Human Rights Watch: Superficiality in the Service of Violence

Should a 16-year old minor, indicted for three counts of assault, slingshotting stones at law enforcement officers, and calling for the commission of terrorist attacks including suicide bombings, be released on bail?

A blog published by Bill Van Esveld, Senior Researcher in the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), does just that (Israeli Prosecutors Throw Book at Palestinian Child Protestor, HRW Dispatches, January 14, 2018). Van Esveld throws the full weight of this NGO superpower behind a violent child offender, filmed by her mother and streamed live on social media, engaging in assault and incitement.

In the blog, he argues that the only possible outcome of the bail hearing regarding Ahed Tamimi, a 16-year old Palestinian, is to release her. By his account, any other decision would merely point to the inherent discrimination of the Israeli justice system.

In order to reach this outrageous conclusion, Van Esveld attempts to employ legalese that perverts reality and morality, and relies on his presumed ignorance of his readers. This is the same HRW employee who told Al Jazeera, “There’s really no reason why you have to arrest a young child in the first place and detain them,” apparently oblivious to the numerous incidents of minors committing murders and other acts of violent terrorism.

Importantly, Van Esveld conveniently omits that the court was prepared to conduct a bail hearing immediately after the submission of the indictment on January 1, 2018, but it was Tamimi’s own attorney, Gaby Lasky, who twice asked for delays resulting in the postponement of the hearing until January 15.

Van Esveld argues that “the military court should base its decision on one criterion: whether the further detention of Ahed Tamimi, a child, is necessary as a measure of last resort, the standard international law requires.” He adds, “The reasons to grant bail are straightforward. Ahed has never been indicted before, and hardly poses a serious security or flight risk.”

In these two statements, Van Esveld, completely misrepresents the way juvenile justice works in all Western countries.

Despite his first claim, international law does not mandate the release of any defendant, including minors. In reality, international law recognizes that some offenders, including minors (see Article 37(b) of the Convention of the Rights of the Child), who commit violent offences can be denied bail.

Van Esveld’s second claim similarly lacks any validity. When juvenile judges consider granting bail, they take into account numerous considerations. One is whether the event was a “first time offence” that displayed a momentary lack of judgement or whether the event was part of a continuous criminal pattern and/or whether the defendant is likely to pose a threat to society. In addition, the court also places considerable weight on how the actions of the minor are viewed by the domestic environment to which the minor would be released.

The reality is, as noted in the indictment, that Ahed Tamimi is a serial offender, facing charges on violent offences against law enforcement officers and inciting to more violence including suicide bombings (“Whether it is a stabbing attack or suicide bombing or throwing rocks, everyone needs to do something and unite in order for our message to reach those who want to liberate Palestine”). These factors alone, would, in most legal systems, warrant the denial of any bail.

Van Esveld also hides the fact that Tamimi’s father was previously convicted of organizing the children of his village to violently ambush Israeli soldiers. Her mother has also been indicted for similar crimes, and these factors would be considered by the judge. Similarly, the fact that her father said, in an interview with BBC Radio after her arrest, that he is “proud” of his daughter also weighs against her release into their custody. In fact, Van Esveld’s depiction of Tamimi as a heroic “symbol of Palestinian resistance” undermines his very argument on this point.  Why Van Esveld, a supposed defender of child rights, adopts the propaganda rhetoric of terrorist organizations, is an open question.

Van Esveld further perverts and distorts the discussion by claiming that 70% of Palestinian children are denied bail, while only 18% of Israeli children are denied bail. Does Van Esveld not know that the Israeli domestic juvenile justice system deals with the full spectrum of possible offences committed by minors, while the military justice system, as mutually agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinians in the Oslo peace accords, was assigned jurisdiction to adjudicate almost exclusively serious violent offences? If Van Esveld had any credibility or integrity, he would compare statistics for similar offences. Van Esveld refrains from presenting the real picture, because he knows they would negate his biased analysis.

HRW has long exploited the issue of child rights to bash Israel, deliberately misleading its readers about the Israeli justice system and ignoring Palestinian incitement and the weaponization of children. Van Esveld should be well aware that promoting this HRW campaign is no way to treat a child.

About the Author
Lt. Col. (res) Maurice Hirsch is the Head of Legal Strategies for Palestinian Media Watch. He served for 19 years in the IDF Military Advocate General Corps. In his last position he served as Director of the Military Prosecution in Judea and Samaria.
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