HaMoked to the High Court of Justice: the hundreds of Palestinian minors incarcerated inside Israel and at Ofer prison must be allowed telephone contact with their parents המוקד להגנת הפרט
HaMoked to the High Court of Justice: the hundreds of Palestinian minors incarcerated inside Israel and at Ofer prison must be allowed telephone contact with their parents
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On March 31, 2019, HaMoked petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to instruct the Israel Prison Service (IPS) to allow incarcerated Palestinian minors who are classified as “security inmates” to maintain regular telephone contact with their families, even if it is subject to close supervision and individual security checks.

Israel routinely violates the rights of Palestinian minors from the West Bank and East Jerusalem who are held in custody by the Israeli security forces – during their arrest, during interrogation and while incarcerated. Many Palestinian minors who are held in IPS facilities are classified as “security inmates”, and are subject to all the restrictions stemming from this according to IPS regulations, as if they were adults, without any consideration for their age, vulnerability and unique needs. One of the most significant restrictions is the total denial of telephone contact between them and their parents (except in the case of a family wedding or funeral). The IPS sweepingly imposes this restriction on all such minors, without taking into account the severity of the allegations against each minor or the length of his or her incarceration.

It is important to note that most of these minors are deprived of any contact with their parents immediately upon their arrest; and they are interrogated without the presence of one of their parents – contrary to the general practice and law applied in the interrogation of minors. Minors who are classified as “security inmates” are left to face their interrogators alone throughout the frightening ordeal, which according to dozens of testimonies of minors HaMoked assembled in recent years often includes verbal if not physical violence, solitary confinement, and the denial of the right to counsel. Moreover, in the case of Palestinian minors who are not from East Jerusalem but elsewhere in the West Bank, the lack of contact with the parents lasts for months into their incarceration, because the parents must undergo a protracted process to obtain a permit to visit the prison – not only prisons inside Israel but also Ofer prison in the West Bank. In these circumstances, the denial of telephone calls constitutes a grave breach of the right to family life of both the minors and their families.

In the petition HaMoked argued that it was crucially important for Palestinian minors to be allowed regular telephone contact with their parents. HaMoked also elaborated on the mental and developmental damage the minors were liable to sustain in the absence of contact with their parents while in custody, especially given the lack of any prison rehabilitation or social support system for the minors. HaMoked included in its petition a few examples of the dozens of affidavits it collected, wherein minors told of the total lack of contact with their parents and the severe distress it caused them.

Thus 15 year-old K.N. described his situation at Ofer Prison, about two months after his traumatic and violent nighttime arrest: “I haven’t received a visit. I still haven’t talked to them [the family] at all. There’s no phone and no possibility of making phone calls from prison to the family… I miss everyone, and I don’t know when I’ll see them”.

HaMoked had to file this HCJ petition after it received just a single formalistic and heartless response to its repeated communications in the matter. And thus stated the IPS in its letter of June 9, 2016: “There is no distinction between the nature and type of offense of which an adult inmate is suspected, accused or convicted and the nature and type of offense of which a minor inmate is suspected, accused or convicted… Also with regards to detainees, an express legislative arrangement exists, which makes no distinction between an adult detainee and a minor detainee”.

As to the issue of telephone contact itself, the IPS simply said: “Needless to say, the use of telephone contact is not deemed a right of the prisoner population…”. This argument ignores the reality where the classification of Palestinian minors as “security inmates”, coupled with their incarceration inside Israel (in contravention of international law), means, as stated earlier, that they are denied the right to receive the support of their parents during their period in interrogation and cannot see their parents for months during legal proceedings. Moreover, in denying telephone contact from these minors, the IPS – that relies solely on its own definitions and orders – acts contrary to the language and spirit of the Israeli law relating to minors in custody; disregards the principle of the child’s best interests, which constitutes a binding basic principle for any action by a state authority; and contravenes international law, primarily the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is signatory.
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