Israel’s Repressive System of Military Justice Is No Longer Invisible

Originally published in Tikkun Magazine.

Israel’s system of military justice – the complex and suffocating legal framework which has governed Palestinians in the Occupied Territories for decades – has been largely invisible to the outside world, including to many Israelis. However, a confluence of events in the past month is illuminating on a grand scale this cruel and repressive legal system that has dominated the lives of Palestinians for far too long.

Last month, a piercing documentary by Israeli filmmaker Ra’anan Alexandrowicz – The Law in These Parts– won the 2012 World Cinema Grand Jury Documentary Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The film forces former IDF officials and judges to wrestle with the inherent injustices they helped create in forming Israel’s military justice systemincluding the practices of indefinite detention, land confiscation for settlements and the use of torture in interrogations. The Law in These Parts, and the prestigious award it garnered, helped spark conversations in Israel and abroad about the legal system which enables Israel’s occupation.

However, it has been the hunger strike of a Palestinian baker, Khader Adnan, that has dramatically illuminated Israel’s inhumane practice of indefinite detention as mainstream media organizations in the U.S. and abroad heighten its scrutiny.

Adnan, who as of this writing is entering the 65th day of his hunger strike, and who is, according Physicians for Human Rights, in immediate danger of death, was arrested two months ago and accused of being associated with Islamic Jihad. However, no charges have been filed against Adnan, and Israel has refused to say what, if any, evidence it has against him.

The situation, unfortunately, is a normative one, for in Israel’s system of military justice, Palestinians can be detained for indefinite periods without either a charge or access to the military’s evidence, making defending such detainees nearly impossible.

Adnan began his hunger strike to protest the inhumane and humiliating treatment he received after being detained without charge, and his dangerous act of civil disobedience has both inspired Palestinians and increased attention on the issue of Israel’s military court system.

As CNN reports:

Adnan’s hunger strike has become a rallying cry for Palestinians, who have staged multiple protests in the West Bank and Gaza demanding his release. Protesters have also launched a social media campaign to shed light on Israel’s administrative detentions.

“This is a violation of every aspect of human rights,” Palestinian legislator and human rights activist Mustafa Barghouti said during a recent West Bank rally.

“What Khader Adnan is doing today is to show the will of freedom even it means the loss of life.”

The high-profile hunger strike has sparked criticism from rights groups, which have called on Israeli authorities to either charge or release him.

In the wake of Adnan’s hunger strike, media outlets are suddenly devoting resources to additional (and disturbing) narratives produced by Israel’s system of injustice. This includes a profile in The New York Times yesterday on Islam Dar Ayyoub, one of thousands of minors who have been seized, detained and interrogated for rock-throwing without their parents, a lawyer or another adult present.

The Times’ piece begins:

A year ago, Islam Dar Ayyoub was a sociable ninth grader and a good student, according to his father, Saleh, a Palestinian laborer in this small village near Ramallah.

Then, one night in January 2011, about 20 Israeli soldiers surrounded the dilapidated Dar Ayyoub home and pounded vigorously on the door. Islam, who was 14 at the time, said he thought they had come for his older brother. Instead, they had come for him. He was blindfolded, handcuffed and whisked away in a jeep.

From that moment, Islam’s childhood was over. Catapulted into the Israeli military justice system, an arm of Israel’s 44-year-old occupation of the West Bank, Islam became embroiled in a legal process as challenging and perplexing as the world in which he has grown up. The young man was interrogated and pressed to inform on his relatives, neighbors and friends.

The article’s author, Isabel Kershner, goes on to note that Adnan’s hunger strike has focused attention on this system of military detention in Israel, as though implicitly admitting why it is she’s now focused her pen on Islam’s story. Concerning Islam, she also notes the following:

Islam was taken to a nearby army base where, his lawyer said, he was left out in the cold for hours. In the morning, he was taken to the Israeli police for interrogation. Accused of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers inside the village, he was encouraged to identify other youths and the adult organizers of weekly protests here.

In a police videotape of Islam’s five-hour interrogation, the teenager is at times visibly exhausted. Alone and denied access to a lawyer for most of the period, he was partially cautioned three times about his rights but was never told directly that he had the right to remain silent.

As the human rights organization, B’Tselem, reported this year, such youth have no chance in Israel’s military court system. Of the 853 minors charged with rock-throwing between 2005-2010, only one was acquitted (a conviction rate of 99.8 percent), and 15 percent of those minors arrested served prison sentences of over six months.

These are the types of statistics which, for too long, have remained invisible. They tell the story of a military court system, picked apart in The Law in These Parts, that has for four decades placed the value of order over the value of justice. And they tell the story of a man whose life hangs in the balance in Adnan.

They are stories. Stories once invisible. Stories once whispered on the streets of Jerusalem and shouted in the streets of Ramallah. They are stories that are now being heard by citizens across the globe.

They are stories that must be told.


Follow the author – David Harris-Gershon – on Twitter @David_EHG.

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About David Harris-Gershon

David Harris-Gershon – a blogger for Tikkun magazine and a freelance writer on Israel, the Middle East and America’s role in the region – has recently published work in The Jerusalem Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, AlterNet, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Colorado Review and elsewhere. His memoir – What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? – is forthcoming from Oneworld Publications (2013). He received his MFA from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and has worked extensively as an educator, teaching creative writing and Israeli History / Jewish Studies in university and high school classrooms. Follow David on Twitter @David_EHG

Posted on February 20, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Yeah, but what do we do about it? Now that we know that Abbas has more interest in peace with Hamas than with Israel, Israel is — as usual — stuck between a rock and a hard place. Being civil with one’s enemies is never easy. If you have a solution it would be nice to hear. But suggesting that Israel is solely to blame for the situation — however deplorable it may be — is not very convincing. At least not to me.

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