A new IsraeliÂ reportÂ has demolished claims made, by Israeli authorities, that significant âreformsâ have been made to system of military detention and prosecution of Palestinian children.
The report, issued by the Israeli human rights NGO BâTselem, titled as âMinors in Jeopardy: Violation of the Rights of Palestinian Minors by Israelâs Military Courts,â is expected to deal a blow to Israelâs reputation even amongst its Western allies, for whom the issue of Palestinian children in the military court system is one of repeated concern.
According to BâTselem, âover the past decade, the state has made several changes to the military orders that deal with the arrest and detention of minors and their treatment in the military courtsâ, changes that, âon the face of itâŠwere meant to improve the protections afforded to minors.â
However, the NGO concludes, âthe changes Israel made have had no more than a negligible impact on minorsâ rights,â and seem to have had âfar more to do with improved appearances than with what happens in actual practiceâ.
One specific âreformâ highlighted by the report is the military juvenile court, introduced in 2009. While Israeli authorities consider its establishment âa landmark achievement in the protection of minorsâ rights in the military justice system,â in practice, âit has failed to improve the safeguarding of the rights of minors facing charges.â
This, Bâtselem explains, is because remand hearings are held at the ordinary military court, and, because trial hearings are âvery rareâ since âthe overwhelming majority of the cases are closed in a plea bargain between the defence and the prosecutionâ.
âThe reason that so many defendants are prepared to enter into plea bargains is the military courtsâ policy on detention which results in minors being kept in custody from the time they are arrested until after they serve their prison sentence,â BâTselem added.
A further point made by the new report is that while the âreformsâ address âwhat goes on in the military courts proper,â the changes âdo not deal with the crucial stages of the initial arrest and interrogationâ, which is what âdetermines the case.â
âDuring these early phases, minors suffer much harm. They undergo the process in utter isolation, without their parents or a lawyer by their side, or any other adult who has their best interests at heart, to explain what is to come and inform them of their rights,â BâTselem states.
âInstead, they are surrounded by adults who are representatives of the regime of occupation under which they live. Some do not even speak their language, and all are entirely focused on extracting a confession or information from the minors.â
Overall, BâTselem accuses Israeli authorities of âtak[ing] pains to create a faĂ§ade of legality in an attempt to hide the human rights abuses associated with enforcing the regime of occupation.â
~Middle East Monitor/Days of Palestine
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Chris Carlson is a student of religion at Mount Mercy University, United States, and has been a regular volunteer with the IMEMC since 2013. He assisted in providing extensive coverage of the 2014 Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip and continues, into the present day, with the issues at hand. He can be reached via email at c h r i s @ i m e m c . o r g.