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There's no beautifying Israel's treatment of Palestinian children

The central problem at the heart of Israel’s half-century old military court system is clear: these courts will never reflect the interests of the defendants, but rather that of the regime of occupation.

By Sarit Michaeli

Israeli border police officer chases Palestinian children during land day demonstration in Damascus gate, East Jerusalem on 30 , March 2014 Land Day is held on the anniversary of March 30, 1976, when Palestinian villages and cities across the country witnessed mass demonstrations against the state's plans to expropriate 2,000 hectares of land in Israel's Galilee region. In coordination with the military, some 4,000 police officers were dispatched to quell the unrest. At the end of the day, six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed by state security forces.

Israeli border police officer chases Palestinian children during land day demonstration in Damascus gate, East Jerusalem, March 30, 2014.

Israeli occupation apologists masquerading as protectors of Palestinian children in military detention? Few displays of alternative facts should shock us these days, but somehow an upcoming event by the Israeli right-wing group NGO Monitor’s at the UN Palais De Nations in Geneva comes close. Under the Orwellian title “Protecting Children: The realities of Israeli Military Juvenile Justice in a Terror Environment,” the event planned for Sept 25th features such doyens of child protection as the former IDF Chief West Bank Prosecutor, Lt. Col. (Res) Maurice Hirsch.

A recent recruit to the Israeli hasbara (public relations) industry, Hirsch seems committed to denying Israel’s 50 year-long occupation — instead, he euphemistically refers to “the changing borders of the State of Israel” — as well as trying to legitimize Israel’s military court system, which has faced broad criticism by British experts, UNICEF, as well as B’Tselem, for its systematic and widespread mistreatment of Palestinian minors.

Hirsch oversaw the prosecution’s part in the assembly line that forces virtually all Palestinian minors prosecuted by the army to accept conviction by plea bargains — which usually lead to incarceration. In 2015, the last year for which official data is available, 95 percent of the approximately 540 Palestinian minors indicted in the military courts were convicted. This is done through interrogations that violate minors’ rights, such that they incriminate themselves and others; these incriminations are later presented to the military court, with no other evidence. Military courts deny most minors bail and the few exceptions are routinely appealed by the military prosecution, which is also responsible for the high percent of indictments – 62 percent of the 871 minors arrested in 2015.

In response to criticism, Israel has implemented tried and true tactic: cosmetic changes that enable it to continue imprisoning Palestinian children. These included several changes to the military legislation, such as formalizing the age for prosecuting Palestinians as adults, the establishment of the military court for youth, and changes in detention and remand periods. Legal cosmetics, however, will not meaningfully improve the treatment of Palestinian minors or the protection of their rights.

Israel soldiers in a courtroom at the Ofer Military Court near the West Bank town of Beitunia, February 8, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israel soldiers in a courtroom at the Ofer Military Court near the West Bank town of Beitunia, February 8, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israel has also attempted to deflect criticism by initiating a “secret dialogue” with UNICEF, the UN program that provides humanitarian assistance to children in developing countries, in order to improve its image. But according to the latest UNICEF update, “the data demonstrates the need for further actions to improve the protection of children in military detention, as reports of alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention have not significantly decreased in 2013 and 2014.” And this comes following the “secret dialogue”. Official Israeli statistics present a large increase in the numbers of Palestinian minors serving prison sentences since the round of violence that broke out in late 2015, and a renewal of administrative detention of minors. All this indicates that the situation has not improved, and that the system still rejects the principle that the detention of minors should be a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate time.

The central problem at the heart of Israel’s half-century old military court system is clear: these courts do not – and never will – reflect the interests of the defendants, but rather that of the regime of occupation. Under Israel’s two separate and unequal legal systems, military judges and prosecutors act as Israeli army officers enforcing martial law over a civilian Palestinian population living under military rule.

