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Interview: Church-based BDS and the Jewish voices beside it

As more U.S. churches vote on divestment, Jewish Voice for Peace aims to provide key support to a movement often accused of anti-Semitism. An interview with JVP’s advocacy director Sydney Levy.

By Ryan Rodrick Beiler /

This week, three more U.S. churches are voting on resolutions to divest from companies complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. A United Church of Christ (UCC) committee unanimously approved a divestment resolution Sunday night with a final vote by the church’s general assembly expected Tuesday in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Episcopal Church is debating no fewer than seven resolutions related to Israel and Palestine this week at their national gathering in Salt Lake City. However the head of the U.S. church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, directly opposes divestment. A vote may come as early as Tuesday. The Mennonite Church USA’s national convention in Kansas City begins tomorrow, with broad institutional support for a resolution to withdraw “investments from corporations known to be profiting from the occupation and/or destruction of life and property in Israel-Palestine.”

While final results in all three church decisions may not be known for several days, one can anticipate the response from major Jewish American organizations. If last year’s divestment vote by the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) is any indication, expect accusations that the resolutions are “one-sided,” “divisive,” and “demonizing.”

While these same organizations have withheld public comment as of this writing, you can expect more of the same. There is no indication that the collapse of the peace process, the bloodshed in Gaza, and the brazenness of the Netanyahu government have in any way affected their response to the broad movement of boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) to pressure Israel.

But there are other voices — Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) in particular — who are part of the conversations taking place within and about these church-based efforts. Over the past year, JVP’s Facebook “likes” have grown to more than 212,000—compared to 109,000 for AIPAC and 29,000 for J Street, both of which oppose BDS.

I recently spoke with Sydney Levy, JVP’s advocacy director, who is currently in Cleveland supporting the UCC divestment resolution.

What do you see as JVP’s unique role in supporting these church divestment efforts?

We support divestment from companies that are connected to the oppression of Palestinians. We support those efforts whether they happen on campuses, whether they...

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A vicious cycle of lawlessness in the West Bank

The IDF has all but refused to fulfill its obligation to hold Israeli settlers accountable under the law and to protect Palestinians from them.

By Eyal Hareuveni

For nearly 50 years the Israeli army has been treating settler violence against Palestinians as a decree of fate, some sort of force majeure that trumps it in the territories otherwise under its control and responsibility. In other words, the army has dealt with the phenomenon without actually dealing with it.

International law, however, is quite clear that the occupying power, the Israeli army in this case, has an obligation to preserve the rule of law and public order in those territories. In countless rulings, the Israeli High Court has even emphasized that it is a basic and fundamental obligation — but the IDF paid no heed.

Yesh Din published a new report this month, “Standing Idly By,” documenting the phenomenon of Israeli soldiers doing just that in the face of offenses by Israeli citizens against Palestinians in the West Bank. The report highlights how soldiers don’t detain or arrest Israelis involved in violent incidents, how they don’t secure crime scenes so that evidence can be collected, how they don’t document such incidents and how they don’t file complaints with the police. Numerous government-sanctioned and human rights NGO reports have addressed this phenomenon since the early 1980s, and yet, for some reason, the IDF has not eradicated it.

Read the full report: ‘Standing Idly By

In 2004, in response to an ACRI High Court petition demanding that the army protect Palestinian farmers in the olive harvest, the IDF was forced to answer for its refusal to fulfil its obligations to enforce the law and maintain public order. Then, too, the army tried to pass on its responsibility to the police. The High Court justices weren’t convinced by the army’s arguments. They expressed serious criticism of its “helplessness” and “oversights” in enforcing the law; the justices ordered the army to “immediately correct its distortions.”

However, the army once again dragged its feet. Only in 2009, three years after the ruling on the olive harvest, did the army’s legal advisor for the territories send — for the first time — a fact sheet to commanders clarifying soldiers’ obligation to intervene in crimes committed by Israelis. In 2013, four years after that, the state comptroller found that army’s Central Command had not made any...

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If nuclear deal fails, we can kiss Iran's moderates goodbye

Should Iran and the West fail to come to an agreement, the battle will no longer be between the right and left, but rather between democratic forces and totalitarian ones.

By Ahmad Rafat

There is no doubt that the negotiators, whom these days are working to achieve a comprehensive deal on Iran’s nuclear plan, do not want to drive a stake through these talks. Even France, which has been playing “bad cop” to the U.S.’s “good cop” in these meetings, is interested in reaching an agreement. It seems that the only country that stands nothing to gain is Russia (which protects the interests of Iran), although for reasons that extend beyond the scope of this article, it cannot publicly express its reservations regarding the deal.

A number of questions on this issue have arisen, and each one deserves its own analysis: should a comprehensive agreement be reached, what will be the consequences? Should talks fail, what will be the fallout? What are the pros and cons of each of these scenarios?

The answers to these questions greatly depend on the geographical origin and political outlook of the person answering, and in practice may vary greatly. The response of an Iranian who opposes the Islamic Republic will be inherently different than that of someone from Tehran’s political echelon. The same can be said about a Russian diplomat whose response will likely be the exact opposite than that of an American diplomat. And we must take into account, of course, that the response of an Democratic American diplomat will be different than that of a Republican.

I write this only to clarify that the following analysis is the work of a journalist whose opinion differs from that of the Islamic Republic and who has worked for many years on issues of human rights, and thus analyzes the aforementioned questions from this angle.

The historical significance of a comprehensive agreement, which will put an end to the perpetual crisis surrounding Iran’s nuclear plan, is clear to all. But will this deal—if it is indeed signed, and more importantly if it does not turn into shreds within a few months time—truly solve the international community vis-a-vis the Islamic Republic? What about the countries in the region? Or most of all: the citizens of Iran themselves? There is no doubt that the answer to these questions are negative.

The Iranian authorities have stated...

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The only real danger of Gaza flotillas

Activists on the Freedom Flotilla must understand that the blockade on Gaza is constantly evolving, and that the tactics of yesteryear may no longer be relevant. Putting the spotlight on humanitarian supplies allows Israel to divert attention from the worst parts of the blockade.

By Itamar Sha’altiel

The truth is that after five years it’s getting a little old. Israeli naval commandos once again take over a boat to Gaza, and again, it happens without any fuss. The Israeli defense minister once again claims that there is no blockade on Gaza, and once again the prime minister tells the activists they should be sailing to Syria.

There is, of course, clearly a blockade on Gaza. It requires massive quantities of unabashed gall to claim otherwise. Israel forbids the entry and departure of boats to and from Gaza; it does not allow it to build an airport; it forbids anybody from entering a 100-meter no-man’s land inside Gaza; it decides what building materials can be imported to Gaza and for which projects; it permits trade with the West Bank, but only on restrictive terms that it sets; and it restricts the entry and exit of people in and out of the Strip. It could be that the Israeli defense minister believes all that is necessary to protect the security of the State of Israel, but let’s be honest — it’s a blockade, clear and simple.

But there is something else that must be said: the current flotilla is driven by actual changes in policy. When Israeli naval commandos took over the Mavi Marmara in May 2010, Israel had been irrationally and disturbingly banning the import of civilian goods and products into Gaza for three full years. Israeli soldiers were in charge of deciding whether or not toilet paper would be allowed into Gaza, whether chocolate would be considered a “luxury” in any given week or whether it would even be allowed in in the first, and there was the infamous ban on the import of coriander. That’s not the case any more. Not since Israeli commandos took over the Marmara. The blockade was altered.

Therefore, it should be no surprise that Israel gets so annoyed by these flotillas. They misrepresent the blockade. I am sure that the organizers of these flotillas are simply doing what they know to be effective. And indeed, these...

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Khader Adnan reaches deal to end hunger strike, will be released

Adnan has been on hunger strike for over 50 days in protest of being held without charge, trial or being convicted of a crime.

By Yael Marom

Palestinian administrative detainee Khader Adnan will end his 50-plus-day hunger strike after reaching a deal with Israeli authorities that will see him released on July 12, according to members of Knesset who were privy to the negotiations late Sunday night.

The deal was expected to be signed in the early morning hours on Monday, according to Balad MK Jamal Zahalka. “The strike will be over the moment the deal is signed,” and Adnan will agree to receive medical treatment, MK Zahalka added.

