Israeli Army Vowed to Limit Arrests of Palestinian Minors, but Data Shows Otherwise

The army's pilot program, it seems, never took off, and hundreds are still being arrested with no warning, usually in the middle of the night

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IDF soldiers arrest Palestinian teen Fawzi al-Junaidi in Hebron, 2017.
IDF soldiers arrest Palestinian teen Fawzi al-Junaidi in Hebron, 2017.Credit: Wisam Hashlamoun / Anadolu Agency

Six years after the Israeli military said it would experiment with summoning Palestinian minors suspected of crimes for questioning instead of arresting them, hundreds are still being arrested with no warning, usually in the middle of the night.

The pilot project apparently never really took off, and the army hasn’t even collected orderly statistics about it. Moreover, according to sources who were told that it had begun, the criteria by which it would be judged a success or a failure were never published, and no numerical targets were ever set.

Over the last six years, 128 Palestinian minors were summoned for questioning under the pilot, according to data given by the Israel Defense Forces to Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual in response to freedom of information requests. By comparison, in 2019 alone, 235 Palestinian minors were arrested at home with no warning in the wee hours of the morning.

Moreover, the army announced back in 2018 that the pilot would be curtailed for Palestinians aged 16 to 18, who compromise the bulk of arrested minors – 184 out of 235 in 2019. For Palestinians in this age group, it said, the pilot would apply only in the Etzion sector, meaning around Bethlehem, and not in the rest of the West Bank.

The IDF said most minors were arrested rather than being summoned for questioning because they were either suspected of serious crimes or aged 16 to 18, and therefore ineligible for inclusion in the pilot. It said the eligibility criteria are the minor’s age, the severity of his suspected crime, his criminal record and “special investigatory needs.”

The number of Palestinian minors summoned for questioning rather than being arrested has declined over the years. In 2014, the pilot’s first year, 68 were summoned questioning, compared to just 18 from March through December of 2019. Of the latter, just eight actually appeared for questioning.

The IDF said data for some years was incomplete due to “fire damage” (2015) or because it couldn’t find it (the second half of 2016). It provided no data at all for 2017 and 2018.

The police, who were also involved in the pilot, told Hamoked that it was implemented “in cases that allowed its implementation.” But because of the “sensitive security situation” in the West Bank, “implementing the pilot was frequently problematic.”

Police also said they had no records of how many minors were summoned for questioning and no written conclusions about the pilot’s success or failure.

Border Police officers arrest a Palestinian minor near Jenin, 2013.Credit: SAIF DAHLAH / AFP

Last week, Hamoked asked the High Court of Justice to order the IDF to explain why summoning minors for questioning shouldn’t be the default option, with nighttime arrests used only in exceptional cases.

The fact that all of last year’s arrests of minors took place at night also raises questions about the IDF’s compliance with instructions drafted by its legal advisor in the West Bank in 2014. Those instructions, also obtained via a freedom of information request, said that “when planning any arrest, it’s necessary to consider whether carrying it out by day is possible, or whether there’s an operational need to do it at night.”

Hamoked’s executive director, Jessica Montell, said it’s clear the pilot has been “virtually unimplemented” over the last six years.

“The army continues to use nighttime arrests as its chief – almost exclusive – means of bringing minors in for questioning,” she said. “This policy creates traumas for entire families and breaks the teens’ spirits while mortally impairing the fairness of the investigation and the legal proceedings. We expect the High Court to put an end to this. Every alternative must be exhausted before invading homes in the dead of night and dragging teens from their beds.”

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said, “In recent years, many Palestinian minors, sometimes at very young ages, have been involved in terror attacks, ‘popular’ terror and incitement to terror. Due to this activity, many Israelis have been murdered or wounded. In cases where minors are involved in such activity, there’s no choice but for the security forces to take enforcement measures aimed at protecting lives and bringing [offenders] to justice.”

It said it is scrupulous about protecting the minors’ rights, and that in suitable cases, they are summoned for questioning rather than arrested. “But in a great many cases, making do with a summons isn’t an option, since the minor is suspected of security offenses that necessitate his arrest for investigatory purposes without prior warning,” it added.

Most arrests are carried out at night due to “operational considerations and the operational complexity of operating in an area under threat,” it concluded. “Nighttime arrests are necessary to reduce the threat to the lives of members of the security forces and to reduce harm to the civilian population’s fabric of life.”

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