The Israeli army is both respected and feared as a fighting force. But now the country's military is facing a backlash at home and abroad for its treatment of children in the West Bank, occupied territory.
Coming up, a joint investigation by Four Corners and The Australian newspaper reveals evidence that shows the army is targeting Palestinian boys for arrest and detention. Reporter John Lyons travels to the West Bank to hear the story of children who claim they have been taken into custody, ruthlessly questioned and then allegedly forced to sign confessions before being taken to court for sentencing.
He meets Australian lawyer Gerard Horton, who's trying to help the boys who are arrested, and talks to senior Israeli officials to examine what's driving the army's strategy.
The program focuses on the stories of three boys. In two cases the army came for the children in the middle of the night, before taking them to unknown locations where they are questioned. A mother of one of the boys described the scene:
"Every soldier stood at the door of a room. I was telling him 'What do you want with him?' He said 'Shut up woman.' And then they started hitting him and pulling him out of bed."
"They started kicking me with their boots in my stomach, slaps on my face. They pulled me up by my t-shirt and took me out of bed." Arrested boy
Is this, as many Israelis suggest, simply part of the drive to maintain security? Or is it, as Palestinians claim, part of a much wider plan to make life in the West Bank intolerable for them?
"I think that they want to kick us out of here and drive us away because they don't want Arabs in this area."
It's a claim that's dismissed out of hand by Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
"Let me say this very clearly. There is no such policy. A policy to create fear? There is no such thing. The only policy is to maintain law and order, that's all. If there's no violence, there's no law enforcement." Yigal Palmor
The United Nations children's agency (UNICEF) has been investigating these claims and last year released a scathing report finding that "children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault."
As Four Corners discovered, though, Palestinian children have more to fear than the Israeli army. Reporter John Lyons shows clear evidence that Israeli settlers in the West Bank regularly attack Palestinian school children, knowing the authorities will not intervene. He also discovers there are two legal systems operating. One for Israeli children and one for young Palestinians. It's an impossible situation that may provide temporary security for Israel, but in the long term may well breed a new generation of Palestinians prepared to do anything to gain retribution.
STONE COLD JUSTICE, reported by John Lyons and presented by Kerry O'Brien, goes to air on Monday 10th February at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is replayed on Tuesday 11th February at 11.35pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 8.00pm, ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.
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