The Children's Judge.
True, in the military courtroom itself Palestinians are neither shot nor
beaten. They are not ‘targeted for elimination’ nor even sentenced to
death. At least not in the courtroom. But the military court is also the
place where all illusions die. And hopes. Because that is where
Palestinians learn that injury caused them, is no error, nor
misunderstanding, but a matter of policy. That is where they learn that
law regarding Palestinians is nothing short of another kind of weapon.
One of many. Among the tanks and planes and cluster bombs and
checkpoints and Separation Wall and white phosphorus and the IOF
The military court is the end of ends. The last judgment. The final
accusation, a-priori, of Palestinians only because they are
And courtroom number 2, where children are put on trial, is the place
beyond that end.
The place where all the words end.
Only two family members are allowed to come to the trial. This is
usually the only time they can come and see their son, and they do. Time
after time. They may bring cigarettes and money for the long day
awaiting them. Nothing else. Not even medication, nor tissues, nor food,
nor a book or a newspaper. We, visitors who are not Palestinian, are
allowed to bring in a notebook and pen. But not tissues. We have no
privileges concerning tissues.
Perhaps because tissues are evidence that there is something to cry
over, and the State of Israel is not willing to name its own deeds at
the end of which lies weeping. And its necessity is the evidence and the
visibility of that which Israel is not willing to name, that and the
anticipated weeping. Perhaps that is why tissues are not allowed in
One man managed to smuggle in a roll of toilet paper despite the order
forbidding tissues. Apparently deep in his clothes he dared to hide
toilet paper, soft as tissues. Now he moved from woman to woman, handing
out bits of toilet paper to every single one of them, all the mothers,
so they would have it ready for the tears when they would come. When he
handed it to us as well we were ashamed, because we have no spouses or
sons in jail. And because the man only had one roll of paper, we felt
uneasy that we were getting some at the expense of someone else.
Finally we were lucky to have gotten it. Because all that remains in
this accursed place is to weep. The warmth of the wet, salty tears is
the only possibly warmth inside this sinister ticking mechanism that no
word could encompass or cover.
Courtroom number 2. The children’s court. Every Monday. On the podium,
judge Sharon Rivlin Ahai. From 9 a.m. until close to 6 p.m. Boy follows
boy. A boy and then another child. Wearing brown prison garb. Chained
feet. Shackled hands, one hand shackled to that of another boy. Some of
them are so small that their feet wave in the air when they are seated
on the bench. Some of them are so small that our eyes look away. Most of
them are accused of throwing stones. Molotov cocktails. Most of them are
not released on bail, have not been interrogated in the presence of an
adult – parent or social worker. Most of them were picked up in the dead
of night. All these are violations of the international law in defense
of children, even those under occupation. Most of them were arrested
following denunciation, mostly by some other child, who – like them –
was taken in the dead of night because someone else gave in his name.
And most of them confessed, if not immediately then later on, of
anything they were told to admit.
The prosecutor speaks, then the judge, the defense, the interpreter, the
judge once again, and Tareq Mohammad's father writes on the palm of his
hand their home phone number to make sure that 13-years old son,
remembers and knows it. The mother cries, so does the child. In custody
now for three and a half months. For throwing stones. His remand has
been extended seven or eight times already. And the next court session
is scheduled for January 3rd. The father signals him to get his hair
cut, to be strong, to be a man. I don’t want to be here were the last
words he said before being led out, and the mother covered her face.
Another two children are led into the courtroom. They are seated next to
each other. The warden unshackles their hands. Their feet remain
One of the boys is Bilal Sami Matar, 14-years old, in custody for half a
year already. Twenty one children and youths were caught that night in
Qalandiya refugee camp, and so was he. Some boy gave their names in.
That is how it usually happens. A child is arrested for one reason or
another. And he is told, give us fifteen names and we’ll let you go.
First he says, no way. Eventually he gives them names. Usually they are
the names of boys he knows, his age, sometimes of boys he’d never met,
in order to supply the required number. And already the deal is made
between the prosecution and the defense, and with it the corrected
Because finally he confessed like everyone else, regardless whether or
not he really did the deeds of which he is accused.
After all, even if he did, how would the occupation forces know whether
he ever threw a stone or not? Only because someone said so?
But apparently this really does not matter much. The main thing is the
power that tramples. That there are more means to recruit collaborators.
The main thing is to brutalize. To crush. To intimidate. Not as a means
but as an end.
First reading of the plea for sentencing is postponed until January
10th. No one objects. Not even the child. He is not listening anyway.
Nor are his parents. They only devour the last moments of grace to look
at each other and exchange a few more words, for this is the only time
they see each other and has been so for months, and anyway, everything
takes place regardless of the boy or his actual deeds.
How are things at home? The boy asks his parents. Well practiced at
speaking from meters away, as long as the policeman will not keep them
from looking at each other.
Everything’s fine, Bilal’s mother mouths expansively so the child can
read her lips.
Are you studying? Asks the father in his authoritative voice.
Every day, Bilal answers.
Say hello to everyone, he says before being pushed again through the
back door by the warden, blows them a kiss and vanishes.
Outside the hall his mother breaks in tears.
Another two boys are brought in. One name is read aloud, Mu’amin Omar
Asad, he stands up, this and that is said, something nearly identical to
what was just said before and will be said again and again, about having
thrown, hurled, prepared, wanted, meant, demonstrated, as the young
denouncer had said… Then the interpreter presents Mu’amin with the
indictment sheet which he takes in his hand. Another Hebrew form, one of
many he’s received since his arrest, signing them without a notion of
what is written in them. After receiving the form, the hand of the
14-year old automatically points to his parents seated a few meters
away, and suddenly freezes, stops.
