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The Associated Press

HUSSAN, West Bank (AP) — It starts with a knock on the door in the middle of the night. Israeli troops drag a Palestinian teen out of bed for questioning. Pick him up in an hour, parents are told. But by then, their son already is in prison.

There he may stay for months, depending on an Israeli security court’s sentence, for anything from throwing stones to firebombing Israeli cars.

Young Palestinians come out telling of torture by security guards and assaults by adult inmates. And, Palestinian psychologists and rights activists say, they are hardened and looking for revenge.

Salim Zaoul, who marked his 14th birthday during a seven-month sentence for throwing stones and firebombs at Israeli cars, recalled an older prisoner slashing his left thigh with a razor blade in Megiddo prison in northern Israel.

He said he was lucky — he saw a youth from east Jerusalem who was cut from his right eye down his cheek by another inmate.

“Many don’t want to go back to school, they want to do something against Israel,” said Khaled Quzmar, a lawyer at Defense for Children International, an organization that represents many of the minors brought before Israeli military courts.

More than 400 Palestinians younger than 18 — who live in areas Israel still controls — have been arrested and sentenced to Israeli prisons since violence broke out in September, according to Defense for Children International. Most have been released; about 180 are still detained.

In a report last week, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said during interrogation many minors have been forced to stand or sit in awkward positions for extended periods and have been abused and slapped by security forces until they signed documents written in Hebrew, which most could not read.

Israeli officials were hardly eager to discuss the topic.

Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said questions should be put to the police and the military. Police spokesman Gil Kleiman said the report was with the Justice Ministry for investigation, and therefore “we are not able at this time to comment until the investigation is complete.”

Israel’s military spokesman said anyone who commits an act of violence against Israel will be arrested and sentences are at the courts’ discretion.

Many minors are held with common criminals rather than in prisons for those held as threats to Israel’s security. This means, their lawyers say, that the teenagers cannot be indoctrinated by older Palestinians — but it also puts them in the path of drug traffickers or thieves, and some tell of being beaten or stabbed by fellow inmates.

The army spokesman said there were no plans to move minors to separate jails because the numbers are too few to justify building a juvenile detention center. Aides to Public Security Minister Uzi Landau, who is responsible for shaping policy on arresting minors, repeatedly said the minister was unavailable for comment.

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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