Soldiers detain a child in his pajamas and slippers, harshly interrogate him without a parent or attorney present, and then release him 12 hours later as if nothing ever happened. We can already tell you what the military’s investigation will look like.
By Yossi Gurvitz, written for Yesh Din
J., a 13-year-old Palestinian boy, lives in the West Bank village of Al-Janiya. One cold morning in the beginning of last December, wearing pajamas and slippers, J. left his house and went to collect items for his relative’s engagement party. A large carob tree stood nearby to where he went for the errand. J. was accompanied by A., a six-year-old child.
As J. would later describe it, upon reaching the tree, several soldiers jumped on the children and began hitting them. The altercation attracted the attention of an adult, who arrived and began yelling at the soldiers. The soldiers released A. but held onto J.
J.’s mother rushed to the scene and tried to dislodge the child from their grasp. In response, one of the soldiers pressed his rifle barrel to her chest. The mother, who suffers from a medical condition, lost consciousness. In the ensuing chaos, the soldiers threw stun and tear gas grenades, taking off in a vehicle with J.
Meanwhile, at home, J.’s father heard the news from children who came to his door in tears. He and his relatives would spend the next few hours in desperate attempts to talk to the Palestinian District Coordination Office (DCO) to try and find out where his son was.
J. was first taken to a military base, where – as he later described – the soldiers blindfolded him with a gun cloth, and then tied his hands and beat him with their rifle butts. The soldiers demanded he admit to throwing stones. J. denied the allegation, pointing to the fact he was in pajamas and slippers. One of the soldiers threatened that he would not be released unless he confessed.
The tactic of taking children away and demanding they incriminate themselves, while isolating and denying them access to their parents is nothing new. In 2011, Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem published a report titled “No Minor Matter,” which documented this phenomenon. The report found that the children, isolated and often tortured (yes, the beating of defenseless children may in some cases amount to torture), are required time and again to agree to a Kafkaesque deal: confess and incriminate others and be released immediately; or, refuse and remain in detention. Since the children have no adult or lawyer to consult with, and because 13-year-olds are rarely human rights scholars, many believe what they are told.
The result is often coerced incrimination, of themselves and others. And there is almost no exit route from a confession in what we usually call the justice system: B’Tselem’s report found that out of 835 indictments of Palestinian juveniles, only one was acquitted. Note that in Israel, parents of a detained juvenile must be informed of the detention (their presence in an interrogation is mandatory), and the interrogator must be a trained juvenile interrogator, there are no such rights for Palestinians in the West Bank. Any soldier may thus serve as an interrogator.
Yet despite it all, J. refused to confess to the allegations against him and continued pleading his innocence. In turn, his captors increased the pressure. He says he was put in a cold room with the air conditioner fully on. He does not know how long he was left there – a blindfold will cause the loss of sense of time – but he was freezing. That didn’t work either, so the soldiers later took him out of the room, handcuffed him in a particularly painful way, trussed him in a car and drove to a different military base where they delivered him to the police. “There they did not beat me,” J. said.
The time was around 8:30 p.m., some 12 hours since J. was kidnapped by the IDF, at least as far as he and his family were concerned, since they had no idea where he was. He was then turned over to the Palestinian DCO and went home. J. was not summoned for a second interrogation; he simply left his home one cold morning in pajamas and slippers, ran into some IDF soldiers, was captured, beaten, and released. There is no discernable process here. Suspiciously, J. was released after precisely 12 hours – the maximum length of time soldiers may detain a juvenile without having to obtain authorization.
So here we have here an incident of disappearing a juvenile without informing his family — who is now looking for him in a panic — which ends suddenly after 12 hours. What was the point? It’s unclear. No one said anything.
In the beginning of January, Yesh Din filed a complaint on behalf of J.’s father with the IDF’s Operation Affairs Prosecutor. From previous experience, unfortunately, we can even chart the complaint’s future route and ultimate demise:
First, the prosecution will take a few months, perhaps even a year or more, to think it over. Was a crime committed? Is there truly a need for an investigation? After who-knows-how-many-months, when becomes clear to all that there is no chance of an actual investigation, the prosecution will either close the case without investigating it, or send it to the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division (MPCID), which will also take its time.
The passing time will allow the soldiers responsible for the act to be discharged, thereby avoiding military justice. It will also cloud the memory of everyone involved. You say we detained some kid in slippers two years ago? I really don’t remember, the soldier will say. And he truly won’t. But wait a minute – could the kid even identify those who beat him? He had a blindfold over his eyes, did he not?
So the military prosecution will decide in three or four years that something may have happened. And it may have been improper, possibly even lamentable. Perhaps we should even condemn it, and at one point there may have been a time for some judicial action, but there is nothing we can do about it now. And anyway, we haven’t the foggiest idea who was involved.
We have seen all of these excuses. When it comes to inaction, the military investigative system is brilliant. When it comes to indicting criminals who harm Palestinians – unless they harm the army’s own effectiveness – much less so.