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The Injustice System

Posted: 01/11/2012 16:28

Palestinian Protests West Bank

I am one of a number of British parliamentarians who has recently attended Israeli military courts in the occupied Palestinian Territories and have been horrified by the injustice meted out and the discrimination against Palestinian detainees.

In June a delegation of distinguished UK lawyers, led by the former Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, published a damning report into the holding of Palestinian children by the Israeli military.

They concluded Israel was guilty of several breaches of the United Nations Rights of the Child and the Fourth Geneva Convention because of the way the Israeli Military judicial system routinely treats Palestinian children and discriminates against Palestinians.

Now another report by Caabu (The Council for Arab British Understanding) has revealed further disturbing evidence of mistreatment and discrimination against Palestinians.

'Palestinian detainees: no security in injustice' exposes a dual system riddled with institutional discrimination.

For example, Israel's military courts on the West Bank had a 99.74% conviction rate in 2010. The military courts only deal with Palestinians; illegal Jewish settlers on the West Bank are processed through Israel's civilian judicial system. If they ever find themselves arrested, 90% of official complaints against settlers are closed without indictment.

Take the case of Nahum Korman, a settler handed a community sentence and fined for beating to death an 11-year-old Palestinian, Hilmi Shawasheh. On the same day a 17-year-old Palestinian girl, Suad Ghazal, received a six-and-a-half year custodial sentence for stabbing a settler when she was 15. She had been in prison for two years before coming to trial. This is not an exceptional case.

Caabu's report documents numerous aspects of the system, through detention without trial, ill-treatment and torture, and the detention of children. It is clear that at every level, Palestinians are discriminated against, often for political reasons.

Lengthy detention - without charge or trial - of Palestinian legislators, candidates in elections and party activists is routine. Hundreds of Palestinians kept in 'administrative detention' often never know the allegations against them, let alone meet a lawyer. The Israeli government will claim that all detainees have the right to appeal to its Supreme Court, but in the first decade of this century fewer than 300 appeals were ever heard. All of them were rejected, many with single line judgements.

But it is in the treatment of children that we see the worst of Israel's military justice system. 75% of children arrested suffer physical violence, around a third are strip searched and almost 30% are shown documents in Hebrew - a language they cannot understand. The striking infographic from Caabu's report illustrates how Israeli and Palestinian minors will experience completely different processes if arrested on the West Bank. An Israeli child must see a civilian judge within 12 hours of arrest - a Palestinian child can wait four days. An Israeli child must be brought to trial within six months - a Palestinian child can wait two years. Israeli children cannot be handed a custodial sentence until they are 14, and only 6.5% of those old enough ever go to prison. On the other hand, Palestinians as young as 12 can face prison - 90% of those convicted will end up behind bars.

Israel operates two different systems of law for two different groups of people. One is significantly harsher than the other. Caabu is the latest organisation to call for an end to wholesale discrimination and ethnic segregation in Israel's judicial processes. They join Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Defence for Children International and the UK Foreign Office in calling for Israel to implement significant changes to accord with international law, and basic human rights.

For those of us (including the majority of Israelis and Palestinians) who still hope for a peaceful two-state solution and still believe such a solution is possible, just, this is a deeply depressing picture. Only by nurturing their common humanity can Israelis and Palestinians hope to bring an end to their conflict. The institutionalised discrimination and humiliation in the Israeli military justice system, which the Israeli Government shows little sign of ending, is a glaring barrier to peace.

 
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