Zahalka and other members of Knesset from the Joint List went to the hospital Sunday night at the behest of Adnan’s family, who were holding a vigil.

Adnan’s health seriously deteriorated in recent days and his family feared he might die at any moment. His father, mother and children arrived at the hospital Sunday evening and declared that they would not leave until an agreement for Adnan’s release was signed.

Adan’s wife was permitted to see him Sunday night in the hospital bed to which he has been shackled for weeks.

Dozens of activists joined the Joint List MKs at the hospital to support the family.

“This is not only a victory for Khader Adnan, the administrative detainee, it is a victory of human spirit up against forces of oppression,” MK Haneen Zoabi said of the agreement.

Under British Mandate-era emergency regulations kept on the books by Israel, authorities can hold Palestinians in administrative detention without charge, trial or conviction—indefinitely.

This was Adnan’s second extended hunger strike against his administrative detention. In 2012, Adnan won his release in a similar deal that ended a hunger strike.

He was re-arrested by Israeli authorities last summer in a massive arrest raid conducted in the aftermath of a deadly kidnapping of three Israeli teens in the West Bank. Authorities accuse him of being an active member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but have not charged him with any related crime.

According to Palestinian prisoner support organization Addameer, Israeli authorities were holding 414 Palestinians in administrative detention as of April 1, 2015, including a number of elected members of the Palestinian parliament.

The Israeli government made a number of concessions to end a mass hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners in 2012, including promises to reduce Israel’s...

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Who's afraid of Israeli hate crimes?

What the government calls ‘nationalist crimes’ are not random acts of violence—they have a clear goal: dispossessing Palestinians of their land.

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

From time to time, this country is shaken by a particularly severe wave of nationalistically-motivated hate crimes against Palestinians, often in the form of arson or desecration of a religious site. After each such incident, we are faced with the usual ritual: senior government or police officials stare into the cameras with a determined gaze; they call the acts unconscionable; they say they take the incident with a full measure of responsibility and severity; they claim that this is not how a Jewish state acts; they promise that zero tolerance will be shown. These rituals usually appear against a backdrop of fear that this time the cup will finally runneth over, shattering the sacred “quiet” in the West Bank. After a short while, however, everything is back to normal.

We can see just how seriously the government takes hate crimes from the following case. On July 26, 2010, a large group of Israeli marauders, whom eyewitnesses said came from the direction of the settlements of Yitzhar and Har Bracha, allegedly made their way to land belonging to the nearby Palestinian village of Burin. According to witnesses, the marauders burned hundreds of olive trees, some of them older than a century. They then attacked the villagers with stones and, in a few cases, with clubs, after which they stoned the houses of the village. On that same day, some of the victims lodged a complaint with the Israeli police.

In August 2011—more than a year after the incident—the police informed Yesh Din that the case was turned over to the attention of a prosecutor; that is the last the organization heard of the story for two years. In August 2013, the Shomron Prosecution Unit bothered to update Yesh Din that they had closed the case back in December 2012. Three months later, we received the investigation material of a three-year-old incident, and attempted to see whether there is any point in appealing the decision to close the case.

To the utter surprise of Yesh Din’s attorneys, who were under the impression that the police closed the case for lack of evidence, the files contained quite a bit of evidence. At the same time and place of the incident, three Border...

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The day they strip me of my citizenship

When the deputy interior minister demands Palestinian citizens renounce our citizenship, he only exposes the true nature of the Israeli state. After all, without us there is no ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’

By Samah Salaime

We, the rowdy Arabs who live in the democratic state of the Jewish people, formally apologize for disrupting a Knesset plenum on the Citizenship Law, which denies status in Israel to Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens. So what if the discussion was about our future, our place in society, our fate—we have no right to state our opinions.

Since you were already there, dear coalition members, and since the cowards of the Zionist Union scurried back into their holes when it came time to vote, you should have just finished us off. You know, since you have such an overwhelming majority in the Knesset.

But why stop there? You should have also passed a law that forces the Arab MKs to kiss the hands of their Jewish masters at the entrance to the Knesset, and bow down before the ministerial table before taking their seats. Why make do with a mere “thanks?”

