Why Young British Jews Are Hiring a West Bank Lawyer

Israeli soldiers arrest a young Palestinian boy following clashes in Hebron / Getty Images

I am part of a group of 30 young Zionist leaders from the British Jewish community. As people who love Israel, we want to see it thrive as a sanctuary for the Jewish people, one that stays true to the democratic, tolerant and peaceful ideals it was founded on.

That’s why we launched the Kids Court In Conflict Campaign. Our goal is to raise £26,000 to fund a lawyer to represent Palestinian youths in the IDF military court system in the West Bank. We believe that all people, guilty or not, deserve access to due legal process. So far, our campaign — only a little over two weeks old — has raised just over £11,000.

Statistics and I have never been friends. I find numbers on a page to be a detached way of explaining the socio-political reality around us. It’s voiceless and impersonal. Yet even with my bias against numbers, I think statistics on the experience of Palestinian youths in the military court system paint a striking picture.

Military Court Watch is an NGO that monitors the treatment of Palestinian youths in military court. In their 2013 report “Children in Military Custody: Progress Report, Two Years On,” they documented the experiences of 105 Palestinian juveniles who had been subject to prosecution in the courts. Their research shows that only 5% of the 105 juveniles interviewed were given the opportunity to speak to a lawyer prior to or during their initial interrogation.

Using that figure of 5% as a guideline, we could be looking an estimated 475 to 665 adolescents a year who will not have access to a lawyer until their trial. These statistics highlight the harsh reality experienced by Palestinian youths in the military court system. The report also provides clear insight into the upshot of having two different systems of law in the West Bank.

Palestinians in Areas B and C of the West Bank are prosecuted under the system of martial law (in area C, this is for both civilian and security-related crimes; in area B, it is for security crimes only) whereas any Israeli citizen in the area would be subject to Israeli civilian law, whether he or she lives in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or the West Bank settlements of Efrat, Shilo or Tekoa. The legal process and the treatment received are dramatically different for two people who in many cases live side by side.

Take access to a lawyer, for example. The maximum period of detention without access to a lawyer for Palestinian youths is 90 days, and the longest period for detention without charge is 150 days. Compare that to the maximum time an Israeli juvenile will go without consulting a lawyer — 48 hours — and longest detention period without charge — 40 days.

The common wisdom of our times is that nation states should uphold the human rights of all those who live under their control, whether the individuals are citizens of the state or not. Article 10 of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.”

Yet how can a Palestinian juvenile receive a fair trial if he or she doesn’t have access to a lawyer during the interrogation? For those of us who are committed to Israel and the values on which it was founded, the treatment of Palestinian juveniles in the military courts is not something to which we can turn a blind eye.

Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” And so I am — even if I have to use statistics along the way.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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Why Young British Jews Are Hiring a West Bank Lawyer

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