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Just another arbitrary detention of a Palestinian child

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

Illustrative photo of Israeli soldiers inside a Palestinian village. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Illustrative photo of Israeli soldiers inside a Palestinian village. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

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.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.

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    1. Bruce Gould

      The Holocaust. Fight for survival – you do anything you can, look, the U.S. dropped atom bombs in WWII. No partner for peace. Ancestral homelands of the Jews. The Palestinians want to destroy us. They want to push us into the sea! The massacre at Hebron. 1929. Second Temple! They rejected the Oslo Accords. Yasir Arafat. Stabbings! Terror! What, should we commit national suicide? Strategic depth.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Yeah, Dov Yirmiya sounds like a decent guy but so misguided. Ya know? Why would Breaking the Silence ever have to go outside Israel? Torturing kids in pajamas and slippers? Um, we’ll get back to you. But I’m sure that if it happened it was just “a few bad apples.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        LOL. Poor bastards, now they have been reduced to muttering dark thoughts to themselves in the dark. I guess they are trying to get some sleep but they can’t. So they are just muttering to themselves.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Israel’s army is reduced to rounding up children in pajamas and slippers and torturing them. Way to keep your eye on the ball Gustav. You really have no insight do you? You who are muttering to yourself in the dark here about us. And you who speak of dark thoughts but have nothing to say about a child in pajamas and slippers abused by troops. Did you think we were responding to an invitation to a spring wedding?

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            This is what Israel’s army is defending Israeli civilians from…

            “A Palestinian terrorist stabbed two people to death in the Panorama office building, outside the door of a room in the building used for prayer where afternoon services were taking place. Two more individuals sustained minor injuries. Workers in the Panorama building were instructed to go into lockdown as police searched for a possible second attacker.”

            Now if we would be Arabs or some other nations who would have such a huge military advantage as we have over your stupid Palestinian Arabs, we would just massacre a few hundred of them everytime they perpetrate such pointless murder of our civilians.

            But since we are civilized, we don’t go to such extremes. Nor should we. But to completely let it go is not an option either. So they get harassed a bit to make them think a more before they kill more of us and perhaps to gain some useful intelligence which would help us prevent such wanton attacks against us in the future.

            Do they too suffer because of it? Of course they do. But all they have to do to stop their own suffering is to stop their wanton terrorism against us. Or even better. Sign a peace deal which includes our terms too, not just what THEY want to achieve. The occupation can then end.

            They know exactly what they have to do to end this impasse. The fact that they won’t do it should tell any thinking person that their situation is nowhere near as dire as lying propagandists like you pretend. Otherwise they would be willing to sign a peace deal with us and give up their 100 year dream of ending the existence of the Jewish nation state of Israel.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            Gustav, the lack of Israeli soldiers overtly killing civilians in high numbers (Outside of IAF pogroms like “Cast Lead”, “Pillar of Defense” and “Protective Edge”) isn’t due to you being more civilized but rather the tension between enacting Zionist ideology and keeping Israel viable for outside investment. IBM and Microsoft just might not want to operate in a country which is killing civilians to the point it would risk escalating the situation into something like Syria.

            Zionist soldiers have demonstrated an aptitude for mass murder when they think nobody’s looking, c.f. the Dawayima, Safsaf and Hula massacres in Oct. ’48. Every civilian death inflicted by the Zionists is on the heads of those who premeditated transforming Palestine demographically. Your side entered the scene with a vested interest in terrorizing civilians.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            ANDREW:”isn’t due to you being more civilized but rather the tension between enacting Zionist ideology and keeping Israel viable for outside investment.”

            You mean we are that calculating? Unlike many others who are emotive and act first then think later about morality and consequences? Well then we must be at least a bit civilized. My point stands. Thanks for re-enforcing it Andrew.

            As for your litany of complaints against us for what happened in 1947-48 when our back was against the wall, you might want to put it into a bit of context, no? Ah, ok then I will…

            Together with a handful of Holocaust survivors, the Jews of Palestine were fighting for their lives against an enemy who boated that the time of a new extermination was nigh…

            Not only did they boast but those Arabs actually showed that they meant what they promised by perpetrating massacres of Jews whenever they could for instance, at the onset of the war at the Haifa oil refinery, at Kfar Etzion and the Hadash medical convoy where they massacred Jewish medical personnel.

            About 1% of the Jewish population of Palestine lost their lives in that war which the Arabs started. That was the context in which some of our own too behaved in an uncivilized manner. No excuses for it, but at least you could mention the context.

            Reply to Comment
          • Andrew r

            Doing the most you think you can get away with isn’t civilized; it’s tactical.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Tactical? Oh my, what a crime, we have been and are tactical. We are the worst of the worst, huh Andrew?

            Now here is reality check. Some other people are tactical like us. Others are barbaric and contrary to you, pro Arab propagandists, we are most definitely not the worst of the worst. We are better than some and no worse than other human beings in war.

            Are you looking for the worst of the worst? I can point you in many other directions. In fact, you could start by looking at the behavior of Arabs throughout history. You might find they have a lot to answer for.

            Reply to Comment