Palestinian Children and Israeli Military Justice

The recent flareup between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza seems to have ended in yet another negotiated stalemate, however, there is one aspect of the ongoing dispute between the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza and Israel that receives very, very little coverage in the Western media, particularly the media in the United States.

According to No Way To Treat A Child, a network of autonomous organizations that is committed to influencing U.S. decision makers to end the military occupation of Palestine, there is an untold story involving Palestinian children.  The campaign is coordinated by American Friends Service Committee, an organization founded by Quakers in 1917 to promote peace and social justice in the United States and globally and Defense for Children International – Palestine, a Ramallah-based Palestinian child rights organization which defends and promotes the rights of children living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Here is a list of the national campaign partners:

American Muslims for Palestine

Amnesty International – USA

Christian Peacemaker Teams

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Friends of Sabeel North America

Jewish Voice for Peace

Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East

US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

The campaign believes the following:

Palestinian children have the right to a safe and just future” and that “the United States government must use all available means to pressure relevant Israeli authorities to end the detention and abuse of Palestinian children.”

It is also important to note that Israel is the only nation in the world that automatically prosecutes children in military courts which lack basic legal safeguards that ensure a fair and unbiased trial.

According to a UNICEF study “Children in Israeli Military Detention“, under Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which is applicable to both Israel and occupied Palestine (Israel signed the convention in 1990), the use of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment with no exceptions, even for security purposes or for the possible threat of war is prohibited as shown here:

Here is a table showing the international guarantees, norms and safeguards for children:

As well, under international law, a local population that is under military occupation should continue to be bound by its own penal laws and tried in its own court system.  Such is not the case in Palestine where local laws are suspended by Israelis and the local court system is replaced with military orders enforced by military courts.  Under Israeli military orders we find the following:

1.) Military Order 1651 – came into effect on May 2, 2010 and incorporates a number of previous military orders regarding children as listed below.  This order also species the main offences that Palestinians (including children) can be charged with.

2.) Military Order 132 – Adjudication of Juvenile Delinquents

3.) Military Order 1644 – Establishing a Juvenile Military Court

Here is what the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories has to say about Israel’s military courts:

Every year, thousands of Palestinians are brought before military courts on various charges, including entering Israel without a permit, stone-throwing, membership in illegal association, violence, firearms-related offenses and traffic violations. The latter constitute, on average, about 40% of all indictments a year.

Officially, military courts are authorized to try anyone who commits an offense in the West Bank, including settlers, Israeli citizens residing in Israel, and foreign nationals. However, in the early 1980s, the Attorney General decided that Israeli citizens would be tried in the Israeli civilian court system according to Israeli penal laws, even if they live in the Occupied Territories and the offense was committed there, against residents of the Occupied Territories. That policy remains in effect to this day. This means that people are tried in different courts, under different laws, for the exact same offense committed in the exact same place: Palestinian defendants are tried in military courts, their guilt or innocence determined according to the evidence laws followed in this court system, and their sentences according to the provisions of military orders. Israeli defendants are tried in a civilian court in Israel, exonerated or convicted under Israeli evidence laws, and sentenced under Israeli law as well.”

One of the most problematic practices of military courts is the practice of remanding the charged person until the end of legal proceedings.  This means that a person could spend substantial time in custody until the courts find them innocent.

Let’s go back to the UNICEF report.  In September 2009, in response to the fact that children and young as 12 years of age were tried in adult military courts, the Israeli government established a juvenile military court, the only court of its type in the world.  These courts are located in the same facilities as the adult courts and are tried by military court judges that have received “appropriate training”.  

Here is a table showing the age categories observed by Israel’s military juvenile courts and the maximum penalties that can be assessed under Israeli law:

Most of the children that are prosecuted in Israel’s military courts are charged with throwing stones which is an offence under Section 212 of Military Order 1651 as shown here:

“(i) Throwing an object, including a stone, at a person or property with the intent to harm the person or property carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.

Therefore, applying the limitation on sentences that can be imposed, a child aged between 12 and 13 years can receive a maximum sentence of six months, but a child aged between 14 and 15 years could in theory receive the maximum penalty of 10 years, as the maximum penalty for the offence exceeds five years; and

(ii) Throwing an object, including a stone, at a moving vehicle with the intent to harm it or the person travelling in it carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment.

Again, a child aged between 12 and 13 years can receive a maximum sentence of six months, but a child aged between 14 and 15 years could in theory receive the maximum penalty of 20 years, as the maximum penalty for the offence exceeds five years.”

According to UNICEF, many of these children are arrested in the middle of the night by heavily armed IDF soldiers, their hands are tied and they are blindfolded and led to a military vehicle which transfers them to an interrogation facility where they are interrogated without the accompaniment of a lawyer or family member.  

Here is another quote from the UNICEF report:

“Many children are subjected to ill-treatment during the journey to the interrogation centre. Some endure physical or verbal abuse; some suffer from painful restraints or from being forced to lie on the hard floor of the vehicle. The transfer process can take many hours and often includes intermediate stops at settlements or military bases where further ill-treatment is reported, including in some cases prolonged exposure to the elements and a lack of water, food or toilet facilities. 

During these intermediate stops, many children are brought before medical staff and asked a series of general questions about their health. The blindfold is usually removed, but the child’s hands remain tied. Very few children are physically examined. Some children report informing the doctor about their ill-treatment, but there is little evidence that these medical personnel provide medical attention even when the children have marks on their bodies from beatings or from the plastic ties.   After this medical interview, which lasts about 10 minutes, the blindfold is replaced before the child is taken outside…

The interrogation mixes intimidation, threats and physical violence, with the clear purpose of forcing the child to confess. Children are restrained during the interrogation, in some cases to the chair they are sitting on. This sometimes continues for extended periods of time, resulting in pain to their hands, back and legs. Children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member.

Most children confess at the end of the interrogation. The interrogator prints out some forms and orders the child to sign them, though the child often lacks a proper understanding of their contents. In most cases the forms are in Hebrew, which the overwhelming majority of Palestinian children do not understand.”

Some children are held in solitary confinement for periods ranging from two days to one month until they have a court hearing.  The judge has the right to extend the period of solitary confinement up to 90 days.   When they appear in court, they are wearing leg chains and shackles, a contravention of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Let’s take a quick look at some statistics.  According to War on Want, as of January 2018, Israel was holding 330 Palestinian children in military detention.  According to UNICEF and the No Way To Treat A Child campaign, every year, the Israeli military detains and prosecutes roughly 700 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 years (the majority being boys) with three out of four experiencing physical violence during arrest or interrogation.  Since 2000, more than 12,000 Palestinian children have been detained by Israeli authorities.   According to Defense for Children International – Palestine, in 2013, an average of 199 children were being held in military detention every month with nearly 60 percent of Palestinian child detainees being transferred from the occupied territories to prisons inside Israel, making it logistically difficult for them to receive visits from family members.  Lastly, Israel boasts that it has a conviction rate of over 99 percent in its military courts, making one wonder if international standards of due process are being met.

It is nothing less than appalling that Washington seems to be quite capable of turning a blind eye when it comes to how its best friend in the Middle East treats Palestinian children.  Similar actions by one of the Axis of Evil nations, Russia or China would be grounds for economic sanctions and the threat of military intervention, however, as we all know, generations of American politicians have proven themselves to be quite adept when it comes to ignoring the bad behaviours of Israel.

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