By Eli Shafritz, Kids Court in Conflict Campaigner
In a recent speech about his upcoming address to Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described himself as “a representative of the entire Jewish people”.
If the Israeli leader declares this to be part of his job, it is therefore unsurprising that, as diaspora Jews, we feel we have a right to have an opinion about the policies of his government, as on some level, we feel represented by them. Unfortunately, I, and many of my generational counterparts in the Jewish community, do not feel represented by decisions and policies of the Israeli government.
In particular, the injustices of Israel’s juvenile military courts in the West Bank do not represent our values. Having grown up in the Reform Movement’s Zionist youth movement, Netzer Olami, I was always taught that Israel was founded upon the values enshrined in its Declaration of Independence.
The declaration promises “equality of social and political rights to all inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” and it is clauses such as this that have strengthened my Zionism into what it is today.
In contrast to these important Jewish values, the military law applied in the West Bank has led to a situation in which Israeli and Palestinian juveniles receive completely unequal treatment.
They can be arrested for committing similar crimes, such as stone-throwing, yet in 2014, UNICEF reported that a Palestinian juvenile’s legal right to consult a lawyer prior to questioning is limited whereas Israeli children will nearly always be granted this right.
In addition, the maximum period of detention without access to a lawyer for an Israeli juvenile stands at 48 hours, however, a Palestinian juvenile can be detained like this for a maximum of 90 days.
Such stark inequality as this is not what I would expect from the Jewish State that I have grown up to love and a country in which I would like to live in the future. This is why myself, along with 29 other young Zionists from across the Jewish spectrum, have been working with Yachad to create the Kids Court in Conflict campaign.
As well as raising awareness of the injustices that take place in the juvenile military courts, we seek to make a tangible change on the ground by raising £26,000 for an on-call lawyer who will be available 24 hours a day to represent Palestinian juveniles during the beginnings of their legal process.
This would ensure that the young Palestinians are made aware of all their rights before and during the interrogation process.
In 2014, research showed that out of 105 testimonies given by arrested Palestinian juveniles 69, of them signed or were shown documents in Hebrew that they couldn’t understand, and only 13 of them were informed of their right to silence.
Threats and abuse, both physical and verbal, are also disturbingly prevalent among the testimonies.
Under this duress, the best seeming option for many of the minors is to admit to crimes, whether guilty or not. We were informed by lawyers in Israel who work with Palestinians in the military courts that if more youths had access to a lawyer during interrogation, the majority would not be coerced like this into confessions.
A pilot programme of a similar nature was undertaken several years ago by the Israeli law firm Gaby Lasky and Partners, and the results proved that Palestinian juveniles were much less likely to incriminate themselves if they were made aware of their rights by a lawyer.
We’re not trying to prevent people who have broken the law from going to prison; we are simply a group of Zionists who, inspired by Jewish values, are campaigning for Palestinian minors to have access to due legal process. We are campaigning for the principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence to be upheld by the State of Israel, because Zionism tells us to. I consider myself to be a strong advocate for Israel, especially on campus.
Yet I am largely disinterested in the common methods of hasbara, believing them to be provocative rather than effective within the hostile student world. I sincerely believe that the Kids Court in Conflict campaign is hasbara in its highest form, as it demonstrates how Zionism does not have to be associated with blind support for everything the State of Israel does, but instead can seek to critique and improve it.
The problem of injustices within the West Bank’s military courts should cut across the polarised opinions that exist on Israel, and unite everyone who believes in the universal human right to a fair trial.