Believe me when I say that I did my best not to look through the history books so as to not “compare” to the past. But with every new low by our elected officials, the thought of the racist laws and remarks directed at the entirety of Israel’s Arab population (and those who represent it) with every week passing week—I feel like we all must take a step back, breathe deeply, and dare to look at the difficult past. Perhaps then we will wake up and change direction before it is too late.

On the fast lane to the bottom

I looked through the history books to find out exactly when the Third Reich began to entrench its rule through the democracy that presented it its power on a silver platter. I found, unsurprisingly, that it began by violating civil rights: one by one, discriminatory laws were passed against the Jewish minority in Germany. Everything was done in order to promise a pure demography. An unapologetic policy, which promised a beautiful future at the expense of the minorities. A policy that won the hearts and minds of the majority of the nation—the same German nation that felt victimized and humiliated in the wake of...

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Ban Ki-moon and the detention of Palestinian children

The connection between settlements and the military regime that detains some 1,000 Palestinian each year is becoming harder and harder to ignore.

By Gerard Horton

In recent weeks some media attention has focused on whether Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon would, or would not, include Israel on the UN’s list of states responsible for violating children’s rights in armed conflict. This follows the receipt of a draft report in which Ban’s special envoy for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, recommended that Israel should be listed, citing as one reason, the high proportion of children killed during last summer’s war in Gaza.

In the end, Ban opted not to include Israel or Hamas on the list following what media sources described as intense pressure from the U.S. and Israel.

The list in question is attached to a report submitted to the Security Council by the secretary-general around this time every year. The report considers 23 conflict situations which heavily impact children, including Israel/Palestine. For the third consecutive year the report has included a section on the treatment of Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military in the West Bank.

According to the report, the UN has obtained 122 affidavits from children detained by the Israeli military in 2014. The report confirms that the information “has been documented, vetted and verified for accuracy by the United Nations.” According to the secretary-general, the children reported being subjected to “ill-treatment, such as beatings, being hit with sticks, being blindfolded, being kicked and being subjected to verbal abuse and threats of sexual violence.”

As we approach the 50th anniversary of Israel’s military rule over the West Bank, it is worth considering these allegations in the wider context. According to UN sources, since June 1967, approximately 760,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been detained by Israeli forces. Some of these individuals were released within hours or days, while others continue to be prosecuted in military courts and imprisoned. The military authorities acknowledge that around 1,000 Palestinian children from the West Bank are currently detained each year, of which those 12 years and above, can be prosecuted in military courts. Most are accused of throwing stones.

Read +972′s full coverage: Children Under Occupation

These recent allegations do not come out of the blue. In 2013, UNICEF published a report following a review of over 400 affidavits in which it...

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How I ended up being questioned by the Shin Bet

An Israeli activist on how she was detained and summoned for a ‘chat’ with Israel’s internal security service which, among other things, wanted to know her thoughts on Zionism — all because she participated in a Gaza flotilla three years ago.

By Reut Mor

Heading home to Israel this past Sunday from vacation on the beautiful Green island of Aegina, my partner and I thought we would go home, relax and upload a few photos to Facebook. I did not expect our the end of our vacation to turn into three days of detentions, interrogations and run-ins with Israel’s security services, all because three years ago I boarded a boat to Gaza — one that never arrived.

Let’s be clear, I’ve been detained before. In fact, short detentions have turned into a ritual of sorts ever since I participated in an attempt — on the Estelle — to break the siege on Gaza in 2012. But this time was different. It lasted longer than usual and after more than an hour, I was called into a side room where I was handed a summons to a appear at a Tel Aviv police station. The only information written on the summons came in the form of one word, a name: “Rona.” I wasn’t told why I was being summoned, or by whom, just “Rona.”

“Rona from the Shabaq” has become kind of notorious among left-wing activists in Israel. More than a few activists have been summoned to her for “conversations” on an eclectic range of topics. (Shabaq is the Hebrew acronym for the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service.) With a smile, Rona told me as much when we met on Tuesday at a Tel Aviv police station, where she has hosted, in her own words, “radical left- and right-wing activists.”

I was summoned to appear a day after my return to Israel, but after a Kafka-esque missed connection of sorts with my very own Shin Bet interlocutor, we only finally sat down together the next day. I arrived with my attorney, Anu Lusky, of the Michael Sfard Law Office.

