Dealing with Palestinian minors who take up rocks as weapons against Israeli citizens and soldiers in the West Bank is a very complex and multi faceted problem. The Four Corners' program 'Stone Cold Justice' (10/02/14) aired on ABC was highly emotive and one sided and failed the test of unbiased independent reporting on which the ABC prides itself.
Putting to one side the question of why it is that children as young as five are permitted if not encouraged to be out on the streets in deliberate, violent confrontations with the authorities, the underlying premise of John Lyon's piece - equality of treatment before the law for Palestinians and Israelis- is as he well knows impossible given the disputed status of the territories in which the Palestinians live. If Israel attempted to apply its civil law in those territories no doubt Lyons and most of the world's media and political leadership would scream about the defacto annexation of the territories and the elimination of any prospect of peace based on the establishment of a Palestinian state in those territories.
Lyons also chose to portray the issue as relating to "children" using the most extreme examples of young children to illustrate his story. The reality is that the vast majority of under age offenders are teenagers and young adults. Would anyone seriously contend that a 16 or 17 year old who hurls rocks at cars travelling at speed with intent to kill or maim should not be dealt with to the full extent of the law? Are our memories so selective that we do not recall the fear and the hue and cry that went up around Melbourne when kids were hurling rocks from overpasses on the Eastern Freeway a few short years ago? Lyons also fails to note that many Israelis who travel the roads in or near the West Bank are forced to do so in vehicles that have been modified with shatter proof windscreens so as to provide at least a modicum of safety for those motorists. Sadly such measures are not foolproof as the mounting toll of injury and death testifies.
Israel is not perfect and it cannot be sensibly argued that it is beyond reproach. Where Israel distinguishes itself on this issue is that it has actively engaged with UNICEF and made a number of changes to its policies and procedures so as to provide an improved system for dealing with this very difficult problem. UNICEF's initial report of March 2013, notes that Israel has been working closely with UNICEF and has been reviewing UNICEF recommendations in a serious and comprehensive manner. Unlike most if not all of the other countries in the region, Israel has the transparency and willingness to confront past mistakes and the courage to genuinely and meaningfully change. Lyons omitted any mention of UNICEF's latest report dated October 1 2013 which clearly highlights the vast improvements made by Israel through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israel Defence Forces. Israel has established a special military court for juveniles, raised the age of minority to 18 (from 16) so as to accord young offenders more rights than their adult counterparts, shortened the timeframe for detention prior to a young offender being brought before the courts and provided critical court documents in Arabic to assist offenders understand and meet the charges against them. Undoubtedly further improvements can and will be made as Israel balances its security needs against the need to minimise the impact on the civilian population of the territories.
At its core the lack of abalanced exploration of the issues is the most problematic aspect of the Four Corners' piece which really does little more than recycle John Lyons' magazine article on the same subject from 2011. To take the principal Israeli commentator from the extreme right of the settlement movement was a deliberate choice designed to limit information and discussion on the issues and to give a negative portrayal of the Israeli position. Attempts to minimise or erase the severity of the crimes perpetrated by Palestinian minors and their adult role models work against an enduring solution and the establishment of an environment in which such a solution can thrive.
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