“Simply fictitious,” responded a senior Israel Defense Forces official when asked about allegations leveled in a Feb. 10, 2014 Australia Broadcasting Corporation “Four Corners” report concerning brutal torture of Palestinian children during interrogations.
In contravention of journalistic codes of ethics, reporter John Lyons never gave Israeli officials the opportunity to respond specifically to the alleged instances of extreme abuse described. CAMERA, therefore, checked with Israeli authorities, reaching a high-level official intimately knowledgeable about the minors interviewed in the “Stone Cold Justice” broadcast.
One of them, Fathi Mahfouz, who was arrested on April 10, 2013 at the age of 15, and held for 82 days, claimed on camera that during his interrogation he had been hung from a cross-like structure for hours and beaten, and had been subjected to hitting and electric batons.
Another child, Qsai Zamara, alleged that his 18-day nightmare at the age of 14 included an interrogation in which he was whipped with a hose and threatened with electrocution.
About these two children, the IDF official stressed that they had never made these claims in court. Mahfouz appeared in court one day after his April 10 arrest, and he returned to court again on April 14 when he entered into a plea bargain, confessing to the crime for which he had been indicted, which was throwing rocks at military vehicles and personnel from a distance of 15 meters during a wide scale demonstration. During these two appearances, he never raised any allegations of being suspended from a cross or being beaten. “The only claim [of abuse] he made in court was on the 14th that the border policeman who arrested him in some way injured him and the court ordered that a protocol of a hearing be sent to the internal affairs office of the police, part of the Justice Ministry, for investigation.”
“Never once did he make a claim regarding his interrogation at any stage,” added the official, who confirmed that Mahfouz was represented by a lawyer in court.
Similarly, Zamara never voiced claims of torture during his court appearances. He was arrested on April 22, 2013, and brought to court the following day for a remand hearing in which he was represented by a lawyer. Three pages of arguments were made on the April 23 hearing, and “never once does he mention the terrible torture he [later said he] was subjected to.” On April 25, he again appeared in court when his indictment was filed. Any alleged torture that took place during interrogations would have happened in this window of time, and yet “never once had Zamara claimed that he had been so viciously attacked or tortured.”
“It’s unbelievable that now, 10 months afterwards, he’s making these amazing claims of what happened to him,” stated the incredulous official.
Official: Lyons Heaps on ‘Lies’
The army official called Lyons’ portrayal of the court system “fictitious, blatant and malicious.” “Lyons’ broadcast focused only on the initial stage of arrest and interrogations and ignored entirely the court system,” he stated. “Judges send complaints of abuse to the relevant authorities. He ignored the fact that some minors, including [interviewee] Islam Dar Ayyoub, were released on bail. He ignored the fact that the prosecution is required to hand over all evidence to the defense.”
Standing in front of the walls of the Ofer military prison near Ramallah, Lyons had reported:
I’ve been behind these walls three times. I saw children shuffling across the courtyard, handcuffed and shackled. Some hearings lasted 60 seconds. I saw one boy shout the name of his prison so his mother would know where he was being held. I saw the judge convict some children without even once looking at them. Through it all, what I saw was a conveyor belt of convicted children.
Accusing Lyons of gross falsehoods, the source emphatically stated that John Lyons had never been inside the towering walls of the Ofer prison. “No journalists go there,” said the source, noting that Lyons had been to the courtrooms outside the prison walls.
Regarding Lyons’ claim that a boy shouted the name of his prison so his mother would know where he was being held, the official said that was “simply a lie.” Before interrogations, the authorities are required to notify parents of minors where their child is being held and that he is about to be interrogated, he said.
As for the allegation that some hearings lasted 60 seconds, the IDF man noted that some hearings are strictly technical, such as scheduling the next hearing. The official accuses the reporter of deliberately painting a false picture. The claim that the court system is a conveyor belt “is so far from the truth that it’s unbelievable,” he said.
The IDF source likewise countered Lyons claim that “Typically, a Palestinian boy convicted of throwing stones will be sentenced to about three months imprisonment.” Because “there is a tremendous spectrum of severity within the offense of stone-throwing,” it is impossible to make a generalization about sentencing for stone-throwing,” the IDF official stated. “Generalizations like that are very, very simplistic,” he added, noting that the sentence depends on a range of factors such as distance from the target, whether the target was civilian or military, vehicle or a person, whether the stone-throwing was part of a mass demonstration or not, and more.
Finally, regarding Lyons, an IDF source told CAMERA that army representatives took the Australian reporter to film mass rioting in the West Bank Palestinian village of Qadum. The footage of that stone-throwing, however, never made it into “Stone Cold Justice.”
Has Horton Represented a Palestinian Child?
Besides the interviewed minors, one of the main sources for Lyons’ story is Gerard Horton. Lyons introduces Horton as follows:
Onto this frontline has walked Australian lawyer Gerard Horton. He left his practice as a commercial law barrister in Sydney six years ago and is now leading a campaign to end a system under which Palestinian children have fewer rights than Israeli children – including being subjected to night-time arrests by heavily armed soldiers.
