The rights of Palestinian minors who are suspected of stone-throwing in the West Bank are violated severely throughout the criminal justice process. These are the finding of No Minor Matter, a new B’Tselem report, published today (Monday, 18 July).
The report brings, for the first time, full official data on Palestinian minors tried for stone-throwing in the past six years, and is based on dozens of court cases, and on interviews with 50 Palestinian minors who had been arrested on suspicion of stone throwing, and with defense attorneys.
Israeli law, like laws in many other countries, affords minors suspected of criminal offences extra protections in the criminal justice process compared to adult suspects. In the West Bank, Israeli military law (applying only to Palestinians) provides very few such protections. Even after the establishment of the military youth court in 2010, minors are tried almost exactly like adults,
Among the relevant statistics presented in the report, which were provided by the IDF Spokesperson’s Office and relate to 2005-2010, are the following (all relate to minors charged solely with stone-throwing):
- 835 Palestinian minors were tried in military courts in the West Bank on charges of stone throwing. Thirty-four of them were aged 12-13; 255 were 14-15; 546 were 16-17.
- Only one minor was acquitted during that time (0.11 percent of the total), a conviction rate far higher than the extremely high conviction rate in Israel.
- Of the 642 files where B’Tselem received details about the conclusion, 624 (97 percent) ended with a plea bargain; in only five of the cases (0.77%) was a full trial held. In Israel, about half of criminal cases are resolved in a plea bargain.
- 19 minors aged 12-13 who were convicted of stone-throwing served a jail sentence ranging from a few days to two months. In Israel, it is forbidden to impose any prison sentence on a child under age 14.
- 26% of the minors aged 14-15 and about 59% of minors between 16-17 served a jail sentence of four months or more.
Although stone-throwing by young adults and minors is an extremely common offence in the West Bank, no Israeli official was able to provide exact figures on the scope of the phenomenon and on the number of persons injured by the stone-throwing.
The infringement of the minors’ rights begins from the time of arrest and interrogation. Minors are often arrested in the middle of the night and taken to interrogation alone, without being allowed to consult with an attorney or even their parents, and without a parent being allowed to be present at the questioning. Often they are treated violently. The violation of their rights continues during the course of the court proceeding. Judges order the vast majority of minors to be held in custody until the end of the criminal proceedings, forcing plea bargains. This is because even if the minor is eventually acquitted, he will spend a longer period of time in custody during the course of a full trial than the length of punishment if he pleads guilty in a plea bargain. The military justice system views incarceration as the primary means for penalizing minors, and hardly considers other options. While incarcerated, the minors’ receive almost no family visits and face numerous restrictions on their ability to complete their studies.
All the official bodies involved are well aware of the reality described in the report. Yet, other than declarations by a few judges on the need to apply in these cases the principles of Israeli Youth law, and their expressions of discomfort with certain acts by the police or army, no action has been taken to end the infringement of the minors’ rights. The marginal changes made in the military legislation during the establishment of the youth court regarding the adjudication and treatment of minors, are woefully inadequate.
B’Tselem urges the authorities to amend, without delay, the military legislation to make it correspond to the provisions of Israel’s Youth Law. Additionally, the age of adulthood, currently defined under military law as age 16, must be changed to 18, as it is inside Israel.