Thanks to social media, we have become accustomed to seeing footage of Israeli soldiers terrorising Palestinian families in the middle of the night as they break into their homes to arrest their children. What happens after the children are blindfolded and taken to interrogation centres, although documented, receives less attention, possibly due to the isolation policy which Israel has implemented.
A report published by Israeli rights group B’Tselem – “Minors in Jeopardy: violation of the rights of Palestinian minors by Israel’s military courts” (March 2018) – shows how the justice system is riddled with systematic discrepancies designed to incriminate the detainees. Many of these practices are forms of oblivion; the minors’ contact with their family, for example, is severed and parents are not informed of the reasons for their children’s arrest.
Within a system that seeks to enforce a guilty verdict at all costs, B’Tselem’s description of violations as “standard practice” reflects the harsh reality for detained Palestinian children. Rather than provide the means by which justice can be implemented, interrogations pave the way for additional violations to occur. The report states that 90 per cent of detained minors are not allowed access to a lawyer before interrogation. Furthermore, the high rate of convictions in Israel’s military courts which, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, as quoted in the report, stands at 95 per cent, is another factor that forces minors to accept plea bargains as the only alternative to a lengthy trial and prison sentence.
B’Tselem’s report refers to Israeli state documents that frame the detention of Palestinian minors as a consequence of alleged “terrorist organisations” embarking upon the “indoctrination of the population starting in pre-school and continuing all the way to adulthood.” One dangerous premise adopted by the Israeli authorities and quoted in the report is the equating of minors with adults, without providing the context of colonial violence and military occupation: “The danger and damage caused by their actions, is usually the same as if the acts are performed by adults.” With such reasoning, Israel eliminates the boundaries between childhood and adulthood as stipulated by international law.
Yet, this alternative, inaccurate and illegal framing does not stop at blurring what should be a clearly defined boundary. Israel’s claims that military courts are “proactive in protecting minor’s rights” or that night time arrests are preferable to prevent its soldiers and local residents being attacked have been deemed unacceptable by human rights organisations. They insist that “the procedures that have been put in place fall far short of providing adequate protection.”
The system, B’Tselem notes, relies upon various forms of isolation which Israel attempts to manipulate as a necessary measure due to security concerns. In its conclusion, the report states: “The rules are implemented by soldiers, judges and prosecutors, all of whom are uniformed Israelis representing the interests of the occupying country. It is a system in which Palestinians are always suspect.”
Military courts, therefore, represent the absence of justice. Testimonies by Palestinian minors which are included in the report impart the ramifications of going through a process which is humiliating, violent and fraught with procedures in which a detainee is rendered a spectator of his or her own life. If isolation is enforced, it becomes imperative to expose the limited outcomes, in terms of violations, for detained Palestinian children, which are concealed through bureaucratic measures apparently deemed acceptable by the outside world.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.