State moves toward giving Palestinian minors pre-indictment social worker evaluations

This issue is a hot-button one for several reasons.

Youth holds stone as Palestinians clash with IDF in the West Bank (photo credit: REUTERS)
Youth holds stone as Palestinians clash with IDF in the West Bank
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After some earlier disagreement between the Attorney-General’s Office and the IDF, the state is moving toward Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein’s position of permitting certain Palestinian minors to receive pre-indictment evaluations by social workers, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
In June, the president of the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Appellate Court, Col. Netanel Benishu, made headlines by ordering the military prosecutor to allow Palestinian minors suspected of crimes to be screened by a social worker before trial regarding their character, likelihood of rehabilitation, and possible release on bail pending trial.
This issue is a hot-button one for civil rights advocates, since Israeli minors tried by civilian courts have the right to an evaluation by a social worker at the pretrial stage. Differences between how Israeli and Palestinian minors are treated in the different court systems are scrutinized for signs of discrimination.
Benishu’s decision was a hard-fought victory for some defense lawyers, but a rare rebuke of the IDF’s prosecution. It set off a debate between Weinstein’s office (which supported the judge’s decision) and the IDF legal division (which opposed it).
The IDF in recent years added legal provisions to allow Palestinian minors convicted of crimes to meet with social workers so that the court could consider aspects of their character, home environment and others in deciding whether punishment or rehabilitation better fit the case.
But the IDF had consistently opposed granting such evaluation at the pretrial stage.
The change in policy is unlikely to be announced before it is formalized by an order by OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon.
While the IDF endeavors to keep the laws for Palestinian minors similar to those for Israeli minors, this is one area where the IDF felt that the contexts were different and thus the law should be different.
Israeli civilian courts frequently order a middle ground of various forms of house arrest instead either detention until the end of trial or full release on bail. But the IDF does not consider house arrest for Palestinian minors.
The reason is that, unlike in Israel where there are a number of ways to enforce house arrests, including surprise drop-in visits by police, in the West Bank the police and security forces have extremely limited movement and access, making enforcing house arrest an impossibility.
Also, the IDF does not feel confident that it can count on Palestinian parents to keep minors under house arrest as stringently as Israeli civilians supervise their minors. Therefore, Palestinian minors who are not kept in detention until the end of trial are released on bail – a statistic put at around 17% for 2013.
This view also notes that while the IDF prosecution provided for social worker evaluations and rehabilitation post-conviction, fewer than a dozen Palestinians have taken advantage of this option.
Those who criticized the IDF for withholding the right to a pretrial social worker screening until now say that Benishu’s decision is a rebuke to the prosecution for not focusing on rehabilitating Palestinian minors who have committed crimes.
They say that it is part of the insensitive occupation mentality of simply throwing all Palestinian minors behind bars to penalize them and to pressure them into accepting plea bargains in exchange for getting out of prison.
Overall, Weinstein has decided the IDF should move forward with pretrial social worker evaluations, and the IDF is in the process of implementing that decision, the Post has learned.