Friday, May 1, 2015

Israeli Military "Justice"

Many of you already know of the Military Court Watch and Defense of Children International Palestine. If you don't, by all means learn from their web sites. Both have given generously of their time this week to let me see first hand the relentless injustice and punishment routinely handed out to Palestinians and, particularly, to Palestinian children. DCI took me to tour the former secret Israeli military prison at Al-Fara, notorious for the torture administered to thousands of Palestinians between 1982 and the Oslo Accords in 1993. Gerard Horton and Salwa Duaibis with MCW took me and two friends to the the military courts at the Ofer prison where Palestinian children and young people are tried and sentenced for a variety of offenses. With advance permission we were allowed to observe several cases. Let me tell you about two.

Throwing Stones   Whether he did or did not throw stones (he said he did not), this 14 year old boy's case was heard with an Israeli prosecutor and Druze defense lawyer. The military judge had a pleasant and kindly-appearing face. The family had assented to our presence as observers, and we were each asked by the judge to give our name. Cotton and Fite were something of a novelty for them. As "civil" as it all appeared, this 14 year old received a one year suspended sentence which will continue for five years plus a fine of 400 shekels. What this sentence means is that if this lad is ever "detained" in the next five years he will be imprisoned for one year plus whatever punishment is meted out for the next "offense". This means that if he goes to the store for bread, and if some IDF soldiers are about, and if someone throws a stone, all the kids will run. If he collared, it will be his word against the soldiers. He will begin serving his sentence. Israeli military mission accomplished – 14 year old and family will live in fear for five years.

Searching for a Job   Nothing illegal about searching for a job – unless it involves entering Jerusalem without a permit. This young man was 19 years old. He sought work in Jerusalem to help support himself and his father who is unemployed and diabetic. Much the same as the first case. Only this time the Israeli assigned as translator was having a hard time staying awake. The young man was convicted and could be released on bail for 4,000 shekels ($1,000) AND two Israeli guarantors who would each put up 5,000 shekels. This for a young man and his family who are poor and haven't a chance in hell of coming up with 4000 shekels.

What stood out for me with just this short exposure was how "normal", how routine it all is. Initially, it has the look of justice – the accused has a lawyer to defend him; there is standard court room procedure. But it is no such thing. It is the means by which Israel keeps the West Bank Palestinian population in submission and under total control.

A final word   At a meta level, this massive injustice, gross violation of the Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention by Israel is one thing. It is infuriating and shameful that the US/we do nothing substantial to address it. At another level, looking in the faces of Palestinian mothers and fathers who have spent hours getting here is inescapably sad. Some appear desperate; some, fearful; some, impassive. All want their children released; and all but a very few will be disappointed.

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