In 2012, a delegation of eminent British jurists concluded that “it may be that much of the reluctance to treat Palestinian children in conformity with international norms stems from a belief, which was advanced to us by a military prosecutor, that every Palestinian child is a ‘potential terrorist’. Such a stance seems to us to be the starting point of a spiral of injustice.” The jurists did not speak to Hirsch, who took up his post in 2013, but his conduct seems to reflect a similar position: treating all Palestinian child detainees, regardless of age, as terrorists, while denying Israel’s obligations as an occupying power in the West Bank.

Israeli Border Police officer detains a Palestinian child at a protest in Kufr Qaddum, January 25, 2013. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Israeli Border Police officer detains a Palestinian child at a protest in Kufr Qaddum, January 25, 2013. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

In 2016, bloggers Noam Rotem and John Brown revealed a series of private Facebook posts published by Hirsch, in which he demanded to hang the killers who committed the horrific killing of five members of the Fogel Family in March 2011, and for the “elimination” of Hamas heads on a daily basis until Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is freed. According to Rotem and Brown, these comments “reflect on the head of the military prosecution in the West Bank, who should at least pay lip service to providing a fair hearing for Palestinians.” Hirsch’s deeply disturbing indictment of a troubled 12-year-old Palestinian girl, arrested near a settlement carrying a concealed knife is another telling indication of his take on protecting Palestinian children, with the entire military legal system’s backing and participation. The girl was sentenced to four-and-a-half months in prison, of which she served two-and-a-half months, eventually released following an international outcry.

The steady entrenchment of Israel’s occupation and dispossession of Palestinians, while eliciting some condemnation, has not yet led to meaningful international action. Still, the abuse of Palestinian minors in the military court system is one of the few matters that some countries have been willing to take up seriously with Israel. This is the context of the forthcoming event in Geneva: yet another example of NGO Monitor’s role in promoting Israeli government’s propaganda while smearing critical human rights groups. Now they have moved to trying to justify systematic abusive treatment of minors. But no PR exercise can eliminate the contradiction in terms known to the world as Israel’s “military justice system.” Only ending the occupation will.

Sarit Michaeli is B’Tselem’s international advocacy officer.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Ben

      “Israeli occupation apologists masquerading as protectors of Palestinian children in military detention?…”

      Another day in the sick dishonesty of the occupation. And that the Israelis let this sick man, Hirsch, basically run the occupation’s cruel population suppression apparatus from an Israeli courtroom says it all about what the Israelis are really up to in the West Bank. It is a sick, twisted business. And were it not for honorable publications like +972 Magazine and honorable organizations like Breaking the Silence, no one would know about it.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Jennifer

      Hmmm, maybe this author should stand in the line of fire when these sweet, innocent “kids” lob rocks at her. See how much sympathy she has for them then.

      You know why the conviction rate is so high? Because the guilty rate is so high….

      Btw, anyone thinking this is all evil Israel should lob some rocks at a cop here in the US…see if it doesn’t get you shot….

      Reply to Comment
      • john

        and settlers who throw rocks at cops are not shot, nor arrested, and the cops are then admired for their restraint. go figure

        Reply to Comment
        • JeffB

          @John

          You mean this: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.783647
          doesn’t happen. I agree with what you probably meant to say their is inequality in enforcement that’s rather severe. But let’s not make the problem worse than it is. It’s hard to separate out the problems caused by military rule from the problems caused by the military mission being incompatible with a full range of civilian police services.

          Reply to Comment
          • john

            sure, it doesn’t happen despite you linking to an article where it happens. what i meant was: settlers throw stones at anyone who displeases them, so when the army – acting as police – displease them, it happens. when they throw stones at civilians: bupkis. the severe inequality of enforcement (to the point of different courts for different people) which emanates from within the green line, is elsewhere called segregation or apartheid. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/incredible-picture-shows-palestinians-shielding-6216395
            https://www.timesofisrael.com/settlers-attack-us-consulate-staff-in-west-bank/
            https://972mag.com/watch-masked-settlers-throw-stones-at-israeli-activists/105024/

            while you’re separating the problems of military rule acting as police force, they still beat palestinian children.

