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Evidence update: night arrests and summonses

[14 January 2021] – Each year Israeli soldiers conduct about 3,200 search and arrest operations in Palestinian communities in the West Bank.[i] Approximately 2,800 of these operations occur at night[ii] and in about 580 night-raids, a child is arrested.[iii] Israel justifies this practice on the basis that the territory is subject to military rule (temporarily since 1967) as permitted under the Fourth Geneva Convention ("the Convention").[iv] Somewhat inconsistently Israel does not enforce military law on Israeli civilians living in the same area in settlements built in violation of the Convention.[v]   

The level of fear, intimidation and trauma induced by these operations on the Palestinian civilian population should not be underestimated. This has been extensively documented for decades by Israeli, Palestinian and international organisations including the UN, as well as media outlets.[vi] The evidence describes front doors smashed in after midnight; children waking to soldiers in their bedrooms; the sound of household items breaking; shouting and tears; and the all-pervasive fear. In the weeks and months that follow: bedwetting; aggression; hyper-vigilance; lack of concentration; and studies abandoned, are just some of the consequences that can be anticipated. 
There are operational reasons why civilians are arrested at night - first, it is more likely that a suspect will be home; and secondly, street protests are less likely at 2 A.M. However, these reasons do not fully explain the scale of operations - for that, it helps to consult a map. The overwhelming majority of operations occur in Palestinian communities located within a kilometer or two of an Israeli settlement, or its associated infrastructure. The harsh reality is that if you facilitate the movement of 450,000 civilians into occupied territory in violation of international law (excluding East Jerusalem), you will need to intimidate the local population into submission - night raids appear to be the best tool for this task. 
In 2012/13 two reports on the treatment of children in military detention and night arrests were published posing a public relations challenge for Israeli authorities. The first report, issued by a delegation, including senior lawyers recommended that children should not be arrested at night "save for in extreme and unusual circumstances", and a pilot study should be conducted into issuing summonses as an alternative. The following year UNICEF published a report on the same issue and went further, recommending a total prohibition on arresting children at night. 
Following the release of these reports and other media exposure, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that it would […] work to implement the reports' recommendations and delegated the task to the military prosecutor in the West Bank. Ominously for reformers, the military prosecutor at the time was himself a resident of an illegal West Bank settlement.[vii] However, in February 2014, the military prosecutor did announce the launch of a pilot study in which the military would issue written summonses to Palestinian children wanted for questioning instead of arresting them at night.[viii]
In February 2014 the pilot study commenced in the Nablus and Hebron districts of the West Bank but was temporarily suspended in or about September 2014 due to "increased violence". Curiously, the military authorities subsequently confirmed that "no statistics were collected" during the initial operation of the study making effective internal assessment impossible. However, evidence collected by MCW at the time indicates that summonses were issued in 9 percent of cases, but were frequently written in Hebrew with two-thirds being delivered in military night raids - largely defeating the purpose of issuing a summons.
In or about March 2015 the military authorities re-started the pilot study and summonses were issued in 10 percent of cases that year - an all-time high. However, as before, the study had a number of troubling features, including: two-thirds of summonses were delivered by the military after midnight; relevant parts of the summonses were handwritten in Hebrew; relevant information, such as the nature of the accusation, was missing; parents were prevented from accompanying their children; and no reference to the child's legal rights were included. And as before, no records were kept casting doubt on the bona fides of the study.
Between 2016 and 2019, the proportion of cases in which summonses were issued fluctuated between 2 and 9 percent each year, but were accompanied by all the shortcomings documented in previous years. In 2020, MCW documented just one case in which a summons was issued - a classification that is perhaps generous considering the facts of the case. On 31 August 2020, the home of a 15-year-old boy from Hebron was raided at 2:00 a.m. by around 20 soldiers. As the child was being led away he reports that: 
"[T]he commander asked to see my identity card. When I told him I did not have one yet he told me he could not arrest me and took me back home. He scribbled something in Hebrew on a piece of paper and gave it to me and told me to come to the police station at 6:00 a.m. The commander told my father if I did not show up at 6:00 a.m. he would come back and destroy our house."
A recent report published by the Israeli organisation Hamoked, tends to confirm the conclusion that the pilot study, such as it is, was never implemented in good faith. Hamoked notes that its "persistent attempts to receive figures about the pilot have proved fruitless. Time and again, both the military and the Israel Police claimed they did not have comprehensive data on the matter ... The response, which included no figures, also explicitly stated that "the Israel Police does not monitor or collect quantitative data on summons [...]. Also, there are no written conclusions or lessons drawn from the pilot".
But perhaps the conclusion that the pilot study was never implemented in good faith was always predictable once Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced to the international community that the task of reforming the system would be delegated to a resident of an illegal settlement.  
In the past 12-months children continue to describe their night-time arrests in the following terms:
  • "At around 3:30 a.m. I was woken up by torch light shining in my face. I opened my eyes and saw about 10 Israeli soldiers in my bedroom. The commander asked me for my name then told me to get up and put some clothes on because I was to be arrested. He did not give a reason for the arrest and did not give my parents any documents." (R.U.K.K. - 15 yrs)
  • "I was arrested from my home at around 4:00 a.m. I was up studying and I heard loud banging at our front door. My father opened the door and about 15 Israeli soldiers entered our home. My younger sister, who is 13 years old, was terrified and started to cry. They asked for our identity cards and then searched the house and took all the clothes out of the wardrobes. They did not tell us what they were looking for." (A.I.M.S. - 17 yrs)
  • "I woke up at around 2:00 a.m. to the sound of loud banging at our front door. I opened the door and six Israeli soldiers entered our home. I could see many more soldiers were outside. A soldier asked to check our identity cards and then the commander told me I was under arrest. He did not give me any documents or tell me why I was being arrested. He told me to get dressed and then I was taken away." (M.K.A.H. - 17 yrs)
  • "A day before my arrest the military commander in charge of our refugee camp phoned my father. He said I was involved “in stuff” and if my father did not control me he would shoot me. The following morning, at around 4:00 a.m., I woke up to banging and explosions.  My father opened the door and about 10 soldiers entered. I was still in bed when soldiers entered my bedroom. The soldiers searched our home and broke some furniture." (I.I.M.D. - 15 yrs)
(All 845 testimonies collected by MCW are available here)


[i] Information collected by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories (OCHA oPt) reveals that in 2017 and 2018, an average of 267 “search or arrest operations” took place in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, each month. The vast majority of these included military invasions into Palestinian homes. See Yesh Din, Breaking the Silence and Physicians for Human Rights, A Life Exposed: Military invasions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank)November 2020), page 12.
[ii] See supra note 1. 88 percent of incursions occur at night. 
[iii] Based on information provided to Hamoked under a Freedom of Information application, Israeli forces arrested 855 Palestinian children from the West Bank in 2019. Based on 100 testimonies collected by MCW from Palestinian children arrested that year, 68 percent were arrested at night. 
[iv] Pursuant to this reasoning, Israel established military courts in the West Bank on 7 June 1967 relying on the Fourth Geneva Convention (Military Order No. 3) (In August 1967 Military Order No. 3 was amended and references to the Fourth Geneva Convention were deleted). Over 53 years later the military courts are still prosecuting Palestinian civilians, including children, and Israel is still relying on the Fourth Geneva Convention as justification. See briefing paper distributed by the military authorities at Ofer military court, near Jerusalem - "The Military Courts Unit (Judea and Samaria) - Updated June 2019 - The Military Courts Unit in Judea and Samaria.
[v] While Israeli military law technically applies to everyone in the West Bank, including Israeli settlers, regulations have been passed applying both military and civilian law to Israelis in the West Bank with a discretion given to the prosecutor to determine which system applies to Israelis. In practice, Israeli military law is applied to Palestinians in the West Bank while Israeli civilian law is applied to Israelis in the same area - a distinction based on race or nationality.
[vi] See, for example: UN Committee Against Torture - Concluding Observations (2009); Breaking the Silence: Occupation of the Territories (2000-2010); UN Human Rights Committee - Concluding Observations (July 2010); US State Department human rights report (April 2011); B'Tselem, No Minor Matter, (July 2011); Adalah, PHR(Israel) and Al Mazan, False Confessions of Palestinian Children and Adolescents under Coercion, (November 2011); Children in Military Custody: A report written by a delegation of British lawyers on the treatment of Palestinian children under Israeli military law, (June 2012); UNICEF: Children in Israeli Military Detention: Observations and Recommendations, (February 2013); UN Secretary General's Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, (May 2013); UN Committee on the Rights of the Child - Concluding Observations, (June 2013); B'Tselem, Abuse and torture in interrogations of dozens of Palestinian minors in the Israel police Etzion facility, (August 2013); UN Human Rights Council: Draft report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (Israel), (November 2013); ACRI, One Rule Two Legal Systems, (October 2014); UN Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Makarim Wibisono, (January 2016); ACRI, Arrests, interrogations and indictments of Palestinian minors in the Occupied Territories: Facts and figures for 2014, (February 2016); B'Tselem, Minors in Jeopardy, (March 2018); Hamoked, Childhood in Chains, (April 2018); Military Court Watch, Annual Report, (June 2020); Hamoked, Under cover of Darkness, (October 2020); Yesh Din, PHR-Israel and Breaking the Silence, A Life Exposed, (November 2020); The Independent, Bound, Blindfolded and Beaten by Israeli Troops, (June 2009); CNN, Israel accused of mistreating kids, (September 2010); The Guardian, Hundreds of Palestinian minors jailed for throwing stones, (July 2011); The Australian, Stone Cold Justice, (November 2011); Haaretz, Nearly 100% of all military court cases in the West Bank end in conviction, (November 2011); The Guardian, The Palestinian children, alone and bewildered, in Israel's Al Jalame jail, (January 2012); The New York Times, Palestinian's trial shines light on military justice, (February 2012); The Guardian, Israel subjecting Palestinian children to 'spiral of injustice', (June 2012); Chanel 4 News, Israel 'breaches rights of Palestinian children', (June 2012); The Jewish Chronicle, Israel 'in breach of law' over child detainees, (June 2012); BBC News, Israel 'breaching UN convention on child rights', (June 2012); The Sydney Morning Herald, Israel sees Palestinian children as 'potential terrorists', panel finds, (June 2012); Mondoweiss, Arrest of Palestinian children - 'A boy in leg irons' - is becoming a big story in the UK, (June 2012); The Daily Beast, Where's the shame? (July 2012); The Times of Israel, UN report says Israel routinely abuses Palestinian minors, (June 2013); ABC Four Corners: Stone Cold Justice, (February 2014). Etc, etc, etc. - For more media links see -
[vii] UNICEF Bulletin No. 1 (October 2013) – available at . Lt. Col. Maurice Hirsch was the Israeli military prosecutor in the West Bank between 2013 and 2016. Hirsch, a resident of an illegal West Bank settlement, left his post as military prosecutor in November 2016 in order to take up a consultancy position with the non-governmental organisation NGO Monitor.
[viii] A report at the time published in the Jerusalem Post suggested that the announcement to issue summonses in lieu on arresting children at night was in part due to increasing concern of potential legal exposure at the International Criminal Court - The Jerusalem Post: "New policy could improve human rights, save resources, avoid ICC" (18 February 2014) - Available at: