B”Selem newsletter, June 30, 2015
Israel goes to considerable lengths to demonstrate that it administers the occupation, now going on fifty, in a way that does not involve systematic abuse of the human rights of Palestinians, the residents of the occupied territory. One area in which such attempts are focused is the military court system in the West Bank.
However, in a new report we issued last week on remand to custody by military courts, B’Tselem shows this system to be little more than a façade. There are prosecutors, defense attorneys, rules of procedure, laws, regulations, and judges who hand down rulings and verdicts couched in reasoned legal language – yet all these are essentially actors in a well-crafted charade.
The report probes the workings of the military courts by examining their routine practice of remand in custody, i.e. holding a person in detention for the duration of legal proceeding in his or her case. Although people who have been formally charged and are awaiting trial are presumed innocent, the courts treat Palestinians in that situation as guilty from the outset. With the exception of cases involving traffic violations, the prosecution regularly asks for remand in custody and the courts approve the vast majority of the motions. All this is based on a series of presumptions that the defendant has almost no way of countering.
One of the outcomes of this policy is that the vast majority of military court cases end in plea bargains. Defendants know that if they go to trial while in custody they may ultimately spend more time behind bars than in the prison sentence they would receive in a plea bargain.
In Israel’s military court system, the prosecutors and judges represent an occupying regime whose interests are at odds with those of the defendants’ society. Such a system cannot mete out justice – no matter how convincing the setting.
Yael Stein, Research Director