Report calls Israeli courts unfair
( AP ) - Israel's military court system for Palestinian suspects in the West Bank produces almost automatic convictions, an Israeli human rights group charged Sunday.
The group, Yesh Din, said in a new report that in 2006 more than 99.7 percent of those accused were convicted, 95 percent in plea bargains.
Yesh Din said its inquiry, which included attending more than 800 hearings and conducting extensive interviews with lawyers and court staff, concluded that suspects were often unable to present a full defense with effective counsel.
Yesh Din is funded in part by the British and Dutch governments and its board includes former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben Yair, retired Gen. Shlomo Lahat and former Cabinet minister Shulamit Aloni.
The army said it had not been provided the full Yesh Din report and could only respond to an initial draft. The military said the document contained flaws, faulty research methods and mistaken analysis. It said its court system operated with full disclosure and defendants were given fair trials and provided with all the evidence against them in advance, as in civilian courts.
The Yesh Din report said, however, that military court proceedings can be startlingly brief, citing a study of 38 hearings where prosecutors sought to extend suspects' detention in custody until the end of case, which generally means remand for a year or more.
Of those 38 hearings, Yesh Din says, seven lasted between two and four minutes, 19 lasted between one and two minutes and 12 were over in less than a minute.
The last study of Israel's military courts system was conducted in 1992 by another Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem.
Yesh Din, which said that its yearlong study was the most extensive of its kind to date, found major failings in the courts' practices: Hearings were held in Hebrew and simultaneous translation into Arabic was mainly carried out by conscript soldiers rather than professional interpreters, with the result that suspects, and their attorneys, often did not understand the charges.
"Most are detained in Israel and their attorneys are not able to meet them," said Michael Sfard, Yesh Din's legal counsel. In addition, minors were often tried as adults and detained at length before being charged.
Sfard said the 0.29 percent acquittal rating in 2006, or 23 cases out of 9,123, was most jarring.
"We think that this is an outrageous number which clouds the presumption of innocence," he said. "It is unreasonable that a justice system will have such a low figure of victory of the defense."
The military courts were established after Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war, and have jurisdiction over Palestinians charged with security-related and criminal offenses.
More than 150,000 Palestinians have been prosecuted in these courts since 1990, and about half the 9,000 prisoners currently being held in Israel were sent to prison by the military courts, according to Yesh Din.
Two weeks ago, the group faulted the military for not opening enough investigations into allegations of mistreatment of Palestinians.
The Israeli military launched 207 investigations into troops' suspected crimes against Palestinians in 2007, up 36 percent from the year before, the military said.