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A pretense of progress for children in Israel's military courts

A new amendment requiring military authorities to videotape interrogations of Palestinian minors may seem like a step in the right direction. That is, until you read the fine print.

By Gerard Horton

Youth from Aida Refugee Camp rest during a lull in clashes with Israeli forces near the separation wall in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, November 16, 2013. The wall, which divides Bethlehem's land is a frequent entry point for incursions by Israeli forces into Aida Refugee Camp, and often a site of clashes with camp youth. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Youth from Aida Refugee Camp rest during a lull in clashes with Israeli forces near the separation wall in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, November 16, 2013. The wall, which divides Bethlehem’s land is a frequent entry point for incursions by Israeli forces into Aida Refugee Camp, and often a site of clashes with camp youth. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Change has been afoot since UNICEF published a report finding that the ill treatment of children held in Israeli military detention “appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized.” Most recently that change has come in the form of a new military order (Military Order 1745), which requires Israeli police in the West Bank to audio-visually record interrogations of minors.

The order also stipulates that interrogations should be conducted and documented in the language of the accused.

Up until now the recording and documentation of interrogations of Palestinian minors by Israeli authorities in the West Bank has been unsatisfactory to say the least. While according to the authorities nearly one-third of minors detained in 2013 had at least part of their interrogation audio-visually recorded, none of the tapes were handed over to defense lawyers at an early stage in proceedings.

In other cases where the interrogations were only audio recorded, defense lawyers report significant discrepancies between the tapes and the statements ultimately signed by the minors.

And perhaps most disturbingly, in a recent report released by Military Court Watch, 69 per cent of Palestinian children reported that they were shown, or made to sign, documentation written in Hebrew, a language they do not understand, at the conclusion of their interrogation.

Read +972’s full coverage of children under occupation

The use of audio-visual recording during the investigative process is on the rise in a number of jurisdictions around the world. The advantages are self-evident and if implemented with the appropriate protocols, the practice has the potential to significantly reduce allegations of wrongdoing that have plagued the Israeli military system from its inception.

In a recent study conducted in Rialto, California, the entire police force was fitted with body-cams, which has resulted in an 88 percent fall in the number of complaints and a 60 percent fall in the use of force by the police.

The latest amendment to the military law follows calls for the introduction of audio-visual recording of all interrogations of detained minors in the West Bank by, inter alia, the UN Committee against Torture (2009), UN Human Rights Committee (2010), UK lawyers (2012), UNICEF (2013) and the UK government (2013).

But does this development signal genuine change? The answer to this question is a simple no. The new order specifically states that it only applies to “non-security” related offenses, as defined by the military authorities.

Due to the limited application of the new order it will have no impact or add any additional protection to minors accused of “security offenses.”

Accordingly, the interrogation of Palestinian minors may still be documented in Hebrew without being audio-visually recorded in cases involving allegations of stone throwing or participating in an unauthorized protest, both of which are classified as “security offenses” by the military. However, the new order will apply to such things as traffic offenses involving minors, should there be any such cases.

The most charitable thing that can be said about this order is that it was published in Arabic; a recent development enabling those to whom the law applies, the opportunity to know what the law is. By limiting the law to “non-security” related offense, however, this is little more than a public relations exercise.

Gerard Horton is a lawyer and co-founder of Military Court Watch. Gerard has worked on the issue of children prosecuted in the Israeli military courts for the past seven years and is the author of a number of leading reports on the subject.

Detained: Testimonies from Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel
How will Gaza’s children carry their scars into adulthood?
Visualizing Occupation: Children under Israel’s legal regime

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    1. Pedro X

      Approximately one third of interviews are audio-visually recorded now, which obviously includes some offences which could be classified as terrorism or nationalistic. The amendment will make it a rule that all but those that are security related offences must be taped. The effect of the amendment should increase the number of interviews recorded overall. That is progress.

      There is an exception for security related offences for good reasons. One, the state does not want its Shin Bet interrogators to be identified thereby putting their lives at risk. 2. The state does not want to give terrorist groups the ability to observe Israeli interrogation tactics. 3. The state does not want to give potential terrorists the ability to prepare for interrogations. 4. The fact that Palestinian detainees may expect harsh treatment and do not receive harsh treatment works in favor of the interrogators in building repore with those they are interviewing. To show interrogators acting kindly to their detainees may result in less successful interrogations. 5. Sensitive information may be used during an investigation using an informed interrogation approach and the intelligence services do not want that information leaked to the outside world because it might endanger valuable informants and sources which can not be replaced and it might signal to other terrorists that they are being watched closely by the Israeli intelligence services. In other words the release of recorded evidence may tip off other terrorists and lead to less effective investigations of other suspects involved in terrorism.

