New York Times article hints at equal rights
[7 August 2013] – The New York Times recently published an article about stone-throwing Palestinian boys from Beit Ummar, a Palestinian village in the West Bank near Bethlehem (“In the West Bank Culture of Conflict, Boys Wield the Weapon at Hand” (4 August 2013)). The story vividly highlights how clashes erupt at friction points throughout the West Bank where Israeli settlements and infrastructure have been built in close proximity to Palestinian centres of population. However, there is one aspect of this issue that the New York Times article only hinted at which possibly deserves closer attention, not least because it touches upon some of the big issues soon to be discussed in the recently resuscitated peace talks.
When Israel encouraged its citizens to settle in the West Bank in 1967, it set in motion a chain of events that inevitably will have far reaching consequences based on a simple legal principle, namely, that no state is permitted to discriminate between those over whom it exercises penal jurisdiction based on race or nationality. This means that if a Palestinian child throws a stone at a child from a settlement, or visa versa, both children should be dealt with equally under the law. However, the reality in the West Bank is that Palestinian children accused of throwing stones are prosecuted in military courts, whereas their Israeli counterparts living in the settlement next door, are dealt with by Israel’s civilian juvenile justice system.
Not surprisingly, Israel’s civilian juvenile legal system has far greater rights and protections than its military counterpart, as the few examples below illustrate:
· Israeli settler children cannot be interrogated at night, a Palestinian child can;
· Israeli settler children can consult with a lawyer prior to questioning, a Palestinian child rarely does;
· Israeli settler children are accompanied by a parent when questioned, a Palestinian child is not;
· Israeli settler children see a judge within 12-24 hours, it is twice as long for a Palestinian child;
· Israeli settler children can not be imprisoned if under 14, a 12-year-old Palestinian child can be; and
· If convicted Israeli children stand a 6.5% chance of imprisonment, it is 90% for Palestinians.
The relevance of this institutionalised discrimination will be lost on few. If the current round of peace talks fail, the calls for equal treatment under the law for all inhabitants of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean may reach a crescendo.
Photo: Palestinian children in Ofer Military Court by Sylvie Le Clezio