[News] Palestinians are a stain on international justice

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Sat Mar 6 12:57:37 EST 2021

military courts for Palestinians are a stain on international justice
Sahar Francis - March 6, 2021

The overwhelming majority of Palestinians in the West Bank were born into,
and have spent their entire lives under, an Israeli military occupation
that violates their right to self-determination. A new report by the UK
charity War on Want
exposes how a core part of what sustains that occupation is a military
judicial system characterised by violations of international law.

The report – Judge, Jury and Occupier – is a deep dive into the diverse
ways in which Palestinians’ rights are being violated – from arrest,
through interrogation, conviction and jail time. It reflects the
experiences of Palestinian lawyers and human rights groups. The prisoners’
rights organisation I lead, Addameer, was proud to contribute evidence.

One of the report’s important contributions is to make clear that, despite
the Oslo accords
and establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) for Palestinians in the
West Bank, there has been, and remains, no escape from Israel’s military
judicial system.

Regardless of the existence of the PA penal code and judiciary, which
operate with limited autonomy in parts of the occupied territory, all
Palestinians, wherever they reside in the West Bank, remain subject to the
jurisdiction of Israel’s military courts if they fall foul of certain laws.

The impact of this military judicial system is far-reaching, and profoundly

Since 1967, for example, Israel has decreed more than 411 Palestinian
organisations illegal, including all the major Palestinian political
parties. Palestinian civilians are then prosecuted for “membership and
activity in an unlawful association”, a key tool in Israel’s repression of
anti-occupation activism.

Public order offences, meanwhile, include the charge of “incitement”
defined as any attempt “to influence public opinion … in a manner which may
harm public peace or public order”. Palestinians can also be detained for
“bringing into hatred or contempt, or the exciting of disaffection against”

Other charges heard by the military courts include being in Israel
illegally – that is, those caught looking for work without a permit – as
well as traffic violations. The latter accounts for some 40% of all
Palestinians brought before the military courts each year.

The military judicial system is part of a “separate and unequal” reality.
In contrast to Palestinians, Israeli settlers arrested in the West Bank are
tried in civilian courts inside Israel. Two populations, two different
legal systems – Israel’s largest human rights group is therefore right to
call this a form of apartheid

Within this wider discriminatory system, there are specific and serious
violations of international law.

One such violation is torture, a method that the report documents is used
routinely, along with other cruel and degrading acts, to extract
confessions from Palestinians during interrogations (access to a lawyer can
be denied for up to 60 days). These confessions are then used as the
primary evidence to secure convictions in the military courts. One example
of many is Tariq, a school counsellor arrested in 2019 for allegedly being
a member of a proscribed organisation; his ordeal included beatings, stress
positions and verbal abuse. Another transgression of the law concerns the
fact that most Palestinian prisoners are held in prisons within Israel,
despite the fourth Geneva convention
prohibition of the transfer of prisoners from the occupied territory into
the occupying state.

All of this occurs within a system that – as I know from my own years of
experience defending people in the military courts – cannot be “reformed”
but rather must be abolished.

Any occupying power is obliged to act in the interests of the occupied
population; Israel, by contrast, is violating Palestinians’ civil and
political rights. In addition, as UN special rapporteur Michael Lynk
has laid out
after half a century, Israel’s “role as occupier … has crossed a red line
into illegality”.

Britain has a particular role, and responsibility. An important element of
Israel’s military rule in the occupied West Bank is the Defence (Emergency)
Regulations <https://www.btselem.org/legal_documents/emergency_regulations>
enacted by the British mandate in Palestine in 1945. Today, the UK
government approves the sale of weapons, components and military technology
to Israel, as well as imports of Israeli-made military technology.

The report thus calls for the UK government to implement a two-way arms
embargo, and also urges the government to increase support for Palestinian
human rights defenders and organisations.

Applying meaningful pressure on Israel to end its occupation and military
judicial system is the necessary response to a historical wrong and a
present injustice. For the Palestinian men, women and children subjected to
a Kafkaesque denial of their liberty this is not just necessary, it is


   Sahar Francis is director of Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights
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