Jerusalem – Reform of Israel’s military court system in the occupied West Bank has failed to stop “systematic violation” of Palestinian minors’ rights, an Israeli NGO said on Tuesday.
Human rights group B’Tselem said that the 2009 launch of a designated military juvenile court with the stated aim of “improving the protection of minors’ rights” had failed to deliver.
It said that introduction of the juvenile court rather resulted in only “technical changes (which) have not improved the protection of minors’ rights”.
It gave as an example the goal of shortening the length of time that minors are held in custody while awaiting trial.
In practice, it says, this has generated a greater frequency of remand hearings but the military judges “almost always” grant prosecution requests to extend custody.
“The changes introduced to the military justice system… are superficial, and affect nothing more than form,” the report says, citing studies by United Nations children’s agency Unicef and Defence for Children International, among others.
“The reports all point to the same factual findings which demonstrate that minors’ rights are regularly and systematically violated.”
A Unicef report last year cited affidavits taken from 165 West Bank children held by Israel in 2016, saying that all had been subjected to ill treatment or breaches of due process, including not being properly advised of their rights.
Many reported “verbal abuse and intimidation during arrest, transfer, interrogation and/or detention”, UNICEF said.
B’Tselem said that figures provided by the Israel Prisons Service showed that as of February 28, 2018 it held 356 Palestinian minors, nine of whom were serving sentences and 257 awaiting indictment or trial.
Near 100% conviction rate
B’Tselem’s report says that young suspects are frequently advised to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced prison sentence.
“The conviction rate in Israel’s military courts verges on 100 percent,” it says.
“This is not an indication of how effective the prosecution is in proving guilt, but rather a result of the fact that the overwhelming majority of the cases are closed in a plea bargain.”
Israel’s military said it had not yet received the report and could not comment.
A Palestinian teen arrested in December for slapping two Israeli soldiers who entered the yard of her West Bank home has become a vivid symbol of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Ahed Tamimi, who was 16 at the time, is being held in an Israeli prison until the end of proceedings against her.
She is hailed as a hero by Palestinians who see her as bravely standing up to Israel’s occupation.
Israelis accuse her family of using her as a pawn in staged provocations.
She has been charged on 12 counts including assault and could face a lengthy jail term if convicted.
Her trial opened on February 21, behind closed doors, as is customary in the case of minors.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has criticised the actions of Israeli authorities in the case.
Her December scuffle with the soldiers took place amid clashes and protests against US President Donald Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
At least 32 Palestinians and five Israelis have been killed since Trump’s December 6 announcement.
Palestinians too see the city as their capital and Trump’s recognition broke with decades of US policy that its status should be negotiated between the parties.