Rona had a lot of questions: What was I doing in Greece? Had I been in contact with activists on the current flotilla to Gaza? What are my thoughts on Zionism? What did I do in the army? What year was Combatants for Peace was founded? She also asked whether I...

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Michael Oren's diplomatic psychobabble

Does the former Israeli ambassador really think that an imaginative psychoanalysis of Obama can explain away Netanyahu’s annexationist policies?

By Aviad Kleinberg

Michael Oren blames President Barack Obama for ruining relations with Israel, after the latter broke two sacrosanct rules that Oren himself came up with: that the United States and Israel should not have public disagreements, and that no steps should be taken to publicly embarrass the other side.

Oren is aware, of course, of the fact that successive Israeli governments (read: Netanyahu’s governments) have openly opposed U.S. policy (for instance vis-a-vis the Iranian nuclear deal), that every so often those governments declare new rounds of settlement building in the West Bank at the least opportune moments (say, for instance, when Vice President Biden visited Israel), and that they initiate rounds of violence against the Palestinians while openly and proudly declaring their oppositional stance. Oren even knows that Israel’s prime minister gave a speech to Congress without coordinating with the Obama administration, and did so in an attempt to drive a stake through the president’s Iran policy.

Oren has some very complex explanations for these all these annoying facts: the settlement announcements were never made by the prime minister himself, the attacks on Washington’s Iran policy are of the utmost importance to Israel — and the speech to Congress? Every Israeli leader would have done the same, and so on and so on. What is it so difficult for Oren to understand? The fact that Obama does not automatically support Israel, primarily that he does not automatically accept its settlement policies? Is it that President Obama dares to meekly protest the Israeli government’s unilateral steps.

That chutzpa — that the United States has policies which it doesn’t submit for Israeli approval — astounds Oren to a degree that he feels the need to explain it. Because neither the historical nor the political tools at Oren’s disposal can explain such madness (how is it possible that Washington doesn’t accept our annexationist policies?), he turns to psychology. Obama’s mother was married to two Muslim men. Oren reveals to us that Obama saw himself as a bridge between his mother and her husbands. Oren also dares to speculate “how that child’s abandonment by those men could lead him, many years later, to seek acceptance by their co-religionists.”

From now on, this is the mantra: he who does not...

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Is Israel negotiating with Palestinian hunger striker Khader Adnan?

As he enters his 50th day of hunger strike, Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan’s health is rapidly deteriorating rapidly. Now it seems like the Israeli government may try to negotiate his release from administrative detention.

By Yael Marom and Noam Rotem

Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan’s health deteriorated significantly Wednesday as he reached his 49th day of hunger strike. According to Attorney Jawad Bulus, who is the only person aside from members of the Israel Prison Service (IPS) to have access to his hospital room, Adnan’s health is deteriorating from day to day.

Since the beginning of Adnan’s hunger strike, which he launched in May to protest the extension of his administrative detention, Adnan has lost 70 pounds, his eyes have yellowed — a sign of liver failure — and his urine has turned a murky brown, which is often a sign of kidney problems. He has purple marks around his body, and on Tuesday night he began to bleed and vomit uncontrollably.

This is the second time Adnan has gone on hunger strike to protest his administrative detention, a process in which prisoners remain in detention without having seen trial or been officially sentenced. The first hunger strike was in 2012, when he demanded that he either be released from indefinite detention or sentenced. Adnan went on hunger strike for 66 days, which came to an end after the state finally agreed to release him.

Adnan was detained once again in 2014 while passing through a checkpoint near Nablus during Operation Brother’s Keeper, and was placed in administrative detention. On May 6, 2015, a short while after his detention was extended for the third straight time, Adnan announced that he would go on another hunger strike. According to the army, intelligence gathered on the detainee shows he has direct ties to Islamic Jihad. The intelligence, however, has not led to an official indictment.

Beyond Adnan’s external symptoms, it is impossible to know the full extent of the damage caused by his hunger strike, since he refuses to be examined by doctors in the internal medicine department at Assaf HaRofeh Hospital while in handcuffs. The guards will not uncuff him, even at the expense of his health.

