Yes, this article by Peter Strauss is technically an opinion piece. However, I implore you to consider Peter's testimony of his time visiting Ofer Military Court as more than just a point of view, but a person who's point of view has been informed by the experiences he describes below.
I wrote this piece just after visiting a military court in the West Bank. Today I saw a very different side of Israel. I wasn’t lying on a beach in Tel Aviv sipping Iced Aroma but, for the first time ever, I was made to question my love for Israel. Throughout Hebron and other tough places there were two different sides of Israel which I saw but could just about reconcile the two, but today that all changed. At Ofer I saw ‘Justice’ being served by the IDF. Lady Justice that sits outside all British courts is blindfolded because justice should be blind.
However, today I saw the difference between Palestinians in the West Bank who are forced into military courts with military (IDF) Judges charged under military law, and settlers in Judaea and Samaria who are sent to civil courts in Israel (proper) and are tried by civil judges under civil law. How is this justice? Segregated legal systems cannot be blind justice. We spoke to a mother whose son had been arrested for a crime he didn’t commit; they came at 5 am and broke into her house. Her and her husband tried to hide their son but the IDF soldiers beat the father until he eventually gave in and told them where his son was. He was arrested in late May and is still being held in prison without bail awaiting trial. He is 19. Another mother spoke about how her husband had pleaded for him to be arrested instead of their son and the IDF said they would arrest both of them if he didn’t leave. He is 16 and aiming to become a doctor with top grades but he’s now missed a lot of school.
Like many Palestinians their Hebrew is very basic or non-existent. All the court proceedings are in Hebrew with very technical legal terms that the average Israeli wouldn’t even understand. There is a translator but sometimes they sit there on their phone not translating and other times it is a very basic translation. In one case we saw that a boy had been detained for a week before trial for throwing stones at an IDF armoured Jeep. It was his bail hearing. The judge decided to grant bail, but the prosecutor wanted to appeal his decision. Therefore, the boy has to spend at least one more night in prison. Having heard from his lawyer he was being granted bail - the translator had left halfway through for lunch - the police guard tried to get him up but he shouted to his mother that he didn’t want to go and he didn’t understand. His lawyer tried to calm him and explain while the guard was trying to force him out of the court room with a smile on their face. This is one case out of thousands.
So today, I have to question Israel and ask how she can let these miscarriages of justice just slide. I love you and up to now have been able to wholeheartedly defend your actions towards Palestinians, potentially naively. But today that ends; I just cannot reconcile the Israel I love and the Israel I saw today with its two-tier legal system and handing unfair punishments to children who deserve a better future. They deserve a future with self-determination for the Palestinian people and hopefully two states for two people, but most importantly I hope and pray for peace in the Middle East and the ending of conflict on all sides.
I was taken to the courts by a group called Military Court Watch. As a foreign national you have a right to go and I would highly recommend it. For more facts see their website.