Night raids and summonses - Update
[18 June 2014] – In October 2013, UNICEF announced that the Israeli military authorities had agreed to introduce a pilot scheme to issue written summonses in lieu of arresting children at night in the West Bank. Israel’s chief military prosecutor in the West Bank, Lt.-Col. Maurice Hirsch, repeated this announcement in February 2014. This development followed recommendations made by a group of senior UK lawyers and UNICEF to end night-time arrests in recognition of the fact that these military operations have a tendency to terrify the local civilian population. This point was described by UNICEF as follows:
“Many children are arrested in the middle of the night, awakened at their homes by heavily armed soldiers. Some children are arrested in the streets near their homes, near bypass roads used by Israeli settlers or at army checkpoints inside the West Bank. Many of the children arrested at home wake up to the frightening sound of soldiers banging loudly on their front door and shouting instructions for the family to leave the house. For some of the children, what follows is a chaotic and frightening scene, in which furniture and windows are sometimes broken, accusations and verbal threats are shouted, and family members are forced to stand outside in their night clothes as the accused child is forcibly removed from the home and taken away with vague explanations such as “he is coming with us and we will return him later”, or simply that the child is “wanted”. Few children or parents are informed as to where the child is being taken, why or for how long.”
Since the military’s announcement to issue summonses in lieu of night arrests in February 2014, MCW has collected 22 testimonies in which only two children (9 per cent) were issued with some form of summons. In seven out of the 22 cases (32 per cent) the children were arrested at night. In neither of the cases involving summonses were the children, or their guardians, provided with any written documentation, contrary to the announcement made by the chief military prosecutor in February. The details of the two cases in which children were issued with summonses are summarised below and raise a number of concerns.
On 23 April 2014, the father of a 16-year-old boy from Beit Ummar, in the West Bank, received a telephone call from an Israeli intelligence officer stationed in Etzion settlement. The officer told the father that his son must come to the police station located inside the settlement the following day or else the military would raid his house that night. The family complied with the verbal summons and the boy went to the settlement with his mother and a lawyer. The interrogator did not permit the boy’s mother or lawyer to accompany him during his interrogation following which he was detained and taken to Ofer prison.
On 19 May 2014, a 13-year-old boy from Deir Nidham, in the West Bank, was issued with a verbal summons at approximately 9:00 p.m. Earlier in the day, the boy’s two older brothers had been detained at the entrance to the village by a group of Israeli soldiers for no apparent reason. When one of the brothers asked the commanding officer why he was being detained he was told “because you ask too many questions”. The two brothers were then tied and blindfolded and driven away in a military vehicle before returning to the entrance of the village one-and-a-half hours later. On arrival back at the entrance to the village the older brother was told by the commanding officer to telephone his 13-year-old brother and tell him to come to the entrance of the village where they were being detained. The 13-year-old boy complied with this instruction and on arrival at the entrance to the village was handed a telephone and told to speak to an Israeli policeman stationed in Binyamin settlement. He was told by the policeman that he must come to the police station the following day and to bring another named boy from the village with him. All three brothers were then released at approximately 10:00 p.m.
The following day the 13-year-old boy’s family decided not to take him to the Israeli police station located inside a settlement because his father was away and because they had not been issued with any formal documentation. Several nights later heavily armed Israeli soldiers detained the 13-year-old at 2:30 a.m. after breaking down the door to the family home. The boy was painfully hand tied and blindfolded and taken away without any documentation being provided to the family. The boy alleges that he was slapped, kicked and verbally abused before being interrogated and brought before a military court. Four days later he was released without charge.
The treatment of the 13-year-old boy and his brothers from Deir Nidham must also be viewed within the wider context. During the same month, the village of Deir Nidham, which is located adjacent to the Israeli settlement of Halamish, experienced 16 night raids by the Israeli military, or one raid every second night. These high intensity incursions into the village also coincided with the school exam period causing maximum disruption to village life. On only two occasions (13 per cent) was anybody arrested. On eight occasions (50 per cent) the military fired tear gas and stun grenades and blocked the entrance to the village on four occasions (25 per cent). It should be noted that this intensive military activity in Deir Nidham pre-dates the increase in Israeli military activity in the West Bank following the disapperance of three Israeli teenagers who were hitchhiking in occupied territory on 12 June 2014.
In February 2014, MCW raised concerns about the lack of transparency in the way the proposed pilot scheme to issue summonses was proceeding. The evidence recently collected does little to allay these concerns. Nearly two years after the recommendation to end night arrests was first raised, the evidence indicates that Palestinian villages located near to Israeli settlements in the West Bank are still being subjected to frequent and terrifying night-time raids by the military. It is also relevant to recall a statement made by Israel’s chief military prosecutor to the Jerusalem Post in February 2014, which appeared to foreshadow the possibility of the pilot scheme’s failure before it had even begun:
“If the program works, there will be tremendous gains in saving people from operational dangers and minimizing future claims of abuse. If it does not, we will have shown conclusively that summonses do not work and there is no alternative to the policy of night arrests.”
It should be noted that the evidence referred to above was collected randomly by MCW but is not exhaustive. MCW will continue to monitor the situation.