Palestine: The Military Courts of Israel

The military courts are established after Israel occupies the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 to administer Palestinians charged with security-related and criminal offences.

Following the occupation, Israel establishes a unique permanent legal system under the disguise of temporary occupation: by abstaining from officially incorporating the territories into Israel, the state is able to exercise its control over the territories and avoid the possible implications of granting the Palestinian residents full equal rights, thus creating a bi-national, instead of a Jewish, state.

Legal Structure

The legal structure is built on four systems of judicial tribunals operating within the Occupied Territories: first, the system of ‘ordinary courts’ with general jurisdiction and which has existed in the Territories until 1967; second, the system of ‘military courts’, established in 1967; third, the system of ‘religious courts’; and fourth, that of ‘municipal courts’ operating under different laws for Jewish settlements and Palestinian municipalities.

More than 150,000 Palestinians have been prosecuted in the ‘military courts’ since 1990.

Imprisonment has been one of the key strategies of Israeli control of the Palestinian population, and since 1967 more than half a million Palestinians are prosecuted through military courts that fall far short of international standards of due process.

Most convictions are based on coerced confessions, and for decades Israeli interrogation tactics have entailed the use of torture and ill-treatment. Tens of thousands more Palestinians are never prosecuted, but are instead held in administrative detention for months or years.

Torture

Israel is the first state to publicly and officially “legalize” torture. Adopting the recommendation of an Israeli commission of inquiry, in 1987 the government endorsed the euphemistically termed “moderate physical pressure,” and tens of thousands of Palestinians have suffered the consequences.

In 1999 the Israeli High Court prohibits the routine use of “moderate physical pressure.” But the ruling leaves open a window for torture under “exceptional circumstances.”

These tactics, many of which have been used by American interrogators against foreign prisoners, include painful shackling, stress position abuse, protracted sleep deprivation, temperature and sound manipulation, and various forms of degrading and humiliating treatment. In an interview with three Israeli interrogators published in the Tel Aviv newspaper Ma’ariv, one said the General Security Service “uses every manipulation possible, up to shaking and beating.”

The Israeli military court system compares to the U.S. military tribunal system established for Guantanamo. In addition to the reliance on coercive interrogation to produce confessions and to justify continued detention, prisoners in Israeli custody can be held incommunicado for protracted periods, and lawyers face onerous obstacles in meeting with their clients.

Convictions

An Israeli human rights group charges that Israel’s military court system for Palestinian suspects in the West Bank produces almost automatic convictions. A report by the Yesh Din organization has found that more than 99.7% of those accused are found guilty, some 95% of the cases end with a plea bargain and the average hearing is just two minutes long.

Yesh Din, which said that its inquiry was the first of its kind, found major failings in the court’s due process: Hearings are held in Hebrew and the Arabic-speaking suspects often do not understand the charges brought against them, they are unable to present a full defence or have an effective counsel.

Free all Palestinian prisoners!

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