Detained: Testimonies from Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel

‘Detained: Testimonies from Palestinian Children Imprisoned by Israel’ uncovers one of the most painful experiences that Palestinian children endure in the ongoing Israeli occupation. Through interviews with ex-detainees and mothers of minors presently in detention, the project documents their stories and aims to lend a voice to those who are silenced from fear of negative repercussions.

Text and photos by: Samar Hazboun

Detainee 9: U.D., 10 years old

Over the past 11 years, according to Defence for Children International, some 7,500 children have been detained in Israeli prisons and detention facilities. Muhammad Daoud Dirbas, at the age of six, was the youngest child to have been detained by Israeli soldiers. Such practices are considered illegal under international law, as are other policies that children are subjected to, such as solitary confinement.

I started working on “Detained” about one year ago, because of the lack of visual documentation on the subject. I contacted some human rights organizations, which put me in contact with a few children. Unfortunately, those children refused to be interviewed; having been contacted several times by journalists, they were afraid of repercussions. I then decided to contact people I knew from Palestinian cities like Nablus and Hebron where child detention is most prevalent. Through these friends, I was able to find and contact additional children. Sadly, it was quite easy to find them since it is such a common phenomenon.

In most cases, I found children who suffer from various traumas. Some were not able to talk about what had happened in prison; others burst into tears, and it was sometimes hard for me to hold my own tears back as I was conducting the interviews. Many children agreed to talk to me “off the record”; I thus know their stories but was not able to officially interview them or take their pictures. In some cases, I was able to talk to the parents once the child left the room, and thus obtained more detailed information about how the children were dealing with what had happened to them.

In many cases, the children suffer from insomnia, involuntary urination, nightmares, depression, and fear of going out and facing people. “It is a very humiliating experience for my son. I pray everyday that he forgets about what had happened to him. We avoid talking about it at home because I want him to forget and this is why we prefer not to have journalists in the house,” one mother told me.

All the children I interviewed decided not to take further legal action, out of fear of the repercussions of doing so, and the lack of belief that they will be guaranteed protection.

The following photographs and texts present the stories of the children as they and their families told them to me. It was not possible to independently corroborate all of the facts told by the children and their families. These are their stories, in their words.

Dates, names and places have been changed in order to protect the children’s identities.

Detainee 1: Z.S., 17 years old

Detained 1, Z.S., 17 years old

(Based on an interview with Z.S) 

The house of Z.S. was attacked on a Thursday night at around 2 a.m. with stun grenades and tear gas. Six soldiers broke into his family house and arrested him. The soldiers dragged him to a neighboring settlement 1 kilometer away. During the walk, he was beaten and sworn at by the soldiers. He was left outside in the cold, blindfolded, for two hours.

During the interrogation, he was asked whether he wished to be treated like an animal or a human being. He responded, “like a human being.” He was handcuffed and blindfolded, as the interrogator electrically shocked him several times. He then grabbed his head and banged it against the wall until a second interrogator came in. The interrogator asked him to lie on the ground, and started to kick him until he lost consciousness.

Z.S. was released that same day. He has not filed any complaints for fear of the repercussions of doing so.

Detainee 2: O.T., 10 years old

Detainee 2: O.T., 10 years old

(Based on an interview with O.T. and his family)

O.T. was walking home one evening after playing football. He was followed by an IDF jeep and arrested. He was accused of throwing stones at the jeep. During the interrogation, O.T. was shown a video footage of children throwing stones at soldiers and he was forced to admit that he was amongst them.

He had to sign a document stating that he would pay a fine of NIS 3,000 ($800) if he were “seen” throwing stones again.

Detainee 3: L.R., 8 years old

Detainee 3: L.R., 8 years old

(Based on an interview with L.R. and his family)

L.R. was attacked by a group of soldiers as he was playing with his cousin in his neighborhood. He was dragged by two soldiers by his hands and legs and thrown on the ground. His father and aunt ran quickly towards him as they witnessed this incident. His aunt was shot by a rubber bullet in her leg and his father was pushed to the ground by the soldiers. L.R. was then dragged into the IDF jeep and taken away.

