Military courts violating Palestinian minors’ rights, NGO claims
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Military courts violating Palestinian minors’ rights, NGO claims

B’Tselem report says ‘superficial’ reforms introduced to protect children have failed to deliver, with most still being detained while awaiting trial

16-year-old Fawzi al-Junaidi (c) is arrested by Israeli soldiers at a protest in Hebron, December 7, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
16-year-old Fawzi al-Junaidi (c) is arrested by Israeli soldiers at a protest in Hebron, December 7, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Reform of Israel’s military court system in the West Bank has failed to stop “systematic violation” of Palestinian minors’ rights, a left-wing Israeli NGO said in a new report published Tuesday.

The B’Tselem rights group 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.

Palestinian demonstrators hurl rocks at Israeli security forces during clashes in al-Bireh on the outskirts of Ramallah in the West Bank, on November 29, 2015. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

“The changes introduced to the military justice system… are superficial, and affect nothing more than form,” the report said, citing studies by United Nations children’s agency UNICEF and Defense 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 Palestinian children from the West Bank 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 said.

“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.

Sixteen-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi (2-R) attends a hearing at the Ofer military court in the West Bank on January 15, 2018. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

A Palestinian teen arrested in December after a video of her slapping and shoving  two IDF soldiers went viral became a vivid symbol of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ahed Tamimi, who was 16 at the time, is being held in an Israeli jail 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 military rule in the West Bank. 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.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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