The IDF official charged that Horton, with his professional background in commercial law, is not at all knowledgeable about the legal system which he so loudly criticizes. Moreover, said the Israeli, despite all of his years of involvement in cases involving Palestinian minors, not once has he or any of his colleagues seen Horton representing a Palestinian child.
So take a situation involving two children in the West Bank throwing stones, one a Palestinian child, one an Israeli child living in the settlements. The Palestinian child will be prosecuted in a military jurisdiction with far fewer rights and protections, whereas his Israeli counterpart, living some 500 meters away, will be prosecuted in a juvenile system which meets international standards and complies, is a sort of system you would expect in any Westernized democracy.
The law permits an Israeli child on either side of the Green Line to be arrested overnight, just as a Palestinian child. In practice, though, Palestinian minors are arrested overnight while Israeli children are not because arrests of Palestinian children during the day have resulted in mass riots and violent attacks against security forces.
In addition, “the rules of evidentiary admissibility in military courts are the same as the rules of evidentiary admissibility in Israeli civilian courts,” emphasized the army officials. “Statements taken under duress are not admissible as evidence.”
Beatings and other abuses are immediate cause for not allowing evidence, said the army man. “Gerard Horton doesn’t know it and if he knows it he doesn’t choose to say it.”
Moreover, noted the army official, by law convictions may never be based solely on the confession of the defendant.
The official charged that Horton is “travelling the world spreading ignorance, propaganda and lies. He is using the idea that he is a tremendous defender of human rights, but he has zero understanding.”
As an example, the IDF noted Horton’s use of a misleading and meaningless figure. Horton had said, “I think perhaps to give you some indication of how efficient, from a military perspective, this system is, according to the military courts’ own records, their annual report, the courts have a conviction rate of around 99.74 percent.”
Most judicial systems do not use statistics for conviction rates because one defendant can be charged for more than a dozen counts, and be subsequently acquitted for various counts, while convicted of others, said the IDF official. He noted that in the years 2008 to 2010, the military court had a higher acquittal rate than civilian courts in Israel. “By using these numbers, Horton is simply expressing his own ignorance of any knowledge about how to assess what goes on in criminal courts,” averred the Israeli. “He never mentions the acquittals.”
In addition, the IDF source said that in 2013, that out of the 465 indictments involving Palestinian minors, one-third had the statements written in Arabic. Every other statement which was written in Hebrew was accompanied by an audio recording, or an audio-visual recording. “Gerard Horton does not know that this is common practice,” said the source. “All of the evidence in the hands of the prosecution is sent over to the defense.”
Claims of Coerced Confession Rejected
Another minor interviewed in “Stone Cold Justice,” identified as Islam Dar Ayyoub (his full name is Islam Dar Ayyoub al-Tamimi), alleged that his confession, at the age of 14, had been obtained under duress. He states:
He told me, “Here, sign this paper.” I told him, “It’s in Hebrew and I can’t read Hebrew. Can you read it to me?” He said, ‘”t’s for your release. You need to sign it.” After I signed it at the court. I was surprised to find out it was a confession paper.”
In the context of Islam’s case, Lyons interviews Gaby Lasky, whom he identifies only as an “Israeli lawyer.” She states:
I can see a pattern that Israel hasn’t been able to put down the non-violent movement in the occupied territories through violent means. So the best way to do that is by incriminating those leaders, and the easiest way to do that, to achieve, to get those incriminations is by arresting children which are the weakest link.
The IDF official charges that Gaby Lasky is an “interested party,” and that John Lyons deceived viewers by not mentioning that she represented Islam in court. Lyons “never mentioned that she raised claims in court objecting to the admissibility of his confession. These claims [regarding a confession obtained under duress] had already been rejected,” he noted.
Recalling an incident from last year, the Israeli authority charged that Lasky is “simply there to attack us, not to do anything to help the welfare of the child.” He described a meeting between Israeli officials, lawyers and representatives of NGOs such as B’Tselem, Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Breaking the Silence, to follow up on a UNICEF recommendation that all children in detention should have prompt access to the lawyer of their choice. The UNICEF recommendation was based on the fact that minors are taken to police stations for interrogations, and if the family does not know a lawyer, or if that particular lawyer is not then available, the minors would not have representation at the interrogation since there is no public defender in Judea and Samaria.
The Israeli authorities were enthusiastic about the UNICEF recommendation, and drew up a form in which lawyers and representatives of the aforementioned NGO’s could provide details about lawyers, their contact information, their geographic location, their area of practice, their fee information, and more. “They saw the form. They heard we are willing to take action,” the official said of Lasky, the NGOs and the other lawyers present. “It is six months later, and guess how many, including from the NGOs who attack on the subject, guess how many have given the names of lawyers? Zero.”
Lasky is a vocal critic of the courts
system. As she stated on the “Four Corners” broadcast, “We’re not talking about courts of justice; we are talking about courts of occupation.”
“Where is Gaby Lasky?” the IDF official challenged since she too never filled in the table to assist Palestinian minors. “Step up. Help the children.”