Both before and after UNICEF’s major Thursday report on the treatment of Palestinian minors, critics of the IDF have called its voluntary summons pilot program, revealed first by The Jerusalem Post in February 2014, inconsequential and barely symbolic.
For years, the IDF arrested a large number of Palestinians – adults and minors – at night, explaining that in instances it tried to make arrests during the day there was widespread rioting.
The IDF said that the rioting not only sometimes prevented the arrest, but often both soldiers and Palestinians who were not under suspicion got injured during the rioting.
Critics countered that many of the worst allegations of Palestinian minors being beaten, blindfolded, abused, questioned without a lawyer or parent, and without being read some of their rights, occurred in the context of night arrests.
They said if night arrests could be eliminated, and Palestinian minors came forth voluntarily during the day, that many of these other complaints against the IDF could also be eliminated or heavily reduced. Thus, the summons pilot program was born a year ago.
The IDF agreed, with the UN Children’s Fund’s urging, that the more Palestinian minors suspected of crimes that could be brought forward for questioning on their own accord, without carrying out night arrests, the better for all sides.
According to UNICEF’s report, in 2013 there were 162 night arrests of Palestinian minors out of a total 654 arrested.
The report said that from January 2013 to September 2014, 24 known voluntary summons were issued as part of the pilot program and 79 night arrests were carried out. The figure of 79 night arrests comes from the Working Group on Grave Violations Against Children, and shows, according to UNICEF, that night arrests are still the popular mode of operation.
Critics have said that the small number of summons shows that the program is a fig-leaf to try to fight off complaints, and that the IDF does not take the issue seriously and is not investing in the program.
Some have said that the IDF only summons those who it does not care if they show up or not, and is ready to use arrest threats early-on in the summons process.
has learned that at this stage, only a significant minority of summons were complied with, though the number of summons sent out likely far exceeds the 24 that UNICEF has documented.
One of the problems in evaluating the program’s effectiveness is that the IDF still does not want to share hard statistics at this stage.
It is believed that the IDF may want to continue to refine and adjust aspects of the program to increase cooperation rates from Palestinians, which to date appear very low, before it releases hard statistics.
The UNICEF report said that the pilot program targeted Jenin, Hebron, Nablus and Ramallah, but did not mention other areas.
It recommended that the IDF “ensure buy-in” by the Palestinians into the program, and that it start with test sites with more “favorable conditions.”
UNICEF also said that there should be “inter-agency oversight,” that the IDF should make the summons language clearly understandable for the Palestinian minors’ parents, explain the reason for the summons, and communicate the right to a lawyer.
Further, UNICEF suggested that parents be present at every interrogation and that any minors that come forward on their own be immediately released once questioning is concluded since they came voluntarily, even if they are to be indicted.
A military source said that the IDF invested very seriously in the summons program, and that the summons in the report only represent the number of summons that UNICEF knows about, but that the real number is much higher, so the criticism is misplaced.
The source said the goal was never to completely eliminate night arrests, but to reduce them.
The source added that Hebron was chosen, though it is one of the most tense environments, because the IDF wanted to show its commitment to tackle and reduce night arrests even where large numbers of them occurred due to serious crimes like throwing Molotov cocktails.
There is no indication in the report as to how the program was impacted by the IDF’s Operation Brother’s Keeper and Operation Protective Edge last summer, but it is safe to presume that these events negatively impacted the pilot program’s success rate.
How such a fledgling program can over time make it through such infrequent periods of tension could also determine the program’s viability.
It is also unclear at this stage how long the IDF will give the pilot program before it makes a decision about whether it has been successful enough to continue.
But UNICEF is highly committed to the program, even if it has criticisms and wishes the program broadened.
Even the IDF could view a small number of successes as worthwhile, since each instance of voluntary arrival for questioning removes the need for carrying out a tense and expensive night arrest operation.
The only thing that is clear at this stage is that a uniquely new program is about to start its second year. No one has quit on it yet, and its prospects for success are as uncertain now as they were when it started.