‘Security’ no excuse for holding adolescents in solitary confinement


use of solitary confinement for children
Defence for Children International

On 30 January 2012, over 100 prominent professionals, clergy, educators, physicians, academics and artists from the U.S. and Israel sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu and other senior officials raising their concerns about the continued use of solitary confinement on children at the Al Jalame and Petah Tikva interrogation centres in Israel.

From Equality and Justice for Children and Families
To The Honorable Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel
The Honorable Yaacob Ne’eman, Justice Minister of the State of Israel
The Honorable Susan Rice, Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations
The Honorable Daniel B. Shapiro, American Ambassador to Israel
The Honorable Ron Prosor, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations
The Honorable Michael Oren, Israeli Ambassador to the United States of America

Re: The Use of Solitary Confinement for Minors in Israeli Detention

January 30, 2012
Dear Sirs and Madam,

We are writing to you as an international group of professionals, clergy, educators, physicians, academics, and artists who are committed to the state of Israel and who care deeply about the future of Israeli and Palestinian youth. We are concerned about ongoing credible reports that adolescents are being held in solitary confinement in detention centers in Israel.1

Most recently, in October and November 2011, five Palestinian adolescents report being held in isolation for periods ranging from 3 to 24 days. According to these reports, the minors were detained for actions deemed dangerous to Israeli security. I n t h r e e c a s e s , they were arrested in the middle of the night, without their parents being informed why they were being detained or where they were being taken. The authorities responded with the toughest measure possible. They were transferred from the West Bank to the Al Jalame and Petah Tikva interrogation and detention centers inside Israel. During the transfer they reported being painfully tied, blindfolded for many hours, and subjected to verbal abuse. It appears that they were also denied food, water, and toilet breaks, deprived of sleep for extended periods of time, and held in isolation.2

These are not isolated incidents. According to Defence for Children International, at least 33 other children have been held in solitary confinement in similar circumstances since 2008.3

In one incident, two 16-year-old adolescents report being detained on 1 July 2010, and held for 22 days, including six days in isolation at Petah Tikva, before being released without charge. One of these boys reports that the light in his cell was kept on around the clock. These cases are corroborated by a report published by B’stelem and Hamoked, based on 121 testimonies of Palestinians held in Petah Tikva in 2009, of which 18 were minors.4

Many of these cases refer to the use of solitary confinement, where detainees are held in strikingly similar conditions to the five most recent cases, including lights in cells being kept on around the clock.We would like to draw your attention to a recent report submitted to the UN General Assembly by the Special Rapporteur on Torture, dated 5 August 2011.5

In his report on solitary confinement, Mr. Juan E. Méndez concluded that the use of solitary confinement “can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pretrial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles.” For these reasons the Special Rapporteur recommended that the use of solitary confinement for children be abolished. This recommendation echoes similar calls made by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2007.6

Therefore, we are extremely concerned to learn of these five new reports of children being held in isolation at Al Jalame and Petah Tikva interrogation centers. The insidious effects of sensory deprivation and isolation on adults have been well documented. The literature consistently points to the fact that even those individuals who do not have predisposing psychological disorders may develop paranoid delusions and schizophrenic symptoms in solitary confinement. Imagine then the greater psychological risk for adolescents, whose brains are still developing and who are, therefore, still malleable and reformable. Depriving adolescents of meaningful contact can have farreaching and devastating psychological and physical consequences. Isolating them raises their anxiety and despair, disorienting and terrifying them, triggering depression, insomnia, suicidality, and psychosis. Memories and flashbacks from solitary confinement interfere with rehabilitation, which is still possible. Upon their release, the consequences for the detained minors, for their families, and for their siblings have serious implications for the stability of the communities from which they come. As professionals, we are concerned about the transmission of traumas like these from one generation of Israelis and Palestinians to the next.

We are sensitive to Israel’s legitimate security concerns and its duty to protect its
citizens and persons under its jurisdiction, or de facto control, from violence. However, we are also firmly of the belief that these considerations can, and must, be met without detaining juveniles in solitary confinement. We would like to take this opportunity to urge you to take immediate steps to stop the practice of placing minors in solitary confinement, if it is occurring, and to put in place a legal framework that will ensure that minors are not, under any circumstances, subjected to such harsh conditions whilst held in Israeli detention facilities.

We look forward to your earliest response. Please direct all responses to the task force:
“Equality and Justice for Children and Families” at: ejcf.taskforce@gmail.com
1. DCI-Palestine, Urgent Appeal (5 January 2012) – http://www.dci-palestine.org/sites/default/files/ua_1-12_-
_solitary_confinement.pdf B’tselem and Hamoked, Kept in Darkness (October 2010) -http://www.btselem.org/download/201010_kept_in_the_dark_eng.pdf

2. Particularly troubling are the children’s descriptions of being held alone in cells consistently referred to as “Cell No. 36.” These are the words of a 17 year old kept in solitary confinement for 24 days: “It was a very small cell, which had a mattress on the floor and a toilet with a horrible smell. It also had two concrete chairs. The lights in the ceiling were dim yellow and on 24 hours-a-day, which hurt my eyes. The walls were grey and had a rough surface. The cell had no windows, just two gaps for letting
air in and out. The food was served through a flap in the door.” (DCI-Palestine: R.J. – (17 years) http://www.dci-pal.org/english/display.cfm?DocId=1342&CategoryId=1
3. DCI-Palestine, Urgent Appeal (5 January 2012) – http://www.dci-palestine.org/sites/default/files/ua_1-12_-_solitary_confinement.pdf
4. B’tselem and Hamoked, Kept in Darkness (October 2010) –http://www.btselem.org/download/201010_kept_in_the_dark_eng.pdf
5. UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, report on solitary confinement (5 August 2011): http://solitaryconfinement.org/uploads/SpecRapTortureAug2011.pdf
6. See for example the Istanbul Statement on the Use and Effects of Solitary Confinement: http://solitaryconfinement.org/uploads/Istanbul_expert_statement_on_sc.pdf and


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