The rights of Palestinian minors who are suspected of stone-throwing in the West Bank are violated severely throughout the criminal justice process, an Israeli rights group said Monday.
But Israel’s army rejected the report released Monday by the B’Tselem organization as "unbalanced" and described stone-throwing as "a serious criminal offense which can result in serious injury."
B’Tselem said that of the 835 Palestinian minors who were tried in military courts in the West Bank on charges of stone-throwing from 2005-2010, only one was acquitted.
"The infringement of the minors’ rights begins from the time of arrest," B’Tselem says.
They are often arrested in the middle of the night and taken to interrogation alone, without being allowed to consult with an attorney or even their parents, and without a parent being allowed at the questioning.
B’Tselem is urging amendments to military laws to correspond to Israeli law concerning children. For instance the age of adulthood, defined as 16 for Palestinians, should be changed to 18 like in Israel, the group says.
The report released Monday, "No Minor Matter", brings together official data on Palestinian minors tried for stone-throwing in the past six years based on interviews with 50 minors who had been arrested and others.
Among the findings are that Palestinian children are eligible for jail time at younger ages than Israeli civilians, while the rate of convictions and plea deals is extremely higher than for those convicted in Israel.
In Israel, about half of criminal cases are resolved in a plea bargain, while in the West Bank, some 97 percent of convictions for stone-throwing were the result of a deal before trial, according to the report.
The report also says Palestinian children frequently face jail while Israeli civilians do not.
In Israel, it is forbidden to impose any prison sentence on a child under 14, B’Tselem says, but under the military law in the West Bank, 19 minors aged 12 and 13 were jailed for stone-throwing from 2005-2010.
"The military justice system views incarceration as the primary means for penalizing minors, and hardly considers other options," B’Tselem said in a statement attached to its report.
"All the official bodies involved are well aware" of the unjust legal situation, it said.
"Yet, other than declarations by a few judges … and their expressions of discomfort with certain acts by the police or army, no action has been taken to end the infringement of the minors’ rights."
In a written response, the army described the report as "unbalanced" and said stone-throwing was "a serious criminal offense which can result in serious injury and damage to property, disrupts normal life and defies the rule of law."
"B’Tselem was made aware of 160 cases of stone throwing, including those involving minors, that resulted in the death and maiming of Israeli civilians and security forces," it said, without elaborating further.
It said military judges displayed "great sensitivity" to the issue of minors’ rights and insisted that sentencing resulted in "deterrence".
But B’Tselem urged Israel "to amend, without delay, the military legislation to make it correspond to the provisions of Israel’s youth law.
"Israel has the obligation to ensure the rights of Palestinian minors under its responsibility," the report said.
(Ma’an News – AFP contributed to this report.)