By Chaim Levinson
Military prosecutors push to lock up 'dangerous' Palestinian teens in the West Bank but oppose letting them be professionally evaluated.
[23 May 2014] - Israel’s military prosecution in the West Bank routinely asks that Palestinians charged with crimes be held until the end of their trials because they are a threat, but it vehemently opposes allowing teenagers to be psychologically evaluated by social workers to determine whether they are in fact dangerous.
For example, a 14-year-old Palestinian boy was brought to the Judea Military Court last month and charged with serving as a lookout for another boy who planted a fake bomb near a settlement. The Israel Defense Forces prosecutor wanted him detained until the end of proceedings, claiming he was dangerous. Before ruling on the request, the judge sought a psychological evaluation of the boy.
But the prosecutor immediately appealed the judge’s order, arguing that a military court has no authority to order psychological evaluations by social workers. The judge ultimately released the boy without an evaluation.
In another case two weeks ago, a Palestinian minor who was remanded until the end of proceedings for stone-throwing requested an evaluation. His family even offered to pay for it, but the military prosecution objected. His request was refused.
“The prosecution speaks loftily about how it protects the rights of minors, but its actions indicate that it isn’t willing to perform even the basic task of conducting an evaluation, which is mandatory in Israel,” said attorney Nery Ramati, who represents many Palestinian teens.
As of April, 110 Palestinian minors were being held until the end of proceedings in Israeli jails, mostly for throwing stones or similar offenses. Yet only 66 were serving time after actually being convicted. This is because the military prosecution in the West Bank — headed by Lt. Col. Maurice Hirsch of the West Bank settlement of Efrat — seeks remands until the end of proceedings almost automatically. Then, if the court agrees, it usually offers a plea bargain in which the teen confesses in exchange for a sentence of time served. Defense attorneys usually accept, since otherwise, their client would end up spending longer in jail even if ultimately acquitted.
In defense of the IDF’s legal approach, the Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement that Palestinian violence is a daily occurrence in the territories and is frequently perpetrated by teens, often “with the encouragement of official [Palestinian] bodies” and support from “their families and schools.”
Spurred by international criticism, the military prosecution has in recent years taken many significant steps toward equalizing the treatment of arrested Palestinian minors with that of minors arrested in Israel. For instance, a juvenile military court was set up in 2009; the age at which Palestinians can be tried as adults was raised from 16 to 18 in 2011, and recently, the amount of time Palestinian minors can be held before seeing a judge was cut from eight days to 96 hours.
The prosecution also decided five years ago to conduct psychological evaluations of Palestinian minors — but only at the sentencing stage, not during remand hearings. Military prosecutors still oppose evaluations during remand hearings, even though judges frequently request them.
Evaluations have often resulted in substantially shorter sentences. Eliane Haddad, the welfare officer responsible for evaluating Palestinian minors, said that of the 200 or so teens she has evaluated over the past five years, many were sentenced to rehabilitation rather than jail and ultimately stopped throwing stones.
“Many times, criminal behavior is due to a problematic social background,” she explained. “The upper-middle-class children of Ramallah who oppose the occupation don’t go out and throw stones.”
Haddad said the minors she meets “regret what they did,” and “their families also don’t want them to continue on this path. The arrest and the lawyer cost a great deal of money. For a Palestinian family, bail of 5,000 shekels ($1,430) is a huge sum.”
Rehabilitation programs are tailored to the individual child, with help from international organizations. “If the child isn’t studying, we’ll try to arrange a school for him,” Haddad explained. “Or find a job. For example, I had a case of a Palestinian minor from Qalqilyah whose father abandoned the family. He left school and went to work, but was injured. He stole two cell phones from settlers, because he had nothing to eat ... We gave them food and arranged work for the older brother.”
“I have no figures, but most of them don’t commit crimes like stealing or throwing stones again,” she added, charging that the state does not spend enough on rehabilitating Palestinian prisoners — a complaint frequently made by the courts.
“Remand evaluations, whose main goal is finding alternatives to arrest ... aren’t suitable to the unique situation” in the territories, the IDF spokesperson said, because “there, alternatives to arrest for minors of the type found in other places don’t exist”: They would require cooperation from both the Palestinian Authority (which has civilian control over much of the West Bank) and the teen’s environment
Nevertheless, the spokesperson continued, over the past few months, the IDF has been exploring whether remand evaluations could be conducted “in a way suitable to the unique situation” in the territories.strongly objects to allowing Palestinian teenagers charged with crimes to be psychologically evaluated, ensuring that the teens are jailed throughout their trials.