Recently something quite remarkable has been happening, a group of around 30 young, Jewish and perhaps most profoundly, Zionist leaders in the UK have embarked on a campaign. Now this campaign probably isn’t what you’d assume based on the demographic of those partaking; it’s certainly not hasbara. It’s actually a great deal more than that.
Before I go on however, I think it serves a purpose to define precisely what this campaign is not about, in order to avoid any unnecessary confusion moving forward.
So here’s a quick list of 4 things which this campaign is simply not about.
- Assigning the same legal status to West-Bank Palestinians as Israelis, representing a legal annexation.
- Attempting to ensure that Palestinians guilty of security offenses in the West-Bank avoid the consequences of their actions.
- Legitimising Palestinian acts of violence such as stone throwing or rioting.
- Finding another way to delegitimise the state of Israel in its entirety.
Instead what we at “Kids Court In Conflict” are trying to do is hire a lawyer to represent Palestinian juveniles from the time of their arrest, which often in the early hours of the morning, to the time of their trial in military courts in the West Bank. The problem being that in a recent survey of 105 Palestinian juveniles who have been through the military court process, as few as 5% had access to legal representation prior to their trial. This lack of legal representation has led to defendants signing confession documents in a language they do not understand, without a parent or lawyer present, and even in some cases, experiencing physical abuse at the time of their interrogation. This has resulted in Israeli military courts achieving an astronomical conviction rate of 99.74%. All of this is of course set against the backdrop of severe disparities in the way in which Palestinian and Israeli youth living in the West Bank are treated under the legal system which exists in the occupied territories.
All of this however still begs the question, why us? Why would a group of Zionist youth take up this issue? Why can’t we leave it to the usual suspects at the PSC or BDS? The answer is however; like in all good comprehension tests, in the question. We are Zionists, and being Zionists, at least to us, put’s more responsibility on us than simply waving a flag or sharing a link on Facebook. It requires the constant self-improvement of what has been described as the “the most important project of the Jewish people in our life time”, namely the State of Israel. The time has come for us, as Jews in the diaspora to recognise that the current status-quo is detrimental for Israel in equal measure to which it is detrimental for the Palestinians. The military court system and particularly the way in which Palestinian minors are treated within it, is a clear case where self-improvement, the highest expression of Zionist values, is sorely needed.
Now I can already hear the calls from our friends on the right “Why are you making Israel look bad?! Don’t you know that people who hate Israel will use this against it?!”. For this I have two responses:
Response A: We need to break this unhelpful paradigm which exists in the community that it is talking about Israel’s flaws, as opposed to the flaws themselves, which make Israel “look bad”. If Palestinian youth in the West Bank were granted the proper legal representation throughout their judicial process there would be no need for this campaign; but the fact is, they don’t.
Response B: Israel’s harshest critics in this country and elsewhere, particularly those supporters of the omni-unhelpful BDS movement already talk about these things anyway. Therefore if you want these conversations (which make no mistake are being had) to be framed by those who genuinely, really do want to ostracise, delegitimise and demonise Israel then tell us to ignore the issues. The fact is when Zionist voices are able to criticise and provide alternatives for Israeli policy, its done out of a genuine love for the Jewish state and a wish to see it live up to its incredible potential. We don’t advocate that Israel is boycotted, ostracised or punished. We advocate that as British Jews who, for better or worse, all have links to Israel, engage positively with its civil society and attempt to make a tangible, positive difference. This is what this campaign is about, supporting Israelis (in this case Gaby Lasky law) who want to better their society.
What makes me so confused when some accuse us of being “anti-Israel” (whatever that means) is that they never specify which “Israel” they’re talking about. The Israel I know and love is a free, democratic country in which dissent of government policy is a vital aspect of ensuring that democracy endures. It’s a place where social justice and equality are things people really care about, where honest and open conversations about its future are encouraged, and not labelled treachery. It’s a place where Jews recognise that disagreeing with each other, on issues that are genuinely so close to our hearts is an inherently Jewish experience, not a sign you’re a “self-hater”. That’s the Israel this campaign is supporting.
Maybe they’re talking about a different Israel? An Israel which is so afraid of debate and criticism that it prefers to shout it down rather than to engage with it, an Israel where PR is more important than substance, or an Israel who has forgotten our own experiences as the stateless, oppressed stranger we are so often warned of in the Torah.
I’ll leave you with this, my closing argument if you will. Every child, no matter where they are from, their ethnic background, or even what they have done, has the right to proper legal representation. It’s the backbone of any *justice* system, it ensures that the accused are examined to the full and proper extent necessary to ascertain their status as guilty or innocent. Without it, the decisions made by those courts are inherently undermined and inherently unjust; so please help us make Israel a more just place by affording the proper legal representation for Palestinian youths.
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