The case of Palestinian teenager, Ahed Tamimi, sparked the world’s attention after she was detained by Israeli occupation forces and sentenced to eight months in prison for slapping an Israeli soldier.
Ahed’s bravery is all the more remarkable when we remind ourselves of her status both as child and as a young woman in the highly militarised and masculine system of oppression that is the Israeli military court system. The military law and court system, applying to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, is inherently discriminatory and unjust. This system enforces an order of legal segregation and military laws that deny the most basic of civil rights and only apply to Palestinians. Ahed is one of approximately 700 Palestinian children arrested and detained within this system every year. Within this system, there is no prospect of justice for Palestinians, demonstrated by its 99.74% conviction rate. The judges are Israeli occupation officers tasked with prosecuting “security violations”, a catch all term that encompasses acts of political and social expression, association and movement, including nonviolent protest, which are deemed to “…threaten Israeli security or to adversely affect the maintenance of order and control of the territories.” The conduct of Ahed’s case from the point of arrest, to interrogation and detention has raised serious concerns about her treatment, as a child and as a young woman, and Israel’s violations of its international legal obligations.
The treatment of Ahed by Israeli forces and court officials, as well as in the Israeli press, has been loaded with vile sexism, as well as largely overlooking her status as a child. Prominent Israeli commentator Ben Caspit, for example, speaking of Ahed’s case proposed in his column that “In the case of the girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras.” This vile incitement to sexual violence against a female child in mainstream Israeli press went largely unchallenged; the normalization of such a horrendous proposal speaks volumes about the attitude towards Palestinian children, in particular female children, in Israeli society. Such attitudes permeate the military court system.
In April 2018, Ahed’s family released a video of her interrogation by Israeli officials, which showed two male Israeli interrogators making threats and sexist remarks towards Ahed in an attempt to coerce a confession, without the presence of her lawyer, her parents or a female officer. It is reported that an Israeli interrogator made flirtatious and sexist remarks towards Ahed during interrogations, including that she has “eyes like an angel.” Ahed largely remained silent as an act of resistance in the face of these threats. Ahed’s lawyer has filed a complaint with the Israeli general attorney’s office over this inappropriate conduct, which amounts to sexual harassment. According to Ahed’s lawyer, she has faced a series of long and aggressive interrogations that have been accompanied by threats to her family. Ahed’s father has reported that Ahed has been subjected to 34 hours of sleep deprivation.
Where the military court system does not operate, such as in occupied East Jerusalem and Gaza, arrests, detention and ill-treatment of young Palestinians continues. In East Jerusalem, which Israel has illegally annexed and imposes its own civil law, Israeli police regularly arrest, detain and interrogate Palestinian children. In the case of R. L, recorded by Addameer, a 17-year-old girl from Jerusalem was arrested, beaten and transferred to al-Mascobiyya for interrogation: “Throughout the transfer, she was handcuffed and eyes folded, she was also humiliated, insulted and beaten by the soldiers. R. L. did not know where she was going neither her parents did. As for interrogations, she was interrogated for three days and by three Israeli officers without her lawyer, also her hands and legs were cuffed. She was tortured during interrogations; put in stress positions, beaten and deprived of sleep and food.”
The treatment of Ahed, R.L and hundreds of other Palestinian child prisoners, amounts to a grave violation of their human rights, which Israel is obligated to respect under international human rights law, as highlighted below. It should also be noted that, as an occupying power, Israel must protect the occupied population who are protected persons under international humanitarian law.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), to which Israel is a party, requires that children are only detained as a measure of last resort. This means that if there is a less harsh measure available, this should be considered before imprisonment. The UNCRC further requires that every child deprived of their liberty must be treated with humanity and respect, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of their age. This includes prompt access to legal or other appropriate forms of assistance. The disproportionate punishment of imprisoning Ahed for slapping a soldier to whom she posed no real threat, is a blatant violation of the Convention. Furthermore, Ahed’s treatment since her arrest, including intimidation, threats and harassment constitute further violations, as well as violating the Convention’s provisions on the right of all children to be free from all forms of violence.
In respect of interrogation of children in particular, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has emphasised that the child being questioned must have access to a legal or other appropriate representation, and must be able to request the presence of their parent(s) and, further. Furthermore, the Committee stresses that there must be independent scrutiny of the methods of interrogation to ensure that the evidence is voluntary and not coerced, and that interrogators should be trained to avoid interrogation techniques and practices that result in coerced or unreliable confessions or testimonies. It is clear from the video evidence of the conduct of interrogations in Ahed’s case, that threatening and intimidating interrogation techniques were adopted against her, in attempt to extract an incriminating confession from her, without the presence of her lawyer or appropriate support for someone her age. This is a blatant violation of the international standards enshrined in the UNCRC.
It is also recognized in international human rights law that Ahed, as a young woman, requires particular protections against the risk of gendered abuses in the context of her interrogation and detention. As noted, the male interrogators adopted particularly sexist methods designed to intimidate and threaten her as a young woman, which amount to both gender-based discrimination and gender-based violence. The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to which Israel is a party, expressly prohibits gender-based discrimination and gender-based violence. The CEDAW committee has stressed that states must protect women and girls in the justice system against threats, harassment and other harm before, during and after legal proceedings and provide the resources and frameworks necessary to ensure that protective measures function effectively. It is clear that Israel has completely disregarded these obligations in its military court system, which regularly arrests and detains women, including girls, and subjects them to sexist abuse and gender-based violence, while failing to accommodate their particular needs and experiences.
Reports of sexual harassment, sleep deprivation, psychological and physical abuse in Ahed’s case also give rise to concerns that she has been subjected to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, which is absolutely prohibited, not only in respect of children in the UNCRC, but across international human rights law, including in the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – both of which Israel is party to. The prohibition against torture is a jus cogens principle, meaning that it is internationally recognised legal obligation applicable to all states.
Unfortunately, Ahed is just one of hundreds of Palestinian children who are subjected to this harsh, arbitrary and discriminatory system – a system with the façade of a court, but which is in all ways a violent instrument of occupation. The military court is designed to reinforce and preserve Israel’s occupation by oppressing and silencing Palestinians who resist. While Ahed’s case is not in isolation, it clearly demonstrates the brutal lengths that Israel is willing to go to – subjecting a child to intimidation, sexual harassment and even torture and inhuman treatment, in flagrant violation of international human rights standards – in order to sustain its brutal occupation and suppress Palestinian self-determination.