Ahed Tamimi in court 17 January 2018 (Oren Ziv, Activestills)
Remand in custody – even of minors – is part of the routine of oppression that Israel employs against Palestinians, with the full backing of the military courts, a system in which both judges and prosecutors are always military personnel, the defendants always Palestinian, and the conviction rate almost 100%.
Today (Wednesday, 17 Jan. 2018), a military judge approved the prosecution’s request to remand ‘Ahed and Nariman Tamimi in custody. The hearing, which was held at Ofer Military Court, is a prime example – one of many thousands – of how rather than serving justice, Israel’s military court system is a major tool of oppression serving Israel’s control over Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
Both ‘Ahed Tamimi (16) and her mother Nariman (42) have been in custody since 19 December 2017, after ‘Ahed was taken from her home in the middle of the night, and her mother was arrested when she came to find out what was happening with her daughter later that day. All the military prosecution’s requests to extend their detention have been approved by the military judges. Meanwhile, the prosecution has built up inflated case files against both mother and daughter, including a litany of charges that go back as far as April 2016 – conveniently ignoring the fact that until now, the authorities have seen no need to arrest the alleged suspects or call them in for questioning.
The high-profile arrest of the two has elicited extreme responses from top members of government in Israel, ranging from a demand to let them spend the rest of their lives in prison to an announcement that their relatives’ permits to enter Israel would be revoked. These reactions stem partly from the fact that the Tamimi family has long since become a symbol of unarmed Palestinian resistance to the occupation. To defeat this family, Israel is resorting to a variety of tools it has developed and used for more than fifty years against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, as part of its attempts to sustain the occupation regime.
The key measures that Israel is using against ‘Ahed and Nariman Tamimi are familiar – to varying degrees – from thousands of other legal cases that Israel has taken up against Palestinian defendants: Violent arrest in the middle of the night, slapdash indictments and prolonged detention that today became remand in custody for the duration of the proceedings. The fact that these measures are being used against a minor magnifies the violation of human rights that is already par for the course in Israel’s treatment of hundreds of Palestinian minors: According to statistics provided to B’Tselem by the Israel Prison Service, as of 30 November 2017, 181 Palestinian minors were being held in custody for the duration of legal proceedings in their cases.
Remand for the duration of the proceedings means that a person continues to be held in custody after the investigation has been concluded and an indictment filed, until all legal proceedings, including judgment and sentencing are over. During this time, the detainee is not serving a prison sentence and is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. As such, remand should be the exception to the rule, but in the military courts in the West Bank, the prosecution regularly asks the military judges to approve remand, and the latter almost always comply. This practice serves as an incentive for defendants to plead guilty to the charges against them and to sign plea bargains – regardless of whether they actually committed the offense and the evidence against them. If they choose to go to trial while in custody, they may end up spending more time behind bars than they would be sentenced to in a plea bargain.
The upshot of all this is that the military prosecution is almost never required to go to trial, where it would have to prove the defendant’s guilt. Consequently, the judges’ decision to approve remand is tantamount to a conviction – as the case is decided once the person is remanded, rather than based on the evidence. Pretrial approval of remand in custody of people who have not yet been convicted, as standard practice, effectively empties the judicial process of meaning.