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @John

            I can also show examples where Jewish civilians throwing stones at Palestinian civilians get arrested. So it isn’t true to say that there is never enforcement. It is true there is inequality of enforcement. But when you start talking about civilian on civilian violence you get into a weird grey area for a military during an occupation. Creating a good quality police force properly trained to handle civilian on civilian governance and a just court system to adjudicate claims is governing not occupying. To get good enforcement there needs to be unequivocal statement that Israel is not an occupying power but rather a governing power in Area-C. Quite simply soldiers aren’t and shouldn’t be trained in how to handle civilian disturbances effectively. Armies are designed to kill people and break things. Police enforce laws.

            Ending the occupation of Area-C through annexation is the easiest, quickest method to fix the root of the problem. You are still going to have the problems of some inequality you have inside the green line but that’s a massive improvement over what exists in Area-C today.

            Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Jennifer: http://nwttac.dci-palestine.org/ (No Way To Treat A Child)

        From the moment of arrest, Palestinian children encounter ill-treatment and torture at the hands of Israeli forces. Three out of four experience physical violence during arrest or interrogation. Israel is the only country in the world to automatically prosecute children in military courts that lack basic safeguards for a fair trial.

        Reply to Comment
        • Jennifer

          Your source hardly looks impartial, Bruce. Not saying that Israel can do no wrong, but compared to much of the rest of the world, Israel truly is an angel.

          Doesn’t mean Israel shouldn’t be encouraged to improve. But singling Israel out when there are much bigger problems out there suggests some hidden, not so innocent motivations.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This is simply a pile up, one might even say a train wreck, of hasbara clichés.
            We’ve got:
            — the if I can’t refute the facts then attack the source as “impartial” cliché
            — the not saying Israel can do no wrong except I really am saying that cliché
            — the compared to the rest of the world whataboutery cliché
            — the Israel is an angel preposterous cliché
            — the Israel should be “encouraged” but heavens don’t force anything on it, let’s talk about it for 50 more years, we love to negotiate cliché
            — the Israel is being ‘singled out’ cliché.
            See: https://972mag.com/the-worlds-blatant-double-standard-in-israels-favor/84499/
            — And that old time favorite, the anti-Semitizing there must be some ‘hidden motives’ cliché

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Ben

            Israel and the Yishuv suffered a boycott of a type that’s never been applied to any other country. The USA never allows for 3rd party boycotts yet that’s what applied to Israel for decades and only recently was relaxed. There has been multiple wars against it. There have been multiple terrorist insurgencies against its people. Finally the rhetoric against Israel is uniquely hostile. Even for some of the countries where the USA was the most harsh like Nicaragua, Cuba, Iraq there was never talk of total population destruction which is the message being directed against Israel.

            — heavy sanctions
            — state sponsorship of terrorism
            — multiple wars
            — a goal of population annihilation and not merely regime change

            The Arab boycott which the ASA was joining is rather substantial. The goal of the ASA is ultimately to get the Western powers to join a movement whose aims are the destruction of Israeli society not merely a change of regime. The USA isn’t leading the move, at this point Iran is. But one only needs to listen to Iran. They just recently stated that they believe their combination of economic pressure, encirclement with hostiles and terrorism will end Zionism (not merely the Zionist regime) within 25 years.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Finally the rhetoric against Israel is uniquely hostile.”

            This is one more cliché. (Besides being a deceptive removal of context that would have the Nicaraguan and Israel-Palestine situations be identical. Listen to South Floridian Cubanos talk about Castro and it is no less hostile.) In fact, the world maintains a blatant double standard – in Israel’s favor:
            See: https://972mag.com/the-worlds-blatant-double-standard-in-israels-favor/84499/

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Ben

            Find me some examples of South Florida Cubans calling for the population of Cuba to be replaced with a different population so that the culture can cease being Cuban. Find me any who after the regime change don’t want Cuba to be a Cuban state.

            Reply to Comment
      • JeffB

        @Jennifer

        Yeah I have to agree with you there. I’ve had this argument with Israeli leftists before on a bunch where they are critical of their police forces brutality and make comparison to the USA. Especially since those are soldiers not police. That means there really isn’t a good comparison but if there were the comparison would be something like US embassy guard, soldier guards acting as support for TSA in an airport or national guard troops.

