Week 14: Minors in Military Courts
Many of the injustices committed against Palestinians combine in the use of night arrests and military prisons to traumatize children most of all. Palestinians celebrate Children’s Day on April 5. However, it is a bittersweet reminder that Palestinian children are a target of the occupation and, in the words of Al-Haq, part of the psychological warfare “utilized by Israel to constantly remind the Palestinian population that it is subjugated and occupied.” But this Children’s Day, consider the many Palestinian parents unable to be with and comfort their children held by Israeli military courts. In solidarity with these parents, the Kumi Now community this week looks at the plight of Palestinian children in the Israeli military system and what you can do so that together we can rise up.
Topic: Minors in Military Courts
Since 1967, Israeli authorities have operated military courts in the West Bank, Israel, and Gaza Strip that have been used to prosecute many thousands of Palestinian civilians, including minors (12–17 years), for offenses ranging from acts of violence to peaceful protests and traffic offenses. While international humanitarian law allows for the establishment of military courts during times of military occupation to try civilians in specific circumstances, a military occupation is required to be temporary in nature.
Through more than five decades of occupation, fundamental principles of international law have been eroded and individual rights ignored with corrosive consequences for societies in the region and beyond. The evidence includes a report published by UNICEF in 2013, “Children in Military Detention: Observations and Recommendations,” which concluded that, “the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized.”
Further evidence compiled by Military Court Watch in 2016 indicates that the majority of children resided or were arrested within an average of 1.02 kilometers from a settlement, checkpoint, or major road used by settlers (Route 60 and 443).
While a rule-based approach alone will not achieve peace, Military Court Watch believes that any attempt to achieve a resolution divorced from the existing international and domestic legal framework is also unlikely to produce a just and durable peace, and, in turn, may do irreparable harm to the legal framework and institutions established in the aftermath of World War II, with implications extending well beyond the region.
In pursuit of these principles, Military Court Watch investigates, litigates, advocates, and educates in the region and beyond.
While a state of occupation exists, Military Court Watch advocates, as an interim measure, that the following six recommendations should be implemented immediately in order to protect children who come in contact with the military detention system. The intention must be to avoid entrenching military occupation or facilitating a “best-practices” occupation.
- Children should only be arrested during daylight hours except in rare and exceptional circumstances. In all other cases summonses should be used.
- All children, and their legal guardians, should be provided on arrest with a written statement in Arabic informing them of their full legal rights in custody.
- All children must consult with a lawyer of their choice prior to questioning.
- All children must be accompanied by a family member throughout their questioning.
- Every interrogation must be audio-visually recorded and a copy of the tape must be provided to the defense prior to the first hearing.
- Breach of any of these recommendations should result in the discontinuation of the prosecution and the child’s immediate release.
These recommendations have been carefully selected based on a number of considerations. First, the recommendations primarily embody existing legal rights under Israeli military and civilian law, as well as accepted norms under international standards for juvenile justice. Second, were these recommendations to be substantially implemented, the military court system would not be able to maintain its current conviction rate of 95 percent for minors, thereby loosening the controlling effect the system has on the civilian population.
In its 2013 report, UNICEF provided 38 specific recommendations for Israel to implement to improve the treatment of children. Furthermore, it promised to do follow-up reports, which it did in 2013 and 2015. In its 2019 Annual Report, Military Court Watch notes that “While both updates noted positive developments, UNICEF concluded that ‘reports of alleged ill-treatment have not significantly decreased.’” Furthermore, UNICEF has not published an update since 2015. Based on its own assessments, Military Court Watch concludes that only 1 of the 38 recommendations has been significantly implemented.
It is clear that organizations such as Military Court Watch need to continue examining how Israel treats children in the military court system. And there is much that can be done to assist in letting the world know how these children are being treated. Throughout the week, Kumi Now will publish more stories and data on children in military courts so that we can do right by these Palestinian children by holding the Israeli government accountable.
Essay contributed by Military Court Watch. Updated for the second edition of Kumi Now.
Story: 14-year-old boy from Beit Ummar
On February 1, 2017, a 14-year-old boy from Beit Ummar, West Bank was arrested by Israeli soldiers at 3:00 a.m. He was interrogated for 2 hours before being informed of his right to silence.
“My brother woke me up at around 3:00 a.m. to tell me that Israeli soldiers were in the house and they wanted us all to go to the living room. I could hear the voices of the soldiers inside the house. The soldiers examined my father’s identity card and told him they wanted to arrest me. They told me to prepare myself to be arrested. They did not tell me why they wanted to arrest me or where they were taking me and did not give us any written documents.
“The soldiers took me outside the house where they tied my hands to the front with three plastic ties: one on each wrist and one connecting the two. Then they walked me for about 10 minutes towards Route 60 and took me to a bus for troops with other detainees. I sat on a seat.
“The bus drove to the nearby settlement of Karmi Zur and then to Etzion. At Etzion I was taken to a room where I sat on a bed but I could not sleep because the soldiers were making a lot of noise. Then I was taken to a doctor who examined me while I was still tied. I remained in the room until around 9:00 a.m. when I was taken for interrogation.
