J., a 13-year-old Palestinian, lives in the village of Al Janiya. One cold morning in the beginning of last December, wearing pajamas and slippers, J. left his house and went to collect items from a nearby place for his relative’s engagement party. A large carob tree stood near the place. J. was accompanied by A., a six-year-old child.
As J. would later describe it afterward, upon reaching the tree, several soldiers jumped on the children and began hitting them. The altercation attracted the attention of an adult, who arrived and began yelling at the soldiers. The soldiers released A. but kept hold of J.
J.’s mother rushed to the scene and tried to dislodge the child from their grasp. In response, one of the soldiers pressed his rifle’s barrel to her chest. The mother, who suffers from an illness, lost consciousness. In the ensuing chaos, the soldiers threw stun and tear gas grenades, taking off in a car with J.
Meanwhile, at home, J.’s father heard the news from children who came to his doors in tears. He and his relatives would spend the next hours in desperate attempts to talk to the Palestinian District Coordination Offices (DCO) to try and find out where their son is.
J. was first taken to a military base, where – as he later described – the soldiers tied his eyes with gun cloth, and then tied his hands and beat him with their rifle butts. The soldiers demanded he admit to throwing stones. J. denied this allegation, pointing to the fact he was in pajamas and slippers. One of the soldiers threatened him that if he would not be released without confessing.
The tactic of taking children away and demanding they incriminate themselves, while isolating and denying them access to their parents is nothing new. In 2011, Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem published a report titled “No Minor Matter,” which documented this phenomenon. The report found that the children, isolated and often tortured (yes, the beating of the defenseless may amount in some cases to torture), are required time and again to agree to a Kafkaesque deal: confess and incriminate others, and they will be released immediately; refuse, and they remain in detention. Since the children have no adult or lawyer to consult with, and because 13-year-olds are rarely human rights scholars, many believe what they are told.
The result is often coerced incrimination, of themselves and others. And there is almost no exit route from a confession in what we usually call the justice system: B’Tselem’s report found that out of 835 cases of indictments of Palestinian juveniles, only one was acquitted. Note that while in Israel, the parents of a detained juvenile must be informed of the detention (their presence in an investigation is mandatory), and the interrogator must be a trained juvenile interrogator, there are no such rights for Palestinians in the West Bank. Any soldier may thus serve as an interrogator.
Yet despite it all, J. refused to confess to what the allegations, and continued pleading his innocence. In turn, his captors increased the pressure. He says he was put in a cold room with the air conditioner fully on. He does not know how long he was left there – a gun cloth over one’s eyes will cause the loss of sense of time – but he was freezing. That didn’t work either, so the soldiers later took him out of the room, handcuffed him in a particularly painful way, trussed him in a car and drove to a different military base where they delivered him to the police. “And there they did not beat me,” J. said.
The time was around 8:30 p.m., about 12 hours since J. was kidnapped by the IDF, at least as far as he and his family were concerned, since they had no idea where he was. He was then turned over to the Palestinian DCO and went home. J. was not summoned to a second interrogation, he simply left his home one cold morning in pajamas and slippers, met IDF soldiers, was captured, beaten, and released. There is no visible process in action here. Suspiciously, J. was released after precisely 12 hours – the maximum length of time soldiers may detain a juvenile without having to obtain authorization.
So here we have here an incident of disappearing a juvenile without informing his family — who is now looking for him in a panic — which ends suddenly after 12 hours. What was the point? It’s unclear. No one said anything.
In the beginning of January, we lodged a complaint on behalf of J.’s father with the Operation Affairs Prosecutor. We can chart the complaint’s future route in advance. First, the prosecution will take a few months, perhaps even a year or more, to think it over. Was a crime committed? Is there truly a need for an investigation? After who knows how many months, when it will be clear to all that there is no chance of an actual investigation, the prosecution will either close the case without investigating it, or send it to the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division (MPCID), which will also take its time. The passing time will allow the soldiers responsible for the act to be discharged and avoid military justice. It will also cloud the memory of everyone involved. You say we detained some kid in slippers two years ago? I really don’t remember, the soldier will say. And he truly won’t. But wait a minute – can the kid actually identify those who beat him? He had gun cloth over his eyes, did he not?
So the military prosecution will decide in three or four years that something may have happened. And it may have been improper — possibly even lamentable. Perhaps we should even condemn it, and at one point there may have been a time for some judicial action, but there is nothing we can do about it now. And anyway, we haven’t the foggiest idea who was involved.
We have seen all of these excuses. When it comes to inaction, the military investigative system is a champion. When it comes to indicting criminals who harm Palestinians – unless they harm the army’s own effectiveness – it is much less so.