Spotlight highlights Checkpoint events characteristic of the policy of the occupation: the systematic repudiation of basic human rights in the occupied territories. For Palestinians, reality is a complicated tangle of problems (survival in the everyday, education, health, making a living…) that cannot be solved because the Israeli occupation is conducted by enforcing countless inhuman bans. The Spotlights rely on collections of relevant reports from the field.
The Next Generation
Minors in military courts
Whenever we see a Palestinian child or youth brought into the courtroom wearing a brown prison uniform, feet shackled, accompanied by police officers, we again wonder: Why is the most powerful army in the Middle East harassing children and youths? What security danger, or existential threat, do they represent that requires arresting and trying so many of them?
The state of Israel, which intends to hold on to the occupied territories for the long term, has a particular interest in “preparing” generations of youths to take their place, when they grow up, as weakened subjects in a shattered society under occupation. The existence of thousands of teenagers and youths with criminal records, potential and actual lawbreakers, legitimizes the continued activities of the security apparatus – the arrest, interrogation and imprisonment of Palestinian minors. The military court procedures provide clear evidence of the danger these youths represent to Israel’s security.
An average of 300 Palestinians under 18 years of age are imprisoned for security-related offenses every month. Most are arrested and tried for throwing rocks, Molotov cocktails, etc. Some are arrested and tried for being present illegally in Israel, and a few for other crimes such as burglary, theft, etc. After the issuance of the “Juvenile Military Court Order” (Temporary order No. 1644, renewable annually), which came into effect in September, 2009, a number of accommodations were implemented intended to take into consideration the needs of minors. But the order states that the accommodations will not be applied to the arrest and interrogation procedures.
Palestinian minors, like adults, are arrested during an “incident,” or in their homes when the army raids the village looking for them. An “incident” resulting in the arrest of minors usually occurs when soldiers or police officers enter a village in the territory of the Palestinian Authority, a school during recess or at the end of the school day, or are present at a demonstration or a checkpoint resulting in a confrontation with Palestinian youths.
From reports of observers in military courts
Three youths, aged 16-17, are suspected of throwing rocks at a foot patrol of security personnel in the village. An attorney living in that village claimed they could not have been properly identified because at the time they had been arrested (19:30) the location was complete dark and there were no streetlights. He said that the three had met to study English. The judge ordered a continuance but did not release the three youths. The trial ended with a plea bargain, according to which each of the youths was sentenced to three and one-half months in prison, to be served from the date of his arrest, a fine of NIS 2500 (or an additional two and one-half months in prison) and an eight-month suspended sentence on condition that the accused not commit an offense similar to the one he is accused of in this case, or any offense involving throwing objects…(For full report press here)
We’re familiar with how soldiers and police officers verbally harass (and not only verbally) Palestinians to incite them to respond by throwing rocks, providing an excuse to arrest them. The arrests carried out during the course of the confrontation are, essentially, “kidnappings,” the parents aren’t present, and for one, two and sometimes even more days don’t know what has become of their son.
…A 17 ½ -year-old youth was arrested and brought for extension of his remand. His parents don’t know where he is. The judge orders he be held for eight days and ignores a request to notify his parents. (For full report press here)
…A 17-year-old youth went from his village to his aunt’s house in a village nearby, west of Route 443. The IDF patrols the road and its surroundings constantly, because it is intended solely for Israelis, and also because there are many Israeli and Palestinian localities in the area, almost adjacent to one another. Members of the family say it is impossible to get from their village to the aunt’s without going on the road. The youth was caught by an IDF patrol when he walked by himself on Route 443, was put in a jeep and jailed at the Ofer military base. The soldiers claim they caught him because he threw rocks. The youth disappeared Monday afternoon; his family looked for him everywhere they could think of, in the hills and at the checkpoints. The youth spent the night in jail at Ofer, and was brought to court the following day, unaccompanied by either a lawyer or family members. Attorney I’ad Misak met with him on Tuesday and immediately contacted the family. (For full report press here)
A case against a minor arrested in the field usually is based on testimony by soldiers and police officers who claim they identified him. The testimony presented in court when the prosecution requests he be remanded for an additional period, or during the trial itself, is usually vague and inaccurate, the date of the incident approximate, and often the location of the incident is not described precisely. The court considers such evidence to be “problematic” but that doesn’t prevent the judge from finding the minor guilty. He has, in any case, already admitted everything they asked him to.
That is what occurred in the case of a request in the Petah Tiqwa court to remand a 14-year-old youth: a soldier claimed he identified him by the red shirt he wore during the incident. The minor has been already held for two months without trial.