“I was interrogated while tied. The interrogator accused me of throwing Molotov cocktails and pipe bombs at soldiers. He interrogated me for about four hours.
“About half way through the interrogation he showed me a document which said I had the right to remain silent but he did not say anything about the right to consult with a lawyer. When I denied the accusations he slapped me on the face and painfully twisted my ear.
“During the interrogation three other interrogators joined in but they did not say much. The interrogator kept repeating the same accusations but I denied them all. He told me there were confessions against me from two other boys but I told him this could not be true. I was scared during the interrogation especially when the interrogator slapped me. In the end I confessed to throwing stones at soldiers on one occasion.
“Then I was taken to see a policeman who printed out my statement after he asked me the same questions and told me I had the right to silence and the right to consult with a lawyer. The statement was written in Hebrew and the interrogator asked me to sign it and I did without understanding what it said. Then they took my fingerprints and my photograph and then strip searched me and took me into a cell. There they removed the ties and I remained in the cell until around 8:00 p.m.
“At around 8:00 a.m. some soldiers shackled and handcuffed me and took me to the back of a police car where I sat on a seat. The car drove for about 90 minutes to Ofer prison. At Ofer I was strip searched again and taken into Section 13.
“The following day I was taken to Ofer military court. My parents were not notified so they did not attend but my lawyer was there. I had four additional hearings which my parents attended and I was allowed to speak to them.
“On the last hearing I was sentenced to two months in prison but my lawyer was able to get me out in return for a fine of 2,000 Shekels (about US$600). I also received a suspended sentence of three months valid for two years. I was released from Ofer on February 9, 2017 and I arrived home with my parents at around 6:00pm.”
Originally published by Military Court Watch.
Host a potluck and a screening at your home, school, church, synagogue, etc. of the documentary Stone Cold Justice, which can be found on the Military Court Watch website. Share a photo from your potluck or film screening on social media. Include a link to this page of the Kumi Now website along with the hashtags #KumiNow and #Kumi14.
Literature: “Journey into Hades: Diary of a Palestinian in an Israeli Prison” by Salah Ta’mari and “To the Children” by ‘Abdallah Radwan
From “Journey into Hades: Diary of a Palestinian in an Israeli Prison”
The moment the door of the cell has closed, I felt deserted. The rest of the world was on the other side, a united front against me. Then the old giant within me rose to protest: ‘You are not alone! So many others are with you or struggling for you. Don’t give in to abandoned feelings! Don’t give in to the present moment! In this instant you make your own history, so do it the best way that you can …
Before that brave voice within me could catch his breath to continue, I answered “Oh, but I hurt! Pain, agony, I don’t know what I am, I want to see things, I am sick of walls, I want to sleep, you say it is a womb but I call it a filthy horror!”
By Salah Ta’mari, one of the founding members of Fatah in 1965 who was arrested in Sidon, South Lebanon, and held in solitary confinement for several months.
“To the Children”
This country suffering under the waves of dying-
Who can recreate it?
Who can return the love of the sun to us,
The love of our country?
Who can bury this fear dark as night?
Besides the little children of my country?
By ‘Abdallah Radwan, who grew up in refugee camps in Jordan before graduating from Jordan University and becoming a leader in the Jordanian literary life.
Both pieces published in Anthology of Palestinian Literature, edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi. “Journey into Hades” translated by the author and Naomi Shihab Nye. “To the Children” translated by Sharif Elmusa and Naomi Shihab Nye.
- United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “Children in Israeli Military Detention: Observations and Recommendations” (2013): https://www.unicef.org/oPt/UNICEF_oPt_Children_in_Israeli_Military_Detention_Observations_and_Recommendations_-_6_March_2013.pdf
- “Children in Military Custody” (2012): http://www.childreninmilitarycustody.org.uk/
- Haaretz, “Most Palestinian Minors Arrested by Israel Claim Physical Violence During Detention”, Amira Hass (2017): http://www.militarycourtwatch.org/page.php?id=dxZ7WcyeW3a925323AtCNmfaL4CJ
- Jerusalem Quarterly, “Letter from Ofer”, Gerard Horton, 2016: http://www.militarycourtwatch.org/files/server/JERUSALEM%20QUARTERLY%20-%20LETTER%20FROM%20OFER.pdf
- “Palestinian Children in Israeli Military Detention” from Defense for Children Palestine: https://youtu.be/2ezXl53-hVQ
- “Palestinian Children in Israeli Military Detention 2”: https://youtu.be/g8RhyAqTS5I
- “Detaining Dreams” from Defense for Children Palestine: https://youtu.be/7rw69pLILqw
- “16-year-old Palestinian Girl Arrested by Israeli Forces” (the arrest of Ahed Tamimi) from Al Jazeera English: https://youtu.be/flG5YR6fAys
- Stone Cold Justice from Australian Broadcasting Corporation / 4 Corners (2014):
We have a YouTube playlist with videos about Palestinians in Israel’s military courts and prisons.
And three of our previous entries addressed minors in military courts:
- Military Court Watch and Children in Military Courts: https://kuminow.com/MCW/
- Defence for Children International Palestine and Youth Detention: https://kuminow.com/DCIP/