Judges, experts debate military courts handling of Palestinian minors

Many of the panelists came from the IDF courts, including Maj.-Gen. Shai Yaniv, president of the Military Court of Appeals.

November 3, 2014 05:52
3 minute read.

COL. (RES.) AHRON MISHNAOT, former president of IDF Courts for Judea and Samaria, speaks during a panel discussion at IDC Herziliya.. (photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)

Top judges and experts gathered at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya to discuss how far the IDF has come in adjusting to the needs of Palestinian minors.

They held their discussions on Wednesday night, the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Military Juvenile Court located at the army’s Ofer Base, between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Many of the panelists came from the IDF courts, including Maj.-Gen. Shai Yaniv, president of the Military Court of Appeals; Col. Netanel Benishu, president of the IDF Courts for Judea and Samaria; and Col. (res.) Ahron Mishnaot, former president of IDF Courts for Judea and Samaria.

They, along with Deputy Attorney-General for Criminal Law Raz Nizri, were optimistic about the progress of the juvenile court for addressing the special needs of Palestinian minors.

Mishnaot, the court president who ushered in the juvenile courts, said they were a unique progressive development in the history of belligerent occupations.

In other words, he gave the state kudos for conceptualizing and addressing the needs of Palestinian minors, even those who committed crimes based on anti-Israel nationalism, and believed that other “occupying” nations have been much less liberal.

Judge Galit Vigodzky Mor, president of the Juvenile Courts in Israel, noted general improvements dealing with minors, including providing classes, more contact with parents and more separation from grownups at Ofer Prison.

She added that even 44 minors who committed security- related crimes were getting special treatment.

Despite the optimism, Benishu cautioned that the experience of dealing with Palestinian minors in IDF courts was different from working with Israeli minors in civilian courts and required setting more modest expectations in terms of rehabilitation.

He told a story about a minor who attacked an IDF soldier, was eventually released, and soon committed the same crime.

When asked by the same judge what led to recommitting the crime, the minor expressed pride in the crime, implying nationalistic and “anti-occupation” motivations that are hard to change since “the Palestinian population does not see his action as needing rehabilitation.”

Benishu cited a “win” where a YMCA mentor helped a female minor who stabbed a soldier “clean up” her act, getting her an early release from detention, but contrasted it with a failure in trying to early-release a Hamas-affiliated minor to the Palestinian Authority, with the minor preferring continued detention since “they [the PA ] hate me and I hate them like I hate you.”

Nizri defended the unique to the West Bank need for continued night arrests in light of unique dangers of daytime arrests there.

He said that more reform could be on the way, with using social workers to evaluate minor criminal suspects regarding pretrial issues of detention as is done in civilian courts, and not only at the post-trial stage as is currently done in the West Bank courts.

On the other hand, conference panelist Haaretz journalist Haim Levinson, a frequent critic of the military courts, said cynically that the conference was a “pat on the back to the judicial institutions through the generations,” which he said contrasted with all of the liberal changes starting due to “international pressure.”

Levinson added that the changes were late and insufficient, saying that they had not changed the “very negative image” of the courts, which are “not open” with proceedings held “in a bunker” and urging the judges to open the proceedings and make transcripts of sessions available on the Internet, as in the civilian courts.

Conference organizer Boaz Ganor, dean of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy and head of the Counter-Terror Center at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, noted that he had received several emails saying that the conference’s focus on Palestinian minors’ involvement in terrorism seemed bent on painting Palestinian minors in an unfairly negative light, while giving violent minors from haredi and settler communities a free pass.

Ganor rejected the criticism and gave a survey of the abuse of minors in several worldwide conflicts. He did not shy away from saying that in many conflicts, Islam is being used to recruit minors into terrorism.

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