Only upon the arrival of Dr. Leonid Edelman, who heads the Israel Medical Association, did the guards — two of whom are keeping watch over Adnan — to uncuff him for the...

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Israel doesn't need to deport asylum seekers to make them leave

Six ways the Israeli government is intentionally making the lives of asylum seekers unbearable.

By Elizabeth Tsurkov

Since 2008, the Israeli government has been implementing several policies whose purpose is to make the lives of African asylum seekers miserable, in the words of former Israeli Minister of Interior, and to coerce them to leave Israel. Both Israeli and international law prohibits the state from deporting asylum seekers to their countries of origin, leading Israel to adopt the following policies that would compel asylum seekers to leave without forcibly deportation:

1. Denial of basic rights: Since 2008, asylum seekers who reside in Israel receive a 2(A)(5), “conditional release” visa. This document does not grant its holders any rights other than the right to stay in Israel until deportation is possible. Asylum seekers are not entitled to welfare services or medical treatment, except in cases of emergency. While not legally allowed to work in Israel, asylum seekers do work, after the Israeli government promised the High Court it would not fine the employers asylum seekers. Because their visas clearly state that they do not double as work permits, many Israelis are reluctant to employ asylum seekers. As a result the latter work mostly for minimum wage or less.

2. Economic sanctions: The Israeli government adopted a number of policies to decrease asylum seekers’ salaries as well as make it difficult for them to find employment. Recently, the Israeli Tax Authority began collecting a 20 percent foreign workers tax from employers of asylum seekers. The tax was previously levied only on employers of migrant workers who are formally invited to work in Israel. Asylum seekers, however, are not entitled to the same tax breaks as migrant workers or residents — thus they pay a larger share of their low salary in taxes. In the 2014 Economic Arrangements Law, formulated by the previous government before it disbanded without passing it, the state planned on increasing the tax on employers of asylum seekers from 20 percent to 30 percent. Many employers illegally deduct the 20 percent tax from the salaries of asylum seekers.

The 2014 version of the Anti-Infiltration Law includes provisions that yet to be implemented (since they require formulating new regulations), which further cut into the salaries of asylum seekers. Under the law, employers of asylum seekers will have to place 16 percent of the asylum seekers’ pay in...

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In Israel's military court, one's fate is sealed long before trial

For the vast majority of Palestinians in Israel’s military courts, keeping defendants in prison until the end of legal proceedings is the rule, not the exception.

By Yael Stein

A visit to Israel’s military court at Ofer Prison can be confusing. A sense of injustice pervades the place, but it is sometimes hard to put the finger on it precisely. This is because, for all intents and purposes, the Israeli military court appears to be a court like any other. There are prosecutors and defense attorneys. There are rules of procedure, laws and regulations. There are judges who hand down rulings and verdicts couched in reasoned legal language. Nonetheless, as is apparent from a B’Tselem report published this week, this façade of propriety masks one of the most injurious apparatuses of the occupation.

One of the keys to understanding this injustice is the reality in which, for most Palestinians charged in Israel’s West Bank military courts, remanding defendants until the end of legal proceedings is the rule, not the exception. This state of affairs is the main reason that most proceedings in the military courts end in plea bargains, and is behind the high conviction rate in these courts.

With the exception of traffic violations, the military prosecution routinely asks that defendants be remanded to custody for the duration of the proceedings, and the courts approve the vast majority of these motions. Ostensibly, military judges rely on the three conditions stipulated in Israeli law for approving remand, which are meant to restrict the use of this measure. However, the interpretation military judges give these conditions renders them meaningless and nullifies their effectiveness as potent checks on the process of approving remand in custody.

Thus, instead of the prosecution having to prove that each of the conditions laid out in the law has been met, the burden of proof is shifted onto the defendant, adding obstacles.

The threshold for meeting the requirement of prima facie evidence is so low that it poses no obstacle to the prosecution. Military courts accept a single confession or incriminating statement, dubious as it may be, as sufficient for meeting the already low threshold. Military judges ignore complaints made by both adult and minor detainees regarding ill-treatment or abuse during their interrogation, ruling that such allegations should be deliberated only at trial, which hardly ever takes place.

Resource: Guilty from the get-go...

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