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‘Ahed Tamimi in court. Photo by Oren Ziv, Activestills, 17 January 2018
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‘Ahed Tamimi’s forced plea bargain clearly illustrates role of military juvenile court: Protecting the occupation, not Palestinian minors

The conviction rate in Israel’s military courts in the West Bank is almost 100% - not because the military prosecution is so efficient, but because Palestinian defendants reluctantly sign plea bargains in which they plead guilty. A new report published yesterday by B’Tselem shows how the measures that Israel has showcased over the last decade as examples of its improved treatment of Palestinian minors in military courts have little to do with the protection of minors and everything to do with public relations. In fact, the function of the military juvenile court boils down to signing off on plea bargains such as the one signed today.

This afternoon, the military court at Ofer signed off on plea bargains for ‘Ahed and Nariman Tamimi. The plea bargains include eight months in prison and a fine. A new report published yesterday by B’Tselem, Minors in Jeopardy: Violation of the Rights of Palestinian Minors by Israel’s Military Courts, analyzes the changes that Israel declared over the last decade with regard to the treatment of Palestinian minors in military courts. The report reveals that while useful in Israeli propaganda, these technical changes have done nothing to improve the protection of minors’ rights.

In particular, the role of the Military Juvenile Court, whose establishment Israel views as a landmark achievement in the protection of minors’ rights in the military court system, is primarily to sign off on plea bargains already reached between the defense and the prosecution outside the courtroom. Almost all minors sign the plea bargains, having been left little choice by the military courts’ detention policy: most minors are held in custody from the time of their arrest and until they finish serving their sentence. Carrying out an evidentiary trial from within prison is fraught with difficulties, and the defendants know that if convicted, they will be sentenced to prison anyway, as no alternatives exist. Even in the extremely unlikely case that they are acquitted, the time they spent in custody throughout the trial may be just as long, or even longer, than the time they will spend in prison under a plea bargain.

‘Ahed Tamimi’s case is exceptional only in that it garnered special media attention, but it is essentially no different from hundreds of such cases every year. According to figures the Israel Prison Service (IPS) provided to B’Tselem, on 28 February 2018 the IPS had 356 Palestinian minors in custody: 95 of them were serving a prison sentence, 257 were in pre- or post-indictment detention, and four were being held in administrative detention. While Israel claims to hold dear the rights of the Palestinian minors it arrests and puts on trial, the opposite is true: the rights of these minors are routinely and systemically abused from the moment of their arrest.