        That all being said though this is soldiers enforcing laws regarding violence between two civilians. Israel needs to apply civilian law, with civilian law enforcement and civilian courts to this situation. Israel has an excellent system it is time that Area-C get access to it.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Nope. That is just annexationist rationalizing. If you think Israel should annex all the territories, come out and say it. And do it. And all of it, not a Bantustan-creating annexation of Area C only. Not sneak around with legal legerdemain and sneaky, ambiguous half-measures.

          Israel needs to apply military law as the occupying power. And it needs to apply it equally and fairly and treat the occupied persons as protected persons under international law. Something Israel has not even remotely ever done–quite the opposite.

          In the first place though, if Israel did apply “civilian law” as if the West Bank were Israeli sovereign territory (it is not) then the above record makes it undeniable that Israel would engineer into that “civilian law” two covert sets of application of law standards and protection of the laws standards, even if purposely unwritten and un-codified. Nothing Israel does in the territories is honest. No amount of pettifoggery can obscure these plain truths.

          A truer and less dodgy and misleading analogy for Jennifer and JeffB to deploy would be: How the US military should treat stone-throwing Canadian children if the United States belligerently occupied Quebec and Ontario for fifty years….

          Reply to Comment
          • Jennifer

            Canada is a recognized country. There has never been a country called palestine. And the land that it claims was most certainly Jewish long before arab palestinians were ever thought of. So it’s really not as simple as all that.

            If the Cherokee wanted to take over NYC, would you deem the current residents of NYC native or indigenous, and the Cherokee colonists or occupiers?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Your Cherokee analogy is so confused as to be meaningless. I have no idea what you are saying, and neither, I suspect, do you. You will have to be much clearer. 

            Canada is a recognized country. The West Bank is a recognized belligerently occupied territory; under international law and the international consensus of every country in the world but Israel; with rights accorded the protected persons under occupation; whose rights Israel has grossly violated every day going on 50 years now. You do not give me confidence that you know what you are talking about. What does it mean that in some people’s minds “the land is Jewish”? It means any Jewish person in the world has a racial title to move on in and displace non-Jews? And you’ll be aggrieved if you meet resistance to that proposition? Seriously? The Arab persons inhabiting that land, their villages and farms and fields and cities, were there centuries before any “settler.” And these Arab inhabitants were certainly “thought of” by all sorts of people they loved and lived with and traded with and may other things. And they love the land. And they are exercising self-determination. I thought your Prime Minister just came out in favor of Kurds exercising self-determination, with all sorts of comparisons to Jewish self-determination. But it’s different when it’s Palestinian Arabs? How so? The contradictions pile up.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            The West Bank is a recognized belligerently occupied territory.
            Yes, it was belligerently occupied territory by the British and later the Jordanians. Both these states had no right to deny the Jews the right to settle in Judea & Samaria. This right was promised by the League of Nations at the San Remo Treaty (1920). Article 80 of the UN charter denies the UN the right to change previous LoN obligations.

            By allowing the Jews to fulfill “close settlement of the land” in Judea & Samaria, the current Israeli Government is facilitating San Remo Treaty of 1920.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            @Lewis: And let’s not forget the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

            But we’re talking about human rights here, particular as they apply to minors. Any comments about that?

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Yes, I would like to address human rights. Lets talk about the human rights of Israeli kids that were murdered by Arabs BEFORE Israel “occupied” Judea & Samaria.
            It was those human rights abuses that caused the “occupation” in the 1st place.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Incoherent, contradictory argument that collapses of its own weight. Which is it: “It’s Jewish land”? Or “We need it to protect Jewish kids’ human rights”?
            In any case, it collapses internally all over again: Human rights are not Jewish human rights or Arab human rights. They are human rights. To imply otherwise is to commit a non-sequitur.
            So we are back to Bruce’s question. You did not answer it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Ben:
            Both.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            @Lewis: So you believe in collective punishment and collective guilt?

            Reply to Comment
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