The IDF Rules in the Hospitals, Too

The views of a 19-year-old soldier and a Military Police (MP) officer overrule that of a medical doctor in the matter of the conditions under which a patient is held.

It turns out the Israel Defense Forces are sovereign not only in the West Bank, but also in the hospitals. The views of a 19-year-old soldier and a Military Police (MP) officer overrule that of a medical doctor in the matter of the conditions under which a patient is held. A 14-year-old Palestinian wounded by IDF fire and taken to Schneider Children's Hospital had his hands and legs shackled, despite being guarded by two MPs and not being able to walk because of his wounds. The professional view of the hospital doctors was that the wounded youth, who two days earlier underwent surgery on his leg, should be freed from his shackles - but they were overruled.

According to Health Ministry regulations from 1999, "The authority to shackle a patient in hospital care lies with the law enforcement agency in charge of the patient and responsible for guarding them... In any case where shackling the patient could, in the opinion of the treating doctor, harm the medical treatment, or is not necessary in his view, the doctor must demand of the security official the release of the patient from the shackles... In the case of a difference of opinion, a `decision forum' made up of a representative of the hospital and security body, decides."

However, various sources claim the Health Ministry has been working for some time on changing the rules so that the medical/professional view and common sense overrule the tendency of the "law enforcement authorities" to shackle patients and ignore the doctors' arguments. Apparently the constant complaining by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and other institutions about the readiness of the security officials to use shackles and about the doctors' fears to intervene in the "judgment" of a policeman or soldier are having an effect.

As Dr. Yitzhak Kedman of the Israel National Council for the Child wrote to Health Ministry deputy director general Dr. Yitzhak Berlovitz, in response to an article about the shackled boy in Haaretz: "In the past we corresponded about a similar subject and you made it clear to me that you oppose shackling patients who are minors, especially when there are other means to make sure they don't escape ..."

The military logic for the shackling can be found in the IDF's response to Haaretz: Last Wednesday, "the boy and two other boys were seen intending to throw Molotov cocktails at passing Israeli cars." IDF troops chased the youths. "During the chase, the boy tried to throw a Molotov cocktail at a soldier and, therefore, shots were fired at his lower body and he was wounded ... His status [in the hospital] is as a regular detainee."

It's also well-known the IDF is above what is legally correct. The spokesman formulates his answers (which are the versions provided by the soldiers and their officers) as if he never heard that according to the law "a person is innocent until proved guilty." They don't even add the word "allegedly." The boy, on the other hand, vigorously denies the IDF's version and said he was helping his father deliver propane gas to a resident of their village, Maadma. The IDF's response reflects the prevailing attitude toward every Palestinian detainee, including 14-year-olds: He is guilty as long as it has not been proved otherwise - and it is very difficult to prove otherwise.

The course set for that boy is well-known: After three and a half days in hospital he was transferred on Sunday to the Prison Service's medical center. The legal-military system automatically holds any arrested Palestinian until the end of legal proceedings against them. That happens to children suspected of throwing stones, and not just to murder suspects. If a lawyer wants a fair trial, subpoena witnesses, conduct interrogations of the soldiers, cross-check testimony, find contradictions - the term "until the proceedings are over" could turn into a longer period of time than the youth's final sentence.

The pressure of the system on a lawyer and detainee, especially when the detainee is a minor and especially when he is wounded, to reach a plea bargain (in other words, to confess) - is enormous. And during the military trial itself, the IDF, which wounded the youth, is also the prosecutor, witness and judge. And the hidden grand jury is the Israeli public, which has no second thoughts or any complaints about the nature of the military-legal system in the occupied territories.

But this time, something went wrong with the usual track. The wounded boy's father contacted an activist from MachsomWatch about the incident and about the way his son had been taken to an Israeli hospital - without being accompanied by an adult relative and despite not knowing Hebrew. The activist contacted PHR, and one of its members, Prof. Zvi Bentwich, notified the hospital director about the boy's case and his shackling.

Activists from PHR and MachsomWatch visited the patient - over the objections of the MPs - and made sure his uncle had a visitor's pass. A lawyer from PHR was also brought into the picture. And now, the boy who was so dangerous he had to be shackled despite his condition, the boy who supposedly tried to hurt soldiers, was freed on Monday night - to his home.