By Amira Hass, Haaretz – 2 Sept 2009
The most amazing thing about the wave of murders in recent weeks has been the collective Israeli stupefaction at the discovery of violence in our midst. Once again we have displayed our talent for excluding from the discourse the daily violence inherent in our continued domination over the Palestinians and their land.
Even when there are no Palestinian casualties and fatalities at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces, there is no letup in the everyday bullying by the occupation regime. Many Israelis are complicit in every travel restriction and expropriation order, from the cabinet ministers responsible, to the jurists who legitimize and codify, to the officers who implement and the typists and translators. Every soldier who guards a Jewish settlement, every rabbi who serves it and every kindergarten teacher there is partner to the primal act of the established violence that built it on Palestinian land (public or private, that makes no difference). This is violence that replicates and reproduces at every moment, because the initial theft is still doing damage. The military judiciary system, which tries only Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank, has an important role in the reproduction of violence.
Nondominant social groups seek ways to prevent Israel’s civil judiciary system from representing and favoring the interests of the centers of power alone. However, in the military judiciary system, the ruler exercises his power unhindered to ensure his control and excessive rights. The occupier produces laws whose entire aim is to punish and deter the occupied who dares to resist.
In a normal society, violence toward children is considered particularly appalling. Yet here, for decades now, Israeli soldiers (who will count how many?) have arrested and are arresting Palestinian children, often in the middle of the night, on the basis of confessions from other children who were given months and years after committing a felony against the occupation. The children are questioned in the middle of the night and are detained until the end of the procedures, even when they are 13 and 14 years old. The military judges find nothing wrong with this. Usually it is best for the children to admit to the crimes quickly (for example, to throwing stones between 2001 and 2004, with no mention of a specific date and place) and sign a plea bargain. A real trial – (witnesses, a cross-examination) – would take longer than the expected prison term.
At the end of July, a military order was issued for the establishment of a military court for juveniles. After 42 years, even the army understood that something is not quite right about the same military judge sentencing someone who is 35 and someone who is 13. Still, under Israeli military law, a Palestinian stops being a minor when he turns 16, two years before an Israeli minor. Under the new order, a minor’s sentence will be set in accordance with the date of his indictment. This is a feeble admission of the violent practice that lasted for years whereby the punishment was set from the day the sentence was handed down. Why feeble? Because the arrest and remand of children is still being carried out the same way as in the past. Because the crucial date is not the day when the crime against the occupation was committed.
Under the order, if two years have elapsed since the crime was committed by someone who was a minor at the time, the person must not be tried unless the chief military prosecutor demands otherwise. What military prosecution – a cat guarding the cream – isn’t going to be eager to prosecute?
From the most senior military judge down to the lowest private at a checkpoint, hundreds of thousands of perfectly normal Israelis who are not violent at home are partners in the mission of administering, demarcating, restricting and taming the other society while cumulatively damaging its rights, welfare and well-being. This is the norm that is not taken into account here in the statistics on violence and the violent.