Israel Convicts Most Stone-throwing Palestinian Children, Right Group Says

BTselem says nearly 100% of Palestinian children charged with rock-throwing are convicted, because of overwhelming pressure to plea bargain.

Only one Palestinian minor of 853 charged with rock-throwing between 2005-2010 was acquitted, according to a new report by the human rights group BTselem.

BTselem based its report, which is being released Monday, on data it obtained from the Israel Defense Forces spokesman about minors who were arrested during those six years and charged solely with rock-throwing; it does not relate to those charged with other crimes.

Palestinian youth - Moti Milrod - 18072011
Moti Milrod

The nearly 100-percent conviction rate stems from, among other things, the willingness of the detainees to plead guilty as part of a plea agreement, the report says. The pressure to plead guilty is great, because generally minors charged with throwing rocks are held in custody until the end of legal proceedings; a regular trial could keep them detained for longer than the sentence they receive after pleading guilty, which is usually no more than a few months.

Of the 853 arrested, 18 were aged 12-13 and 255 were 14-15.

Sixty percent of the 12-13 year-olds received prison terms ranging from a few days to up to two months.

Fifteen percent of all the minors served terms of more than six months and 1 percent served longer than a year.

Because of the frequency of these incidents, BTselem was not able to get an exact tally of how many had actually occurred in the West Bank during those years. The Judea and Samaria police reported 2,100 to 3,000 incidents annually during those years, while the IDF Spokesman reported 3,600 to 4,300 incidents each year.

Nor could BTselem ascertain how many minors had been detained by the security forces for stone-throwing but were let go without being charged.

Because military law does not afford minors the same rights that they have under Israeli law, in many of the cases BTselem investigated, the minors were arrested at night, were not allowed to be accompanied by a parent or other adult when arrested, and were brought before a judge only eight days after being taken into custody.

In terms of numbers, the [BTselem] report is not accurate, because during this period, I personally acquitted a number of minors, said one judge in the army reserves, who dealt with many cases of stone-throwing minors.

But theres no doubt that it reflects a very problematic situation. Nearly all minors are convicted of stone-throwing because they have no choice but to sign a plea agreement, for which the punishment is usually between one to three months, and if they go to evidence theyll sit longer. The High Court has ruled that anyone throwing stones at a person or vehicle can be remanded until the end of legal proceedings.

Of course, its terrible that they arrest them in the middle of the night and question them without lawyers, the judge said. Sometimes this provides an impetus to release them. But there should be a legal mechanism under which a minor who throws stones for the first time and doesnt hurt anyone can be released, and for the responsibility of probation to be imposed on the father, who will have to keep an eye on him.

The IDF Spokesman, in a detailed response to BTselem, wrote: Although legal systems that are established under military law do not include special arrangements for judging minors, over the past year a youth court has been established that improves the defense of minors rights.

The Military Youth Court protects minors rights, allows the minors to be heard without adults present, gives more freedom of expression to the minors and allows for a broader discussion of parental responsibility as a substitute for punishment.

The IDF Spokesman added that although it had asked BTselem to deal with the issue of judging minors in a fair and complete fashion, and had given BTselem information about 160 cases in which minors who were used by terror groups to carry out serious terror attacks, the group chose not to deal with the issue of judging minors in a balanced manner and did not deal with the use of minors by terror groups in a fashion that violates human rights and contravenes international law.