Outgoing Prosecutor reveals details about secret dialogue with UNICEF

Prosecutor also reveals details about secret dialogue with UNICEF over Palestinian-minors' treatment and about program to reduce night arrests

Children look out of the family house of Palestinian Mohammad Al-Salahe, 32, in Al-Faraa refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus (photo credit: REUTERS)
Children look out of the family house of Palestinian Mohammad Al-Salahe, 32, in Al-Faraa refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A multiyear secret dialogue with UNICEF over the treatment of Palestinian minors led to a first-ever improvement in coverage of the IDF courts system in Judea and Samaria, but eventually ran into ideological road-blocks that ended progress, outgoing IDF Chief West Bank Prosecutor Lt.-Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch has revealed to The Jerusalem Post.
Hirsch delved deep into the details of the secret dialogue with the Post as well as a connected pilot summons program initiated to reduce the number of night arrests of Palestinian minors, in the first significant account he is giving publicly following his stepping down as chief prosecutor on January 31.
Until now, besides a smattering of reports by the Post in 2014 and 2015 and a very small number of selective details provided by UNICEF in occasional reports, the origins and content of the unusual dialogue have remained secret.
Generally speaking, the dynamic between the IDF West Bank Prosecution and human rights monitors such as UNICEF is a zero-sum game of tension, suspicion and competition over the narrative of how Palestinian minors are treated.
UNICEF and other groups accuse the IDF of torture, abuse, kangaroo courts and systematic violations of minors’ rights as epitomizing the worst of the “occupation.”
The IDF responds that its critics make groundless and trumped up accusations instead of recognizing the IDF’s hard efforts as preserving human rights in a complex situation mixed with prosecuting frequent violence and terrorism.
That was how Hirsch’s relationship began with UNICEF when it dropped a ton of bricks on him with what he called a very “damaging” and critical report five days after he took up his position in March 2013.
Hirsch said that UNICEF’s March 2013 report, which made headlines in countries and government offices on multiple continents, had an “almost zero” connection to reality in terms of the law or the applicable facts.
He said he approached then-military advocate-general Maj.-Gen. Danny Efroni and “asked for permission to initiate a dialogue with UNICEF..., [and] after much consideration and consultation with the Foreign Ministry,” his initiative was approved.
“Having started a dialogue with UNICEF, it soon became clear that we weren’t necessarily dealing with another UN organization that was just Israel-bashing... I realized that much of the report was basically plagiarized from a previous report by DCI [Defense for Children International] Palestine,” and that “the actual authors themselves didn’t necessarily understand what had been written... or have the factual background to understand the reality,” commented Hirsch.
Reversing from criticism to being complimentary, Hirsch said, “In the course of the discussions, we achieved great success. For the first time, there was some type of response” in UNICEF’s update to its original report that “reflected some of the changes in policy and some of the reservations that we had about what had been written in the report.”
He said that he was happily surprised that “in some cases the UNICEF representatives were indeed open to hearing the Israeli point of view.”
Hirsch cited Yoaz Hendel of Yediot Aharonot as writing that after a second UNICEF update that was again fairer to Israel than usual, the IDF legal division had achieved “a really great accomplishment for Israel and specifically complimented the members of the MAG [the Military Advocate-General’s Office] – with all due respect, that was me.”
Despite these high points, Hirsch said, “The unfortunate side of the discussions was that even though I had unequivocally shown the UNICEF members that what they had written was factually and legally flawed, they remained stubborn in their refusal to put out a clear statement that the initial report was simply erroneous.”
He added that many organizations and foreign governments have continued to use that report and its 38 recommendations to attack Israel and its policies.
Giving an example, he said the report had demanded “that Israel avoid the ‘policy’ of solitary confinement for [Palestinian] minors. In my meetings with UNICEF representatives, I explained that there is no policy of solitary confinement for minors.
“If it happened that a minor was arrested and he was brought to a detention center where there were no other minors, the law requires that minors be held separately from adults,” to ensure their protection and special rights, he said.
Continuing, he asked rhetorically: “When that minor is then held alone because of a requirement of the law, is that... solitary confinement? The answer is: no.”
At this point, Hirsch said that UNICEF “understood that there was truly no practice of solitary confinement, and yet they refused categorically to state that that recommendation was based on a misinterpretation of what they had been told.”
He also referred to a UNICEF recommendation that “immediately upon receiving allegations” from Palestinians that Israeli security forces had abused them, that “those personnel be immediately suspended.”
Rejecting the demand as unreasonable, he said, “That is not a stand of law enforcement. If every policeman in every country who was ever the subject of a claim, no matter how baseless that claim was, was suspended from duties, there would be no police forces and no law enforcement - ever.”
One outgrowth of the dialogue that is still in dispute is the IDF’s pilot summons program, initiated by Hirsch in 2013 to respond to UNICEF’s and others’ objections for years to night arrests of minors as inhumane.
According to a February 2015 UNICEF report, in 2013 there were 162 night arrests of Palestinian minors out of a total 654 arrested.
The UNICEF report said that from January 2013 to September 2014, 24 known summons were issued as part of the pilot program to get Palestinian minors to show up to the police voluntarily without the need for night arrests, while 79 night arrests were carried out.
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.
The Post had previously reported that only a significant minority of summons were complied with, though the number of summons sent out in 2013-2014 likely far exceeded the 24 that UNICEF had documented.
The Post has learned that the summons program was temporarily suspended for much of the second half of 2014 following Operations Brother’s Keeper and the 2014 Gaza war, and that it had trouble regaining traction for much of 2015.
However, the Post has learned and is reporting here for the first time, that in the first half of 2016, a spike of 30 summons were sent to Palestinian minors. Ten of these minors appeared in court voluntarily without the need for night arrests.
Though the volume of success has still been small, some in the IDF still consider it a partial success which can continue to be built on for the future even as the IDF prosecution eventually discontinued its intensive dialogue with UNICEF.
UNICEF was reached for comment, but had not responded by press time.
Meanwhile, Hirsch’s next move is to set up his own public relations initiative to teach “thousands of student ambassadors” more about Israel on hard issues.
“Much of the discussion regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict is based on a fundamental lack of knowledge of the basic facts…many people use erroneous terminology and assume facts that do not exist, The program I am creating is designed to provide a basic history of the area, the changing borders of the state of Israel and the different factors which played into the situation which has been created now,” said Hirsch.
Hirsch said that he hopes his initiative will eventually be bigger than Birthright and that, with his unique background, he will empower Jews visiting Israel with facts that they have not had until now.
This article is the third and final installment in a series on the IDF West Bank Courts which will also be featured in Yonah Bob’s upcoming book on the subject focusing on the stories of two major figures each from the Israeli and Palestinian side, including Maurice Hirsch.