UN Calls on Israel to Ease Detention Policy
GAZA/RAMALLAH, 20 April 2007 — A United Nations special envoy urged Israel yesterday to ease its policy on the detention of Palestinian children, saying current practices deepen violence. “Practically every child I met (in the Palestinian territories) was in detention or had met somebody who has been in detention, or whose brother has been in detention,” UN special representative for children and armed conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy told reporters.
According to figures quoted by Coomaraswamy, 398 Palestinian children aged 12 or older are today being held in Israeli prisons among almost 10,000 Palestinian prisoners. “This kind of detention practice is feeding the cycle of violence. I think children are getting very hard and bitter through this experience,” she said following a visit to the Hasharon detention center.
“Though I do not want to say that for the serious crimes there should not be punishment … for the minor offenses, perhaps a more rehabilitation approach, and an approach with more of a restorative justice approach would be more useful,” she said. “Having better procedures, maybe even an option to go through a judicial process as opposed to a military process which is more punitive.”
Coomaraswamy said she had raised the issue during talks with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni earlier yesterday and her meetings with other officials. During her fact-finding mission, the envoy also met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. She went on to say that “I must say that I found that children were extremely despairing in these territories, especially in refugee camps.”
An Israel Prison Service official said in reaction that the children were given appropriate rehabilitation inside the detention centers, including education services. “Many of these children are Islamists and terrorists. There is no way these children could be rehabilitated in the Palestinian territories. There is no social welfare infrastructure there to pull them out,” he told AFP.
Meanwhile, Marwan Barghouthi, the charismatic leader of the second Palestinian uprising, yesterday called for the release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston kidnapped more than a month ago in Gaza.
“From my prison cell and in the name of the 10,000 Palestinian prisoners I call for the immediate release of journalist Alan Johnston, a friend of the Palestinian people,” Barghouthi said in a statement published by an organization advocating his release.
Barghouthi also called for “respecting and protecting journalists working in Palestine” and categorically rejected “kidnappings and aggressions that enormously harm Palestinian interests and our national struggle.” Abbas, on a visit to Sweden, said yesterday his intelligence officials had information that Johnston was “still alive.”
“Our intelligence services have confirmed to me that he is alive,” Abbas told reporters in Stockholm, adding that he wanted “to acquire his release alive.”
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a powerful parliamentary panel on Wednesday that the list of prisoners the Palestinians want freed in exchange for a captured Israeli soldier “creates expectations we cannot meet,” a meeting participant said.
The list has not been made public, but various media reports have put the number of names between 350 and 1,400, including militants convicted of involvement in fatal attacks on Israelis. The continued captivity of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 20, captured in June by Hamas-linked militants, has been a major impediment to peacemaking efforts.