The little boy was interrogated for three hours in the presence of his mother. Since the incident, L.R. suffers from insomnia, involuntary urination and fear of stepping out of the family house.

Detainee 4: O.S., 17 years old

Detainee 4: O.S., 17 years old

(Based on an interview with O.S.)

O.S. was arrested twice for allegedly throwing stones at settlers. The first time, he was released for lack of evidence. The second time O.S. was arrested, he was beaten during the interrogation. The interrogator repeatedly smashed his head against the wall until blood ran from his nose. The court ruled he should be placed under house arrest for two months and pay a fine of NIS 1,000 NIS ($250).

During his court session, O.S. was handcuffed and not allowed to use the toilet or drink any liquids. O.S. is not allowed to travel outside Jerusalem. He is interrogated every time he passes a checkpoint.

Detainee 5: M.K., 18 years old

Detainee 5: M.K., 18 years old

(Based on an interview with M.K)

M.K. was accused of belonging to a militant group. He was arrested from his family home and held in prison for 18 months. The youth spent 45 days of the 18 months in solitary confinement with his legs and hands tied together. Various methods of torture were used on him, including sleep deprivation and emotional blackmail.

When M.K. was moved out of solitary confinement, he endured group punishment. He was not allowed any visits during that period, nor was he allowed access to the prison canteen.

During the raid to arrest M.K., his house was attacked by tear gas and stun grenades. As a result, his neighbor’s daughter lost hearing in one ear.

M.K. is not allowed to leave the city of Nablus for the next six years.

Detainee 6: I.B., 16 years old

Detainee 6: I.B., 16 years old

(Based on an interview with I.B.)

I.B.’s cousin was shot dead at an Israeli checkpoint in Nablus at the age of 15. The soldiers suspected he was wearing an explosives belt because of a wire connected to his ear. It later transpired that it was a mobile phone earpiece.

In order to commemorate his cousin, I.B. decided to print posters of his cousin and paste them on the walls of his neighborhood. This was considered a crime by the IDF.

I.B. spent four days in prison and 18 days in a solitary confinement cell. He was not able to finish his studies after his imprisonment.

Detainee 7: Z.B., 17 years old at the time of his arrest

Detainee 7: Z.B., 17 years old at the time of his arrest

(Based on an interview with Z.B.’s mother, pictured above)

Z.B.’s family was asked by soldiers to immediately evacuate their house with no prior notice. During the raid on his house, all of the family’s furniture was broken into pieces.

When the soldiers finished raiding the house, one soldier twisted his arms while the second blindfolded him. He and his cousin were arrested. They were accused of belonging to a Hamas group.

Z.B. has been in prison for nine years now. He is not allowed any family visits.

Detainee 8: N.A., 18 years old

Detainee 8: N.A., 18 years old

(Based on an interview with N.A.)

N.A. was arrested during a night raid on his house. He was blindfolded and taken to a detention center in Petah Tikva. He was put in a small cell with no windows except a small hole in the ceiling. He was held there for four days before he was interrogated.

During the interrogation, he was sat handcuffed on a chair under what he describes as an air-conditioner that was used to drastically increase or decrease the temperature.

After spending 35 days in solitary confinement N.A. decided to admit to something he had not done in order to be taken for trial.

He recalls a prisoner in a neighboring cell setting himself and his mattress on fire as he was given a cigarette.

As an ex-detainee, N.A. says he finds it hard to find a decent job or live a “normal” life.

Detainee 9: U.D., 10 years old

Detainee 9: U.D., 10 years old

(Based on an interview with U.D. and his family)

U.D. found himself accidentally caught in clashes between a group of Jerusalem locals and IDF soldiers as he was walking home with his cousin from a football game. To avoid the clashes, he started running in the opposite direction but a soldier spotted him and ran after him. Once the soldier caught him, he was pushed to the floor, kicked and punched several times.

U.D. was taken to a detention center where he was held for five hours.

Detainee 10: M.O., 12 years old

Detainee 10: M.O., 12 years old

(Based on an interview with M.O. and his family)

M.O. has been detained seven times so far. The first time, he was arrested at the age of only nine years for allegedly throwing stones at settlers.