      So, those doing the interrogating will have to weigh whether they should record the interview or if there is a valid security concern for not doing so. Judges will rule in any particular case if the exception was invoked properly.

      Reply to Comment
    2. @PedroX –
      This article is pertaining specifically to children. Are children terrorists? Wouldn’t you agree that it would be prudent and ethical to treat children different than adult detainees? A child throwing a rock is still a child. The fact that children have been subjected to torture and sign documents (that alone is horrible, how is a child to be held accountable for signing a legal document) that he or she can’t even read is disgusting. Would you be okay with this if it was done to your child?
      “In a recent study conducted in Rialto, California, the entire police force was fitted with body-cams, which has resulted in an 88 percent fall in the number of complaints and a 60 percent fall in the use of force by the police.”
      Everyone benefits.

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X


        Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        “Are children terrorists?”

        Not all, but some are.

        Many Palestinian children engage in various acts of terrorism, throwing rocks or dropping concrete blocks from roofs at or on police doing their jobs, throwing rocks at Israeli cars attempting to kill or seriously injury the occupants, throwing Molotov Cocktails at Israeli targets, arson, vandalism, acting as lookouts and runners for militant organizations, smuggling explosive materials including suicide vests, and carrying out knifing, shooting, suicide bomb or other attacks.

        Depending on the level of terrorism and the expectation of obtaining vital security related information, the interrogator will decide whether security concerns concerning the burning of informants, active investigations and interrogation tactics over ride the obligation to tape the interview.

        Palestinians often make claims of abuse, but rarely raise the issue in court where a confession obtained by force would be a bar to have it being admitted into court. So either Arab lawyers are very bad or the Palestinians greatly inflate their claims of torture.

        Reply to Comment
        • The other possibility is that you repeat the propaganda suggested by your minders as you’ve provided no facts or verifiable documentation to back up a single thing you said.

          Reply to Comment
        • Utemia

          Throwing stones is a serious issue and everything should be done to educate why it’s wrong and reasonable punish those who perpetrate it.

          Albert Bandura published his theory about social learning in the 60s.. his premise was that behaviour is learned by observing others around you. Ergo, if children experience and see violence, they copy it because that’s how you learn – by copying behaviour of others.

          A 12 year old, 12 years being the age of criminal responsibility for palestinian children, that grows up in this environment learns that violene and throwing stones is normal behaviour, but that isn’t their fault. How are they supposed to know that it is wrong when reality around them tells them that it’s normal?

          It also seems to be.. a kind of rigged system on the side of ShinBet because children are a teasure trove of intelligence, and they can’t defend themselves. Imagine if you were arrested in a nighttime raid when you’re 14 years old, shackled and blindfolded and brutalized, only to come face to face with an experienced interrogator who knows everything about you and your family and how to put on proverbial thumbscrews. Even adults would confess to having killed their own mothers under these circumstances.. and the knowledge these kids have is valuable for the Security Establishment. They are not interested in being fair after all.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Bruce Gould

      Gaza: what’s the history of this hermetically sealed strip of land that contains almost 2 million people? As this analysis from the latest New York Review of books explains, Israel has used Gaza as a dumping ground for refugees created in its ethnic cleansing campaigns:


      “In the early 1950s, after the war and the armistice agreements, Israel continued to expel Palestinian villagers from the surrounding area, notably from the large village of Majdal (today the city of Ashkelon), into the Strip. (Moshe Dayan, then commander of the southern front, gave the order.) The ongoing, routine business of dispossession and expulsion proceeding apace throughout the West Bank, with new refugees spilling over into cities such as Yata and Hebron, thus has a long-standing precedent; and Gaza serves as the definitive example.”

      Reply to Comment
    4. Tomer

      Re: Bruce Gould’s Rant
      Maybe the expuslion of Arabs from Madjal was retaliation for expulsion & murder of Jews in Bagdad during the riots of 1941.

      What’s good for the gander is good for the goose!

      Reply to Comment