Following the IDF chief West Bank prosecutor’s revelation to The Jerusalem Post of new statistics on the treatment of Palestinian minors, the battle is on for interpreting the statistics.
Chief prosecutor Col. Maurice Hirsch said that, out of some 1,000 Palestinian minors arrested in 2013, only had 30 filed complaints for abuse. This, he said, contradicted allegations by some that the IDF arrested as many as 200 per month or around 2,400 per year.
Human rights groups Yesh Din and B’Tselem argue that the number of incidents of abuse committed by the IDF greatly exceeded the number of complaints filed.
They said that many Palestinian minors did not file complaints, because they were uncomfortable providing information about a traumatic incident to investigators wearing the same uniform as the alleged abuser.
The groups added that Palestinians are skeptical about filing complaints, believing that the IDF does not seriously investigate them. This was based on 2012 statistics that only 32.5 percent of complaints led to criminal investigations but no indictments.
Citing another barrier to filing complaints, the two NGOs argued that the extremely small number of complaints showed that Israel is not doing enough to be accessible.
Hirsch said that in 2013 IDF prosecutors voluntarily closed approximately 15% of cases, or around 100 out of some 660 cases, in which Palestinian minors had been arrested under suspicion of committing a crime.
The IDF presented the statistics to prove that its prosecutors exercised their own discretion to objectively evaluate evidence before them, and closed numerous cases if they were not sufficiently satisfied with the evidence.
The groups sought to invert this statistic, saying that evidentiary standards are low in West Bank courts and questioned whether the arrests should have been made at all, if the cases were closed for insufficient evidence.
In the past, the IDF has rebutted some of these arguments, saying that it is illogical to assume complaints exist if they are not filed, when there are Palestinians who do file complaints.
It has also said that, even if true, it can only be held responsible for complaints filed and not theoretical unfiled complaints.
Regarding what some say are a low number of investigations and indictments, the IDF has said in the past that criminal suspects have an incentive to manufacture abuses. Moreover, the IDF notes it can be difficult to assemble evidence from Palestinians who often do not cooperate, and often resist arrest.
Hirsch noted that he had personally forwarded some Palestinians’ complaints for criminal investigation.
As to accusations about lower evidentiary standards, Hirsch said that the laws of evidence are essentially the same in the West Bank courts as in Israel.
While human rights groups complain that “secret evidence” is often presented to a judge, making it hard for West Bank Palestinians to defend themselves, the IDF has in the past noted that this occurs in security cases in Israel as well. If the practice is more frequent in West Bank courts, it is only because there are more security cases there.
At the end of the day, each side can make arguments about how to interpret the statistics, but the IDF does better when it publishes important statistics first, rather than wait for its critics to do so.