M.O.’s family is constantly targeted by settler attacks as they live in Hay al Bustan in Silwan. Their house is slated for demolition as a part of an Israeli plan targeting the homes Arab citizens in Jerusalem.

Settler attacks are very common in that area. M.O. was attacked by settlers and beaten up. He suffered from internal bleeding due to the brutality of the attack.

Detainee 11: F.K., 14 years old

Detainee 11: F.K., 14 years old

(Based on an interview with F.K. and his family)

The first time F.K. was arrested, he was detained for three days. His parents were not provided any information until the third day. The second time he was arrested was during his final exam period, when he was taken out of his house for allegedly throwing Molotov cocktails. He was undressed and left standing in his underwear for two hours before he was taken for an interrogation at 3 a.m. He was put in a cell afterwards, until the next day.

During the interrogation, two soldiers with bats were brought into the room, with which they hit him all over his body, he says.

F.K. does not want to recall the words the interrogator used whilst questioning him. He says the language was beyond humiliating.

Detainee 12: M.A., 13 years old

Detainee 12: M.A., 13 years old

(Based on an interview with M.A. and his family)

On December 5, 2010 M.A. was arrested at 2 a.m. from his family house. He was accused of damaging settler cars and throwing stones in Al-Ram, according to the Israeli charges.

M.A. lives in Hebron and told the military court that he did not know where Al-Ram was. The judge later declared that the initial report had a spelling mistake, as Al-Ram was mistakenly written instead of Hebron.

When M.A. was arrested, he was severely beaten. As a result of the torture he underwent during his time in detention, his trial had to be postponed because of the visible bruises on his head and body.

The child was not allowed any visits during his detention. The court ruled to release him on bail of NIS 5,000 ($1,300), in addition to placing him under house arrest.

Detainee 13: Y.K., 15 years old

Detainee 13: Y.K., 15 years old

(Based on an interview with Y.K.’s family)

On January 28, 2011 Y.K. went with his father to the fields of the farm they own, which is located next to an Israeli settlement. The family was attacked that day by armed settlers who shot Y.K. in the head. He later died.

His younger brother, 14, was arrested and detained for 45 days.

Detainee 14: B.A., 15 years old

Detainee 14: B.A., 15 years old

(Based on an interview with B.A.’s mother)

In 2011, B.A. was arrested for the first time. Shortly after his release, he fell ill and was hospitalized. During his stay at the hospital, the IDF went to his house to arrest him, as he was on a wanted list. When they did not find him, they arrested his brother instead.

The soldiers offered to release his brother in exchange for B.A., threatening to raid the hospital. The ”exchange” operation took place at 6 a.m. and was filmed with the presence of medical staff.

B.A. is in detention and has attended eight court hearings for participating in a peaceful protest against the occupation. Under Israeli military law, all Palestinian protests are illegal.

He is not allowed any family visits.

Related reading:
Hope ends here: The children’s court at Ofer Military Prison
In the West Bank, there is no justice, even for children

Documentary photographer and visual artist Samar Hazboun centers her main body of work around women’s rights, with a particular focus on the Middle East. Born in Jerusalem and raised in the West Bank, Hazboun first explored photography while pursuing a degree in International Relations in Prague. Over the past eight years, her authentic interest in political expression through art and her personal relationship with the Palestinian case has led her to successfully fuse subject matter and medium into a budding practice of photojournalism. Hazboun’s career has developed hand-in-hand with her ability to reach out to those who have been marginalized by society. With more than 30 solo shows and group exhibitions in over eight countries, and a wide variety of features in the media, she has persistently sought to give a voice to her projects and engage an ever-broadening public with stories desperately in need of an audience. Since receiving her MA in Photojournalism from the University of Westminster in London in 2011, Hazboun has been working on a series of exhibitions of her latest ongoing body of work, Hush. She currently splits her time living and working in Europe, Latin America and Palestine. Visit her website ( and follow her on Twitter (@Samar_Hazboun).

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