Criminal Justice


Israel has a dual justice system. A civil justice system for Israelis and military courts for Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories. In addition to violating international law by having this discriminatory system., the law is administered differently in Israel than in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) where ”the law is enforced vigorously and aggressively against Palestinians suspected of crimes against Israelis, Israeli settlers enjoy virtual impunity for acts against Palestinians” (Schaeffer Omer Man, 2016).

After 1967 war, Israel established military courts in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. International humanitarian law states that in times of war an occupying power has the authority to establish “properly constituted, non-political military courts” to try residents of the occupied territory for offenses harming security and public order. Articles 66, et al. of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949)).  This convention assumed that occupations would be temporary and aimed to ensure the safety of civilians 50 years later, Israel maintains military courts in the West Bank, despite numerous appeals from the international community to abrogate what was intended to be a temporary measure during war periods.

Only Palestinians are prosecuted by military court system. Israeli settlers committing crimes in the occupied territories are tried in civilian courts, and they enjoy virtual impunity for crimes against Palestinians. On the other hand, the conviction rate in military trials of Palestinians is 99.74%, based on data provided by the courts themselves.

Military courts are also responsible for the prosecution of Israeli soldiers that commit crimes against Palestinians, thus playing a double, conflicted role as both prosecutor and defendant. Even in high profile cases sentences are nominal. Such is the case of Elor Azaria, an Israeli soldier who killed Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, by shooting him in the heart when he was wounded motionless in a road in Hebron, in March 2016. The extrajudicial execution was captured on tape and became public. Azaria was sentenced to 18 months (later reduced to 14 months) in prison for manslaughter, while many in Israel were advocating for a presidential pardon. This is not isolated incident the vast majority of unlawful killings and other crimes against Palestinians in the hands of Israeli soldiers go unpunished.

Juvenile military system. Unique in the world

Israel is shamefully known as the only country in the world to have a military juvenile system. This came only as a result of questions by UNICEF and other international organizations for prosecuting children in adult military courts. Israel annually prosecutes between 500 and 700 children denying children the fundamental right of a fair trial. Consistent reports (by UNICEF, Amnesty International, Save the Children, the Defense for Children International – Palestine and American Friends Service Committee’s ‘No Way to Treat a Child Campaign) expose systematic practices of human rights violations against Palestinian children. Israeli forces, as a common practice, arrest children from their homes in the middle of the night

Children are physically and verbally abused from the moment they are arrested, 3 out of 4 are subject to physical violence. Children are often bound and blindfolded, then interrogated and denied the presence of an attorney or even their parents, who are often unaware of where their children are detained. Palestinian children suffer torture and during interrogations and are forced to sign confessions in Hebrew. Unsurprisingly, the result is a high rate of convictions.

To read more please refer to the campaign No Way to Treat a Child:

UNICEF 2013 report

Palestinians in Israeli prisons

At the end of May 2017, 6,020 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners were held in Israeli prisons, 329 of them from the Gaza Strip. An additional 811 Palestinians were held in Israel Prison Service facilities for being in Israel illegally, 15 of them from the Gaza Strip. (B’tselem, 2017)

At the end of August 2017, 331 Palestinian minors were held in Israeli prisons as security detainees and prisoners, including 2 administrative detainees. Another 8 Palestinian minors were held in Israel Prison Service facilities for being in Israel illegally. The IPS considers these minors – both detainees and prisoners – criminal offenders. The following figures were provided by the Israeli military and the IPS. (B’tselem, 2017)

Please refer to for updated information

Administrative detention

Israel uses administrative detention to imprison, Palestinian children, elderly, women and men. Detainees are thereby denied indictment or trial. Israel holds them indefinitely. According to B’tselem 425 Palestinians (including 3 women and 2 minors) are imprisoned under administrative detention in Israeli prisons. Literally, thousands of Palestinians have been held in Israeli custody as administrative detainees, this measure is strongly condemned by the international community for violating International Law.

For detailed figures refer to

The administrative detention panels, headed by Lt. Col. Shlomi Kokhav, handled 714 requests for administrative detention in 2010, of which 98.77 percent were approved.

Parallels with the United States

The United States holds the un-coveted title of being the country that incarcerates the highest number of people in the world. The U.S. hosts approximately 5% of the world population and 25% of world prisoners. According to data from the NAACP, in 2014 African Americans represented 34% of total prison population, 2.3 million out of the total 6.8 million.

These numbers do not result from greater criminal activity by African Americans who are incarcerated 5 times more often than whites. They have a 17 times greater chance of being arrested for a crime that a white person. This is a result of a systematic practice to criminalize black bodies in order to control the African American population.

Starting in the 1980s under the pretext of the war on drugs, legislation was passed, under President Reagan, to increase sentencing for drug related crimes, particularly for drugs associated with African-Americans such as crack cocaine. In the 2015 “National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 17 million whites and 4 million African Americans reported having used an illicit drug within the last month”. (NAACP)

“African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whites. African Americans represent 12.5% of illicit drug users, but 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses” (NAACP)

African-American children are also imprisoned at the highest rates. According to the NAACP, 32% of children who are arrested, 42% of children who are detained, and 52% of children whose cases are judicially waived to criminal court are African American. African-American children are overrepresented in all the categories. 7,000 imprisoned youth are incarcerated due to violation of their probations not due to new offenses. (whole pie methodology)???

The justice system in the United States systematically fails to convict police officers who shoot African Americans. According to scholar Philip Stinson between 2005 and 2017, 80 officers had been arrested on murder or manslaughter charges for on-duty shootings, only 35% of them were convicted. There are very emblematic cases, where video footage show police officers shooting unarmed civilians, many of them being pulled over for minor offenses such as busted lights.

Both in the US and Palestine imprisonment has been used by the state apparatus as a systematic practice to control and suppress marginalized populations. Israel aims to crush Palestinian resistance to the occupation and the United States aims to disenfranchise and control people of color Both states target children routinely.

For more information, please refer to: