In the middle of a winter night in Hebron, a city in the West Bank often described as the embodiment of Israel’s military occupation of Palestine due to a concentration of Israeli settlements in the city (Gessen 2019), Israeli soldiers forcefully enter the home of a Palestinian family in the Salaymah village and arrests sixteen year old Hamed, the oldest of four children. Upon arrest, Hamed is bound, blindfolded, and physically assaulted by Israeli forces. Without the provision of any explanation or warrant for his arrest, he is subsequently transferred to a military compound in order to be interrogated about his participation in stone throwing – a “security offence” under Israeli military law. After denying these allegations, Hamed is detained for 60 hours after which an “administrative detention” order is issued.
Administrative detention is a procedure that entails arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial. While it is possible for Israeli citizens and foreign nationals to be subject to such a procedure, it is almost exclusively used to detain Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (Addameer 2018: 32). According to Addameer, a prisoner support and human rights association, almost 20% of the Palestinian population have been arrested since the beginning of Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories with a steady increase of the employment of adminstrative detention (Addameer 2017). In 2016, 750 administrative detainees were identified to be held in Israeli military prisons (Addameer 2016), of which 13 were children, some as young as 12 (DCIP 2020). Children held in administrative detention lack the legal means of challenging the incarceration and its alleged justification. Moreover, Defence For Children International-Palestine (2019) has reported that incarcerated children in Israeli military prisons are systematically abused and denied basic rights during their imprisonment.
Over the phone, Hamed (not his real name), now 20 years old, recounts the harrowing experience of ultimately spending nearly 11 months in military prison without being formally charged with a crime. From the moment of his arrest to his release, he was subject to verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, strip searches, physical and psychological violence. He confesses that he still experiences nightmares and difficulties sleeping as a result. According to a study conducted by Abram et al. (2004), children and youth who experience juvenile detention are extremely likely to suffer from long-term consequences related to mental health, including trauma and PTSD. As Hamed explains, for most Palestinians, the occupation and its means of perpetuation such as practices like child incarceration, there is a sense of life as constant psychological trauma. Random night raids in Palestnian homes conducted by Israeli occupation forces instill fear and anxiety, especially among children and young adults, who constitute the majority of stone throwers and participants in other kinds of political resistance (Bahdi 2014).
According to Condry (2018: 29), families of which one or several members have a history of incarceration also demonstrate a pattern of cumulative social and economic disadvantage. This is reflected in the impact on mental health of the prisoner and their family, but also in the interruption of education or income. Imprisonment can compound and magnify pre-existing inequalities in wealth, education, employment and opportunity both within Palestinian society as well as between Palestinians and Israelis. On a societal level, the practices of arbitrary detention and child imprisonment in the West Bank leaves Palestinians at an obvious disadvantage. A report conducted by Addameer in 2016 shows that mass-imprisonment of Palestinians bears a substantial opportunity cost on the labour force of Palestinian society. By examining the GDP of Palestine in 2011 in relation to the number of employed workers that year, Addameer estimated that the approximately 4000 prisoners that would have been employed in the Palestinian labour market would have contributed around $44 million US dollars (Addameer 2016: 61).
Stone-throwing is characterized as a means of protest against the occupation and oppression of Palestinians, but it is also a practice carried out by Israeli settlers. However, the discrepancy between the consequences for Palestinian and Israeli stone throwers is striking. While Palestinian children and adults can face up to 20 year prison sentences regardless of whether or not any harm or injury is induced, Israelis are typically punished with a fine or a public service requirement (Shuttleworth 2014). It is in this sense evident that Palestinians, by definition, serve as an inherent threat to Israel’s national security, regardless of age or actions. By contrast, Israeli occupation forces have been documented to facilitate violence toward Palestinans by refraining from intervening in such conflict (B’Tselem 2017). In fact, Israeli occupation forces operate with a mandate to protect Israeli settlers from violence, which in turn, enables settlements in the West Bank to continue to exist and expand (B’Tselem 2017).
In this sense, the unequal application of law between Israelis and Palestinians serves as a means to enable the Israeli state to expand its annexation of the West Bank. According to BADIL (2017), the aim of the current administration in Israel is to create a so-called “coercive environment”, by which Palestinians’ existence in their homeland becomes so unbeareable that they are forced to abandon it. This notion is shared by many scholars concerned with this issue, including Noam Chomsky (2015) and Ilan Pappé (2006), who has famously depicted the “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” in several of his publications. Darweish and Rigby (2015) suggest that this trajectory serves to provoke Palestinians to further their protest, which, in turn, puts many at greater risk of prosecution and imprisonment. Based on this reasoning, the Israeli government can be described as deliberately perpetuating a state of inequality between Israelis and Palestinians in order to expand its power and territorial gains.
Hence, despite obvious ethical implications of administrative detention and child incarceration, these practices also have very practical implications on factors for societal development such as mental health and economic prosperity. In addition, the economy of the Israeli prison system, with administrative detention practices at its core, is strategically advantageous as a segment of Israel’s colonial project in its impact on Palestinian priosners like Hamed, as well as Palestinian society at large.