West Bank Palestinian minors accused of throwing stones do have a chance of being acquitted; the odds are about one in a thousand. According to a B'Tselem report published yesterday, just one juvenile defendant out of 835 was acquitted of stone-throwing over the past six years. The others were convicted, mostly through plea bargains. About 60 percent of the convicted minors served prison terms of four months or more. Among those who served sentences of a few days and up to two months in prison were 19 defendants who were 12 to 13 years old.
These are frightening statistics from every possible point of view. The rationale for sentencing the juveniles is well known: The Israel Defense Forces is responsible for the security and well-being of the public in the territories. It must protect civilians there, in addition to its own soldiers. Such protection is not possible without some measure of deterrence. The disparity, however, between theory and practice is outrageous. Israel's justice system throws the book at juvenile defendants, provided they are Palestinian.
Contrary to the contention made by the IDF Spokesman's Office, a report by the No Legal Frontiers organization that is summarized in today's Haaretz says the military juvenile court that has been established has hardly improved the defense of the rights of minors at all. The improper act of throwing stones is not only used in the territories. This type of violent conduct does indeed endanger life, with the potential to kill, seriously injure or to paralyze, particularly if it involves a heavy rock thrown from a tall building or a bridge, or from a speeding car.
If someone Jewish throws a stone, the injury inflicted is as bad as if it is thrown by an Arab. The need to punish and deter does not disappear when the scene shifts to the Israeli side of the Green Line.
Israel's pretention to be a country in which equality under the law prevails appears ridiculous in the face of the other justice system that applies to juveniles that are not Palestinian. There, every possible reasonable argument is presented in support of forgiving young people for their passing caprices and to allow them to enlist in the IDF and avoid a criminal record, in the spirit of compassion.
The violent Israeli youth who attacked soldiers and policemen who had been sent at the government's behest to Gaza and the northern West Bank to evacuate settlements six years ago did not have to wait long before their sentences were mitigated. The result is glaring in the cases of the current assaults on the IDF's West Bank division commander, Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon, and Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan.
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