healthcare, even when explicitly requested.
  • Almost half (47%) were denied contact with a lawyer.

Issa*, who was arrested when he was 15 years old, said: “While I was being interrogated, they kept shouting at me, and they put a gun on the table in front of me to scare me. They said bad, bad words. I don’t want to think about those words.

“Prison was an ugly place. They would set off alarms at midnight, 3am and 6am so we could never sleep for long. If you’re not awake at these alarms, you will be beaten. I was beaten with wooden sticks a few times. I still have back pain now because of a particularly bad beating.”

Jeremy Stoner, Save the Children’s Regional Director for the Middle East, said:

“Children as young as twelve have told us about truly inhumane treatment in the Israeli military detention system. There is no possible justification for setting dogs on children, beating them, or shackling them to metal chairs. Whatever they are accused of, regardless of guilt or innocence, these children must be treated first and foremost as children – with all the special protections this entails.

“No child should be experiencing such cruelty at the hands of those who are meant to be looking after them. Children should no longer be prosecuted in military courts – and there has never been greater urgency to release children from prison as systemic ill-treatment is compounded by the threat of COVID-19 in detention centres. Only with these changes can we prevent irrevocable damage being inflicted on generations of Palestinian children.”

Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children UK, said:

“It’s been over eight years since the UK’s own Children in Military Custody report highlighted the devastating injustices faced by Palestinian children in Israeli military custody. Since then, thousands more detained children have suffered systematic abuse, all while the recommendations made to fix a broken justice system have gone nowhere.

“The UK Government constantly calls on the Government of Israel to ensure human rights are respected, but words have so far not resulted in action. Our findings paint a stark picture – of young boys and girls subjected to serious mental and physical abuse, resulting in scars they will carry for years to come. The Israeli military detention system continues to render Palestinian children entirely defenceless. The Coronavirus crisis and the heightened risk this poses to young detainees means the UK must renew its commitment on this issue and stand up for Palestinian children.”

Save the Children is calling for:

  • The UK to use its influence with Israel to help end the detention of Palestinian children under Israeli military law once and for all.
  • The Government of Israel to respect international law, and to end the detention and mistreatment of children under military law. Israeli authorities must immediately adopt practical safeguards to improve the situation for children who are currently detained. This includes ending the systemic ill-treatment of children, establishing protection and safeguards for detainees, and providing adequate services to support girls and boys to recover from their experiences. 
  • The Palestinian Authority (PA) to increase rehabilitative support for children who have been detained, including psychological support. The PA should also offer support services aimed at reducing stigma associated with child detainees and supporting their reintegration into communities and education.


*Name changed to protect identity

For interviews contact

Bhanu Bhatnagar


+44 7467 096788




+44 7831 650409



Audio content (with transcripts) available:

Hassan*, 17: https://www.contenthubsavethechildren.org/Package/2O4C2SFOMDAP

Ahmad*, 17: https://www.contenthubsavethechildren.org/Package/2O4C2SFOMK08

Rami*, 15: https://www.contenthubsavethechildren.org/Package/2O4C2SFOMV8B

Drawings from former child detainees available: https://www.contenthubsavethechildren.org/Package/2O4C2SFOQQ55

Social media edit (and clean versions) available:




  • Up to half of the participating children reported that they were held in isolation or solitary confinement, sometimes for several weeks. More than half of the children said they were not allowed to see their families and in some cases were made to believe that their families had abandoned them – leaving them feeling scared, alone and rejected.
  • Save the Children’s research also reveals the deep impact of detention on children’s lives since their release, with the vast majority saying their experiences have changed them forever. Children often struggle with insomnia, nightmares, eating disorders, behavioural changes, anger, or feelings of depression. This has led to physical symptoms such as numbness, chronic muscle pain, headaches, and uncontrollable shaking.
  • Save the Children in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) works with government, local partners and other stakeholders on providing quality education, protection for children, greater access to health care, and employment opportunities for youth at risk, with a focus on those whose rights are most infringed. Save the Children also works to strengthen the capacities of civil society organisations and local partners to promote child rights issues, and to increase the participation of children in the decisions which affect their lives.
  • Save the Children has been working for children in the Middle East since 1953.


[1] Defence for Children International (DCI-P), Military detention, see https://www.dci-palestine.org/issues_military_detention