Holding Pattern

A Palestinian Teen Gets Sent to Detention—and Stays

Muhammed was taken to one of about 10 temporary detention centers, which are located either within Israel on military bases or in Jewish settlements in the occupied territories; wherever they are, visits by families are difficult or impossible, depending on whether the visitors hold Israeli identification. Since the beginning of Operation Defensive Shield, the centers have been woefully overcrowded, with inadequate food and inmates sharing mattresses and blankets. Arrestees are interrogated, sometimes by soldiers and sometimes in separate interrogation centers, by members of Shin Bet, the security forces. According to NGO monitors, arrestees are often beaten or otherwise abused. A 14-year-old who was arrested in February 2003 while throwing stones showed the Voice marks on his back that he said were from a beating with an M-16 rifle, and said he was held for a few hours in a cage in the street of a Jewish settlement.

Muhammed did not report being beaten. He was hardly questioned at the center, only enough to hear and deny the charges against him. Being only 15 at the time of his arrest, he was segregated from the other inmates at the center per IDF regulations. In a practice that has since stopped due to the work of HaMoked and others, he was held in solitary confinement for 45 consecutive days.

The procedures governing the IDF's "civil administration" of the Palestinian territories are difficult to master, and often inconsistent with international law. Detainees like Muhammed are not guaranteed lawyers by the court, though in most cases DCI or another organization can provide one. A first hearing, called a judicial review, comes within 18 days after arrest. Officials say the judge is presented with the secret information and the order calling for the period of detention, which may be three, four, or six months. The defense lawyer, armed with the open file, containing a sworn affidavit by the prisoner and sometimes statements by others, appears in judges' chambers and plays a kind of guessing game, trying to determine the nature of the charges against her client. Then, before the full court, the lawyer mounts her defense, calling the client and character witnesses, asking for the order to be rejected, or more likely, for the term to be shortened. Before March 2002, Shin Bet used to appear in court to present its secret evidence and be cross-examined, but now it must be specially called in, and rarely is.

"My work in the military court is limited. It's like a market," says DCI's lawyer Khaled Quzmar of the bargaining he does in court, trying to get sentences reduced. "In the court, there is no law. Only military orders." And although Israel has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), military orders and security concerns tend to trump civil rights law. "When I talk to the judge about the child convention or about international standards," Quzmar says, "he is not interested in the legal situation, but only in the local situation."

The international standards most often invoked by critics of administrative detention are the Geneva Conventions, which forbid transport of prisoners out of occupied territory (i.e., from Palestine into Israel), and UN human rights laws, which say that preventive detention may be used only against individuals who pose an imminent threat; the very numbers of detainees would seem to argue that this condition is flouted. In the case of juveniles, there is of course another set of concerns. Besides documenting abuses—nearly all of their juvenile clients report some form of abuse ranging from beating to confinement in one position for hours—DCI and groups like B'Tselem focus on the denial to children in detention of basic services guaranteed by the CRC: family visits, regular access to lawyers and educational services, and especially the right of children to not be housed alongside adult criminals. "What is striking is that in all these cases there is no consideration for the emotional, social, or educational needs of a minor," Pelleg-Sryck says. "A minor is considered to be dangerous, and they don't care if he is a minor. During the session with Muhammed, they said, 'He is dangerous.' 'What if he had been eight years old?' I said, 'Doesn't matter. He is dangerous.' This was a reserve judge [a military reservist serving as a judge], a real humanist. I joked with him and said, 'What if he was three months old?' "

Most administrative detention orders are approved, says the military official the Voice talked with, "because our people do their jobs in making sure the evidence warrants it." Most such decisions are also appealed by the defense, and they may be appealed even to Israel's High Court of Justice, the civilian supreme court. "The judges are in a very difficult position," says Pelleg-Sryck. "Of course there are judges who would never release a Palestinian, but some are even humanists and would like to reduce the sentence. But they can't because they received some pieces of paper, and they say, 'If Shabak [Shin Bet] says this guy is dangerous, what can I do?' " Lawyers such as Pelleg-Sryck and Quzmar find themselves cooperating with existing procedures to protect their clients even while arguing against the legality of the entire system.

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