20 February 2014

Israel trials a new approach with children suspected of stone throwing and other crimes

From THE AUSTRALIAN Editorial, FEBRUARY 21, 2014:

ISRAEL, the only functioning democracy in the Middle East, has acted wisely in its decision to replace night-time arrests of Palestinian children suspected of stone throwing and other crimes on the West Bank with a system of summonses. The practice of night-time arrests was highlighted in a recent investigation by The Australian’s Middle East correspondent John Lyons and the ABC’s Four Corners program.

The reporting drew an angry response from some Israeli supporters in Australia. But discussion in Israel shows the nation’s leaders, army and commentators understand the benefits of the change.

Israel’s chief military prosecutor for the West Bank, Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Hirsch, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday the new program, if successful, would provide “tremendous gains in saving people from operational dangers and minimising future claims of abuse”. Every arrest was dangerous, at best. And avoiding the arrest of Palestinian minors at night would negate “misleading claims of widespread, systematic and institutionalised mistreatment” [emphasis added - SL]. The change could also help Israeli officials avoid being brought before the International Criminal Court as a result of a deliberate campaign of misunderstanding.

To the army’s credit, it wants to make the changes work. And it is keeping “an open mind” about whether Palestinian suspects will turn up for questioning when summonsed. If they fail to do so it will underline the need for sterner measures to be resumed.

Night-time arrests of minors have been conducted only among Palestinian suspects on the occupied West Bank, not among Israel’s 1.7 million Arab and Palestinian citizens, who share the same rights as Jewish citizens. Night arrests were preferred because of the likelihood of violent demonstrations during the day.

Justifiably, Israel has no intention of compromising on security when stone-throwing and other offences by minors are a significant problem on the West Bank. As Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council wrote last week, many of the 700 Palestinian minors arrested annually in Israel are involved in shootings, bomb plots and murder, as well as stone-throwing, that has killed at least 12 Israelis over recent decades and injured many more.