A petition to Israel’s Supreme Court has forced the Israeli army to admit that its soldiers break protocol by blindfolding Palestinians in their custody.
At the end of May, a petition was filed to Israel’s Supreme Court by a group of left-wing activists who had compiled two and a half years’ worth of evidence from Palestinians in the occupied West Bank’s Jordan Valley who were routinely detained by Israeli army soldiers.
During their detention, the Palestinians were handcuffed and often blindfolded for several hours, a practice the Israeli army has now been forced to admit breaks the institution’s own protocol, Haaretz reported yesterday.
The petition argued that the large number of cases of detention and blindfolding points to “an obscene habit of the Jordan Valley Brigade [of the Israeli army], aimed at punishing the Palestinian shepherds and/or simply abusing them.” It also stated that in some cases, Israeli activists accompanying the shepherds were also detained, but unlike the Palestinians they were not blindfolded, indicating a clear policy of discrimination, the Israeli daily added.
On Sunday, the state prosecution submitted its response to the May petition, seeking dismissal of the case on the grounds that “military orders and regulations forbid the blindfolding of detainees, and action to clarify the rules to the troops acting in the region has been taken and will continue to be taken on a continuous basis.”
Itay Mack, the attorney for the activists, therefore agreed to withdraw the petition since the goal of forcing the Israeli army to admit its soldiers had broken protocol by blindfolding the detained Palestinians had been achieved.
The incidents described in the Supreme Court petition are commonplace.
In March, a video emerged of Israeli soldiers from the Netzah Yehuda Battalion of the Kfir Brigade — which is stationed in the northern West Bank city of Jenin – beating a Palestinian father and son in the back of their army vehicle.
The video showed an unnamed 50-year-old Palestinian lying on the floor of the truck, clearly blindfolded using a white rag. Though their faces are pixelated, the soldiers could be seen hitting the Palestinian on the head while laughing and joking for the camera. “It’s your party, say hello,” the soldiers told the man, while forcing him to say hello to the camera.
Three soldiers who took part in the incident were subsequently convicted of aggravated assault and aggravated battery, being handed 190-day jail terms after they “expressed remorse” for their actions and reached a plea bargain.
During the first six months of 2019 alone Israeli forces detained 2,759 Palestinians, including 446 minors and 76 women. A joint statement issued by Palestinian rights groups the Prisoners Affairs Commission, the Palestinian Prisoner Society and Addameer added that some 5,500 Palestinians were being held in Israeli jails as of 30 June, including 43 women and 220 minors.
Approximately 500 of these prisoners were held in administrative detention, under which detention can be extended indefinitely without charge or trial.
Once imprisoned, Palestinians are subjected to punitive conditions which include denying them family visits, obstructing meetings with their lawyers and repeatedly transferring them to other prisons. In July, the Supreme Court threw out a petition to allow underage Palestinians to call their parents from prison, claiming that the proceedings had to be filed on behalf of individuals.
Although HaMoked – the human rights organisation which filed the petition – pointed to “the near-impossibility of convincing a terrified minor to sign on to such a petition” as justification for not naming individuals, the court still refused to act to improve detention conditions for Palestinians.