The Judea Military Court has slammed the way Israeli law enforcement authorities treat Palestinian minors suspected of criminal offenses. The remarks were part of Judge Maj. Shahar Greenberg's written verdict on Monday convicting a Palestinian minor for throwing rocks. The defendant is identified only by the initial Z. In the course of the trial it was disclosed that a police investigator had verbally threatened minors and coached them to incriminate their peers.
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Greenberg's criticism comes one week after Israeli soldiers detained a 5-year-old boy from Hebron for throwing rocks.
"There is cause for harsh and pointed criticism of all aspects of the investigation procedures for Palestinian minor suspects by the Israel Police in the area," Greenberg wrote, adding, "One cannot ignore the heavy feeling, felt throughout the entire case, that the Israel Police have not assimilated their legal obligations." Greenberg noted various flaws and possible illegalities in the investigation of the case. He mentioned in particular the failure to use certified youth investigators or investigators fluent in Arabic. Greenberg also noted the failure to videotape suspect interviews, rather than using audio recordings alone. In addition, he wrote, investigators interview underage suspects when the minors are extremely tired and also threaten and coach them during the interviews.
Z. was arrested in March 2012 on suspicion of throwing rocks at passing Israeli cars two weeks earlier, during a demonstration in support of Palestinian security prisoner Khader Adnan. Z. was represented by attorney Nery Ramati. The investigation was carried out by Sgt. Maj. Solomon Desta from the Hebron region. Dasta is a veteran investigator with the Hebron station. A year ago he headed an investigation in which a 16-year-old Palestinian spent more than five months in jail as a rape suspect before being cleared of suspicion and released by the court.
By law, parents or a defense attorney must be given the opportunity to be present during the interrogation of a minor. Desta informed Z.'s family of the interview and began it immediately. Greenberg noted that the parents of underage Palestinian suspects are often unable to reach the police station due to security considerations.
During the trial it became clear that Desta violated the law by documenting Z.'s testimony in a very partial manner only. Desta justified this by saying he "did not succeed to type" everything Z. said. On the audio recording of the interview, Z. is heard denying that he ever threw rocks, a statement missing from the written transcript. Later, Desta is heard shouting at Z. until he admits to throwing rocks.
"When dealing with a minor being questioned for the first time by police, without his family present, the imposing atmosphere of an interrogation with shouts every time the suspect did not respond to the investigators questions in fulfillment of [the investigator's] expectations, raises serious question regarding the reliability of the confession," Greenberg wrote.
Z. was also incriminated by a friend, identified as S., who was interviewed by Desta the same day. According to the interview summary, S. identified himself and Z. in two Associated Press photographs from the demonstration. In the recording of the interview, however, Desta is heard coaching S. When S. identifies one figure in a photo as someone else, Desta says, "What's wrong with you, it's Z." This process is repeated with a different figure in the photo.
Dasta can also be heard shouting at S. and threatening to hurt him physically, causing S. to confess to having thrown three or four rocks, rather than one. "The nature of the interrogation was the investigator putting words into the suspect's mouth and asking him to repeat them."
Greenberg threw out S.'s testimony as a result of Desta's threats during the interview. In his final judgment, however, he convicted Z. on the basis of the defendant's own confession - even after accounting for the circumstances in which it was obtained - as well as the testimony of two witnesses from the demonstration who were not questioned by Desta.
"This verdict was accepted by the Military Advocate General's Corps, which will study it and its significance in the coming days," the IDF Spokesman's Office said in a response.