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Detainee Families

For the families of detained children, military court hearings are yet another psychologically torturing experience. Below is an account provided by a human rights activist upon her visit at Salem Military Court together with the family of a youngster.

1 Minute to Say “I Love You, My Son”
Date: 18 April 2013
Place: Salem Military Court

At 07:40 on Thursday 18 April 2013, IWPS arrived at Salem Military Court, where about 40 family members were waiting outside the high barbed-wire fencing, gates, and watchtower. A shed-like structure provided a shelter from the pouring rain; there were no toilets available.

At around 08:00, an Israeli army jeep arrived; the court gate was opened and the first family members, upon inspection of their IDs, were allowed to enter through the first turnstile. Only two family members are allowed for each hearing. Families are not given an exact appointment time for these court cases, which means they all have to arrive before 09:00 and wait to be called, often for long hours.

A crowd was building at the first gate.

In a small yard after the first turnstile three dozen people were waiting to pass through a white door, behind which is an open-air path enclosed with barbed wire and mesh fencing; it leads to another building with a waiting room and filthy toilet facilities. About 20 people were crowding to get through the next metal detector and another turnstile.

After leaving their IDs and mobile phones at the army desk, visitors are subjected to a full body search.

The main waiting area is a concrete yard with a drinking fountain and 2 toilet cubicles, a single pedestrian-width metal gate leading to the courtrooms, and a pre-fabricated building with seats. Here, families wait to be called; some stay until the court closes at 16:00. Families crowd around the single gate through which an Israeli soldier shouts the names of the defendants for the next court case; they try to catch a glimpse of the defendants on their way to and from the courtrooms.

At one point, a heavily armed soldier came into the yard and yelled at the people to move back.

The case IWPS attended had an open hearing, thus we were able to get into the courtroom. Often hearings are closed to the public and no-one apart from the two family members are allowed in; this makes the work of human rights activists much harder, for they are not allowed to observe the procedures and practices during the hearing.

At the top of the courtroom was the judge’s desk. To the right, there was a stall into which the prisoners were led. At right angles to the judge’s desk were places for the lawyers, army scribes, and army personnel. In every case, the parents were led to the bench in the far left of the room, the one furthest away from their imprisoned children. A metal guard-rail separated the officials from the public area, where the families sat. The door was guarded by several police who came in and out as they wished.

The first court cases witnessed by IWPS did not last more than 10 minutes. Prisoners, all of them teenage boys, were led to a stall handcuffed and shackled, wearing brown prison uniforms. Handcuffs were removed for the duration of the hearing. The proceedings were conducted in Hebrew and simultaneously translated into Arabic; we’ve heard complaints from families that the translating army personnel oftentimes start talking to each other or on the phone, or sending text messages, failing to translate huge parts of what is being said in the court.

During the hearing we attended, the majority of cases were given a future date, i.e. extending the children’s detention in order to keep them in prison without charges for longer.

After each court case, the family members are allowed one minute to talk to their sons. They do this from behind the guard-rail set at a right angle to where their sons stand. In each case, the police guard would point to where the family must stand, which was 2 metres diagonally away from their son. If parents came closer to their child, they were ushered back. No physical contact was allowed, and the conversation was usually abruptly ended by a soldier.

The son would then be handcuffed and led out of the court, while the parents were pushed out in the opposite direction.

This description is from the second of four Israeli military court hearings that the 17-year-old has gone through at the Salem Israeli Military Court, each postponing the trial for another two weeks.

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