Arrests of people in their homes are usually carried out at night when the army invades a village or a neighborhood with a list of names obtained from people who’d been arrested and interrogated by the police or the Shin Bet. The minor is pulled from bed in the presence of his family and taken for interrogation without a parent, lawyer or juvenile officer present. The interrogator won’t have any trouble getting the frightened prisoner, still in his pajamas, cold, handcuffed and blindfolded, to sign whatever he asks him to. And the younger the person, the easier it is for the interrogator. Children are very easy prey.
Here’s what Halil Yassin has to say about his arrest and interrogation. Halil, a 17-year-old orphan, who doesn’t know how to read or write, incriminated during his first interrogation other people in his village who were then brought to trial. (For full report press here)
Most say whatever they’re asked to say during their first interrogation. They’ll incriminate dozens of people and sign whatever is put before them, whether or not they are able to read it. Interrogation of children increases the chances of arresting many more people. The evidence against them is already prepared. Many youths or young adults are arrested on suspicion they committed offenses a long time ago, sometimes a very long time ago, and were recently incriminated by some youth under interrogation. They’ll be sentenced according to their age at sentencing, not their age when they committed the offense.
A high school student was arrested, suspected of throwing rocks and other objects four years ago, before he turned 14. (For full report press here). Par. 5, Petah Tiqwa report)
Another example: A youth arrested a year and a half after an incident of rock-throwing when he was 15 ½. (For full report press here)
Most of those arrested for throwing rocks or other objects are remanded “for the duration of the case.” This can take from a few days to many months. When the minor doesn’t confess, the process can take up to two years. The possibility that the minor will be released on bail until is trial is almost zero, in part because the family can’t raise the bail.
A 14-year-old youth was arrested on suspicion of throwing rocks and a burning object. After three weeks in jail the judge agreed to release him because of his age and because he had a medical condition requiring continuous treatment…He required that NIS 12,000 be deposited as well as a third-party guarantee of NIS 5,000. The mother cried that she didn’t have the money…The judge proposed releasing the youth “at a discount” – only NIS 8,000. The prosecution appealed. (For full report press here)
Other example: Two youths from Qatana. Their parents weren’t able to raise the money for the guarantees and the youths remained in jail until an attorney was found who volunteered to help. (For full report press here)
The legal system provides a shortcut that significantly reduces its burden resulting from masses of arrests and prosecutions. Some 95 percent of cases involving minors end with a plea bargain the prosecution reaches with the defense, with the judge’s explicit encouragement. A number of charges are dropped and the minor confesses to those that remain. This saves the court time, shortens the period of incarceration until judgment is handed down, and is alleged to reduce the sentence. Someone confessing to throwing rocks as part of a plea bargain will usually be sentenced to 3-4 months in prison, part of which he has already served from the time of his arrest until the sentence is handed down.
…A 14 ½ -year-old youth from the village of Bidu. He sits, feet shackled, trying to make eye contact with members of his family. He’s accused of throwing rocks at the separation fence. The indictment states that Border Police soldiers arrived, rocks were thrown at their jeep and they beat the boy. The judge wanted to understand how the rocks endangered the fence…The prosecution wasn’t able to provide an explanation. In any event the boy confessed and they reached a plea bargain.
Minors found guilty of throwing rocks are not only sentenced to prison terms. In addition to imprisonment they are fined (NIS 3,000, on average) and receive a suspended sentence. These elements of the sentence are not part of the plea bargain, and the judge can use them to make it harder or easier for the accused, within accepted limits, of course. The judge fixes the length of the suspended sentence that will be implemented if, during a certain number of years from the day the person is released, he commits another offense like the one he was found guilty of, or another offense that endangers human life or damages property (a sentence of 6-10 months, on average, suspended for an average of 4 years).
A suspended sentence is a punishment leading to additional punishments. A person who has completed their term of imprisonment and paid a fine will be not be allowed for the duration of the suspended sentence – about four years – to obtain various permits Israel grants to Palestinians. Denial of a permit to work in Israel increases the pressure to enter Israel illegally to find work; increases the risk of being caught, jailed and doubly punished. During the time when the sentence is “suspended,” minors, and minors who have become adults, are at an increased risk of repeated incrimination and arrest and, of course, repeated punishment. During the course of this “career” they’ll miss years of schooling and reach adulthood with an inadequate education and without having learned a trade. Some of them will join the pool of informers and collaborators which the security services recruit from among Palestinians one generation after another, for as long as the occupation continues.
By : Hagit Shlonsky, Hava Halevi, Ofra Ben Artzi
Photographs: Tamar Fleischman
Translator: Charles S. Kamen