Legalising apartheid in Palestine

Amira Hass in Haaretz:

Let’s imagine this scene: eleven Palestinian youngsters under the age of 18 demonstrating with Palestinian flags and posters at the north-west entrance of the Ariel settlement, demanding that the old road which leads to Salfit be reopened. Let’s assume that these youngsters aren’t attacked by the Ariel residents. After all, this is not a hotheaded settlement, its zealotry is limited to land fever.

Nonetheless, under military procedures, the youth are violating security codes relating to “a prohibition of incitement activity and hostile propaganda,” which were signed by then-GOC Central Command Uzi Narkiss in August 1967. The bans apply to “a group of 10 or more people who gather at a site for a political purpose, or for a matter that can be interpreted as being political,” such as waving a flag or distributing incendiary (“incitement” ) materials. Even if they are aged 13 to 17, these imaginary demonstrators can be detained and interrogated for eight days before they are brought to a military tribunal.

What happens to Jewish youth of the same age who mutilate trees on lands belonging to Palestinian villages in the Salfit district? Even though they live in the same area as the Palestinian youth, a different law applies to them: Israeli law. Under Israeli juvenile law, should IDF soldiers or police make the effort to detain Jewish youth for mutilating trees, minors under the age of 14 can be held for up to 12 hours, and minors over the age of 14 can be detained for 24 hours. Israeli military law does not distinguish between a Palestinian minor and an adult when it comes to their primary detention, before trial. Palestinian detainees under and over the age of 18 can be held for eight days. One country, two legal codes.

For some people, this circumstance of double standards contradicts human logic, professional norms and ethics. In 2010, two petitions were lodged with the High Court of Justice disputing such structural discrimination: Attorney Lila Margalit represented the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel; attorneys Smadar Ben Natan and Avigdor Feldman represented the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs. The petitioners sought to make prearraignment detention periods for Palestinian suspects equivalent to those of Israeli suspects.

And as often happens, a rare coincidence was discovered: The state prosecutor’s January 2011 response to these High Court petitions indicated that “a decision was reached recently to institute far-ranging changes in detention periods designated under the security codes; these changes are supported by the IDF, the Israel Police and the Shin Bet security service.”

These “far-ranging” changes were incorporated in an amendment to the military codes signed by then-GOC Central Command Avi Mizrahi on February 2, 2012, which are gradually being instituted between March 1 and August 1. The amendment reduces the period of detention, but does not equalize the period of detention faced by Palestinian and Israeli suspects. This disparity, explained the prosecutor, is justified in terms of the essence of “territory under belligerent occupation for a long period of years.” The inequality is substantiated via reference to the “fanaticism” of Palestinian detainees who operate on the basis of “ultra-nationalist, ideological motivations,” and so “interrogation of them is more difficult.”

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