Military courts and making deals

By former EA Alison, Yanoun

When we first met ‘Bashir’ his 15-year-old son ‘Ahmed’ had been detained by the military for about three or four weeks, for alleged stone throwing (see our Child arrest and detention blog; real names have not been used).

Bashir told us that Ahmed’s sixth court appearance since his arrest would take place in the next few days. His parents had been attending court but could only communicate with their son from a distance. This was distressing for all of them. Ahmed told us later that on court days he had to wait in a cold room for up to seven hours, in handcuffs.

Bashir said that their lawyer had recommended making a deal this time. Ahmed had found that each time he came to court, in the absence of a confession, the case would automatically be postponed. The lawyer warned him that this could go on for up to 18 months. At an eventual trial the chances of acquittal would be minimal. He was also told that a conviction after a prolonged case would involve a much lengthier sentence as a punishment for ‘wasting court time’.

One of the many concerns about Ahmed’s detention was the fact that it was depriving him of so much education. The family was very keen that he should not have to repeat a year or more of schooling.

In the end the family felt they had no choice but to make a deal. Ahmed had to say he had thrown rocks. The ‘deal’ was: a sentence of a month and a half; a fine of ₪5,000; and three years’ probation.

There was relief that Ahmed could soon return to his parents, brothers, sisters and friends, all of whom had been distraught while he was imprisoned. There was also relief that disruption to his schooling had been limited and he could continue in the same year as his peers. Ahmed is in ninth grade and was fortunate in that The Red Cross wrote to the education authorities so that he did not have to repeat his grade.

But Ahmed now has a conviction that will almost certainly prove problematic whenever he applies for travel permits, university entrance or work applications – for the rest of his life. He is at high risk of re-arrest and jail during his period of probation, which causes the family a lot of anxiety. Ahmed’s conviction places the family at risk, too. It can affect their ability to get travel or building permits, and can mean that they get other adverse attention from the military.

Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights defines the requirements for a fair trial, including:

  • reasoned decisions and reliable evidence
  • trial within a reasonable time
  • presumption of innocence.

Palestinians are subject to military law from the age of 12.

Addameer, a Palestinian human rights organisation, says in its Courageous Voices, Fragile Freedoms report that:

“Given the admission of confessions extracted from Palestinians under coercion, it is very difficult for a lawyer to prove their innocence, which is one main reason why the majority of cases end this way (in a plea bargain). Accused who confess are also likely to get a lower sentence than if they insist on ‘wasting’ court time going for a trial. Of Palestinians indicted, 99.7% are convicted. (Israeli Military Court 2010 annual report). Sentences for stone throwing can be up to 20 years.”

Also from Addameer: “The arrest of Palestinian children leads to the disruption of their education and, in consequence, to substantial reintegration problems, with many children dropping out of school upon release. Very limited provisions are made for the education of Palestinian child detainees.”

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  • Please write to your current MP (and those who will be hoping for your vote in June) to raise their awareness of this issue and encourage them to raise it in parliament if elected.
  • See Defence for Children International (the only Palestinian human rights organization specifically focused on child rights) for more facts and for other ways you can help.
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