Until not very long ago he would always bring home to mother any
certificate or trouble or duty or some such.
His frozen hand remains in the air for a moment, then retreats and
returns to his lap, the form is released from his slack fingers, his
parents’ faces are ashen.
Does not plead guilty. For the time being.
The next court session is set in two weeks’ time.
Boy after boy enter, their names are read, they rise, then sit, then
another court date is set, or a plea bargain. The interpreter speaks,
the prosecutor, the judge, the defense lawyer. The eyes of mother and
son are locked. Don’t forget to pray, the father tells the child. Yes,
the boy nods his head, his lips pursed tight, their murmurs trying to
cross the distance. Last moments of grace in this encounter. Soon the
baby will return into the darkness. The mother cries over his wearing
such a thin shirt. Enough, the boy dismisses her with a smile, trying to
look grown up and brave. Then he is told to rise. Words that tear the
air and the skin and the heart. And he rises. His parents’ eyes dwell
for another moment on the chain between his feet which they repressed
earlier on, he holds out little hands, adept, the policeman shackles one
of them and connects the other to another prisoner, together they are
Twenty three children and youths were brought into court that day. Most
of them confessed to the deeds attributed to them already in their first
interrogation. Or the second, at the latest. Few confessed only in the
courtroom itself. The few who do not plead guilty at first usually do
later on. They confess because they are frightened. Threatened. Because
they are children. Because a verdict on the basis of denunciation is
very difficult to refute. Especially because the military court regards
denunciation as a fact. And if they confess, so they are told, then
their prison sentence will be lightened, and sometimes they will only be
sentenced to the number of months they have already spent in custody,
several months, the months they already spent as part of the system. And
after all, this court does not seek the truth, nor could it with such
And if they don’t confess, they’re told, they will likely spend much
more time in jail.
So they confess.
Most of the time.
It is hard to say what it is about this terrible place that is worse
than others. Which darkness is darker, more painful. Is it the mothers
and their broken hearts? Or the helplessness of the father whose child
is abandoned, and he has not the power to protect him. Is it the horror
of the little ones, the feeling that this is a sold game in which no one
cares for the truth, be it as it may, because this system does not
enable one to find out the truth. That this is not really a court, but
only another tool of occupation. Where Palestinians are guilty unless
proven otherwise. Even if proven otherwise. Guilty because they are
Is it the unbearable serial sense of a child and then another and
another, and the empty eyes of the various forces of occupation. The
good-looking soldier girl, with her long groomed hair who stands right
in between the mother and boy so they cannot see each other, or exchange
a few words while their fate is cast. Their fate that has nothing to do
with them or with who they are, but only with what they are. And the
policeman, his gaze lazy and empty, most of the time looking to see if
he got any messages on his cell phone, while next to him fates are
determined, transparent like his victims. Or is it the judge with her
pleasant face, who does not cry to high heaven, does not tear at her
hair and feel ashamed nor protest what she is doing in the service of
her country. How she stands silent in view of these strange plea
bargains, 13-year old children who perhaps threw a stone, and perhaps
not, because that’s what their denouncers said, who are but children
like them taken in the dead of night. Or not wondering that everyone
confesses, that months go by until the verdict is given, that they are
not released on bail, that they sit in prison until the end of the
proceedings, three, four, six, eight months and more, no matter what the
accusation is, no matter that it’s a child. That there are no innocents,
ever. That every voice of an army man is crystal-clear fact. And every
incriminating testimony, too, crystal clear. But not denial. Denial is
not crystal clear, ever. Nor the claim that confession was obtained by
force. That I signed something I did not understand. That I was afraid.
That I was beaten up. That I did not do it. No.
I did not do it.
Even when it comes to children.
And their denying words are regarded as ridiculous, a superfluous waste
of time, and mostly changing when the child and his parents learn that
no matter what he did, or did not do, his fate is sealed. And that the
system does not enable him to defend himself. That it is better to
confess. And indeed this is what he usually does.
And so child after child. Everything seems reasonable to her, and to the
rest of those judges. Eight months, and six, and once again having to
pay 5000 shekel.
This fine that is always eventually charge. More and more money to be
paid by those who don’t have any to begin with. Or else the son will sit
another few months, as many as the thousands of shekels that were
required in payment.
A child arrives wearing a short-sleeved shirt, shivering with cold.
Apparently he is fifteen but looks younger. Does not know who his lawyer
is. No parents. Bites his fingernails. Sucks his thumb. His look is
scattered and scared. He is accused of having thrown stones. Attorney
Samara volunteers to take him on.
I request the postponement of this case in order to complete it by the
13th of next month, says the judge. Three weeks from today. And the
defendant gives his parents’ phone number to the lawyer.
The policeman has already shackled the child who rises and stands to be
led out again, and the judge asks resentfully, why is he not dressed,
just such a light shirt in this cold weather? How could this be?
Her pitying voice is not directed at anyone in particular.
Indeed, one should resent and hurt the fact that he is cold, your honor.
But why just this? What about their having come in the dead of night to
pick him up? That he has not seen a lawyer until now? That there was no
adult present at his interrogation? That his parents have not been
informed of his whereabouts? That he was arrested on the basis of
denunciation? That he was not released on bail? That he has been in
custody for months before his trial began?
And if he did throw stones, how would you know? Is this the way to find
out? Can one find out at all?
And if he did, your honor, is this what he deserves?
Would this happen, your honor, were this a Jewish child who threw
No need to answer, your honor, the answer is obvious.
Aya Kaniuk and Tamar Goldschmidt. Translated by Tal Haran.