This piece was originally published by MCC Palestine, August 2017
We arrived at Ofer Prison in the morning of late June. Ofer Prison is accompanied by a nearby interrogation center and military courts; together they function as an assembly line to put young Palestinians living in the West Bank behind bars as quickly as possible. With the help of an organization named Military Court Watch (info below), we were admitted inside to see the proceedings of the military court system in the West Bank.
Upon entering the courts, we first sat with families who were there to see their children’s court appearances. We heard from Mohammed and his wife who told us about how their son had been arrested by the military while he was playing soccer on the school playground in late April. Their village lies close to a bypass road to an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Settlements such as this one are considered illegal under international law (more information here). Their son, named Ibrahim, was accused of throwing stones by this road. Ibrahim has already had 7 court appearances; he is in the 10th grade and he missed his school exams while he was in prison. The parents told us that 6 people from their village had been arrested around the same time as their son, some under the age of 18. “They come to provoke us, to stir up our village,” claims Ibrahim’s father. Now Ibrahim will always have a “security mark,” explains his father, which will make it difficult for the young man to get work permits into Israel and Jerusalem, but will also complicate his travel anywhere in the world.
We then met with Samar, the mother of a young man named Ahmad, who claimed her son had been in prison for over 7 months. Ahmad had been working at a radio station when the soldiers broke in and arrested him and his friends at 2 in the morning, breaking all of the equipment in the process. Samar explained that the soldiers first went to the family’s home in the middle of the night – she woke up with armed and masked soldiers by her bedside demanding to know where her son was. Samar thinks Ahmad and his friends were arrested for their journalism; the military court calls it something different and charged Ahmad for “incitement.” For such a charge, each family would be fined 6,000 NIS (1,700 USD / 2,200 CAD) and each of the defendants could face 5 years of prison time if convicted according to Samar.
Military Court Watch, which monitors the Israeli military court system, stressed that whether the evidence is flimsy or solid, most cases end in a conviction. Recent official data indicates a conviction rate for children (12-17 years) of 95%, higher for adults. This is designed to put Palestinians behind bars.
In no more than an hour, we shuffled between the various caravans acting as court rooms and heard over a dozen cases. They are, by definition, kangaroo courts. In the first courtroom we entered, two defendants sat side by side, having their unrelated cases heard by the judge virtually at the same time. One of the lawyers asked the military guard what he thought about the case and the judge fell asleep in the middle of giving the verdict. Both of the young men were taken away, shackled by the feet, and replaced by new defendants. The judge remained asleep.
In one of the courtrooms we found Samar again who was watching the court appearance of her son, Ahmad. Three other young men sat beside him as defendants. Ahmad’s court appearance took five minutes with the judge announcing a new court date next month. Ahmad, shackled, was taken out of the court and back to prison. New defendants came to replace him. An assembly line of injustice.
Military Court Watch (MCW) was established in 2013 and is guided by two basic principles. First, all children detained by the Israeli military authorities are entitled to all the rights and protections guaranteed under international law. Secondly, that there can be no legal justification for treating Palestinian and Israeli children differently under Israel’s military and civilian legal systems. In pursuit of these principles, MCW monitors, litigates, advocates and educates in the region and beyond.
You can find out more about Military Court Watch and its work at its website, http://www.militarycourtwatch.org/index.php
Here are videos of Gerard Horton of Military Court Watch describing how the Israeli military court system works: