Military Court Watch is an opaque organization that claims to work on issues related to ensuring children are protected under international law. In reality, MCW’s activities are part of a broader non-governmental organization (NGO) propaganda campaign that exploits concerns over children’s rights to demonize Israel. The NGO was founded and is led by Gerard Horton, who was previously involved with the Palestinian NGO Defense for Children International – Palestine, which promotes a similar agenda.

As detailed in the following report, Military Court Watch’s (MCW) October 2017 “Briefing Note” and November 2017 Update suffer from multiple methodological and legal flaws. For example,

  • From a methodological perspective:
    • MCW repeats the testimonies of the Palestinian minors without verification, with claims that lack factual basis. For example, according to MCW, 60% of Palestinian minors are arrested at night. In contrast, IDF statistics show that on average, from 2013 to 2015, 21% of Palestinian minors were arrested at night.
    • Presents meaningless statistics that lack context. MCW states that 331 Palestinian minors were held in Israeli detention at the end of May 2017. Without providing any comparative data, the reader is incapable of determining whether 331 is a large or small number; whether the Palestinian minors were arrested for terror or other serious crimes, or why 0.000331% of Palestinian minors in the West Bank should be considered excessive.
    • Compares bail statistics between the Israeli domestic system and the military system without noting that the Israeli domestic system deals with a spectrum of juvenile offenses, whereas the military system predominantly deals with violent crimes.
  • From a legal perspective, despite lacking any basis in international law, internationally recognized enforcement practices, or domestic law, MCW claims that:
    • “All children must be accompanied by a family member throughout their questioning.”
    • “Every interrogation must be audio-visually recorded and a copy of the tape must be provided to the defence prior to the first hearing.”


NGO Monitor’s research on Military Court Watch (MCW) indicates that its allegations and publications about the Israeli Military Justice System are methodologically, factually, and legally flawed. MCW’s October 2017 Briefing Note and its November 2017 Update are prime examples of this phenomenon, and as such, NGO Monitor has systematically analyzed the claims therein, demonstrating why they are false and misrepresent both domestic Israeli law and international standards.

NGO Monitor has prepared this analysis along with our Senior Military Consultant Lt. Col. (Res.) Maurice Hirsch. Hirsch was the Chief IDF Prosecutor for the military courts in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) from 2013-2017 and has more than twenty years’ professional experience in criminal and military justice. He is also personally familiar with MCW’s limited understanding of the issues.


MCW claims to be a “registered non-profit company.” However, due to a lack of transparency, it is unclear where the organization is registered, who its funders are, or even who the employees are beyond founder Gerard Horton. Its board members, who are disclosed, include individuals that work for organizations that promote anti-Israel lawfare and BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaigns.

As this report demonstrates, MCW’s problematic research methodology and presentation of the military legal system suffer from numerous methodological, factual, and legal flaws. Many of these faults reflect a lack of firsthand knowledge of the relevant procedures, that may be due to the possibility (as noted by first-hand sources) that the NGO does not actually represent Palestinian minors in court, nor has expertise on military justice, nor the Israeli legal system. Nevertheless, the EU toured Ofer Military Court with MCW in December 2017.

MCW’s work is part of a broader NGO campaign that exploits children’s rights to demonize Israel. A number of Palestinian, Israeli, and international NGOs, many of which promote BDS, are behind a concerted effort to falsely accuse the IDF of violating the rights of Palestinian minors in order to impose sanctions against Israel. Some of these NGOs also have confirmed or reported ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist organization, designated as such by the US, EU, Canada, and Israel. A central aim of this NGO advocacy is to convince the UN Secretary-General to blacklist the IDF by including it alongside Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban, among others, in the “annex” to his annual report on grave violators of children’s rights.


Methodological Flaws

MCW’s October 2017 Briefing Note and November 2017 Update rely heavily on a thoroughly discredited 2013 publication by UNICEF. As shown in NGO Monitor’s report, “The Origins of ‘No Way to Treat a Child’: Analyzing UNICEF’s Report on Palestinian Minors,” the UNICEF publication suffers from numerous methodological and factual flaws. Crucially, the UNICEF report was almost entirely based on unverified claims made by Defense for Children-Palestine (DCI-P), an NGO with equally flawed research methodology, that has links to the Popular Front for the Liberation (PFLP), and that promotes BDS campaigns against Israel.

After Israeli officials rejected almost every claim in the report, UNICEF issued a follow-up in 2015 integrating some of Israel’s comments. Yet, UNICEF has not publicly retracted the several erroneous sections of the 2013 report, and as a result, other UN bodies, as well as parliaments and NGOs like MCW continue to cite these false allegations. Crucially, MCW founder Gerard Horton was an author of the DCI-P material that formed the basis of the 2013 UNICEF publication; as opposed to an independent assessment, therefore, MCW is essentially quoting itself.1

MCW’s methodological flaws include misrepresenting statistics. For example, according to MCW, “At the end of May 2017, 331 children (12-17 years) were held in military detention.” Statistics obtained by NGO Monitor show that at the end of October 2017, four months after MCW’s count, just 307 Palestinian minors were held. More tellingly, however, is that citing the number of children incarcerated merely reflects a simple “head count” and does not allow the reader to interpret the numbers as being significantly above or below average – both in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict and in comparison to the rest of the world. Additionally, MCW fails to note that there are over 1 million Palestinian minors who reside of the West Bank, meaning less than 0.000331% of Palestinian minors were actually held in prison.

MWC states that “7 percent of children report being served with a summons…” without comparing this percentage to figures in other countries, which would allow the reader to determine if Israel is acting in line with international norms. A report by John Jay College of Criminal Justice “The Summons Report: Trends in the Issuance and Disposition of Summonses in New York City 2003-2013” indicates that Israel is well within Western standards. It is also noteworthy that Israeli authorities predominantly deal with violent offenders, caught in the middle of committing violent assault and even murder, which lessens the relevance of summons. MCW additionally attempts to delegitimize Israel’s summoning practice, despite the fact that the summons forms for both Palestinian and Israeli minors are the same, are written in both Arabic and Hebrew, and serve the purpose of summoning the suspect for interrogation.

Much of MCW’s bulleting relies on anonymous testimonies to claim that Palestinian minors are subjected to threats, physical, and/or verbal abuse. MCW provides no proof or reference to whether it notified authorities contemporaneously of these acts, filed complaints, or worked with legal counsel to raise these issues in court.

False Claims Regarding Military Courts

Despite the ability to request, under the “Freedom of Information Law,” statistics directly from the Israel Prison Service (IPS), MCW chooses to rely on information provided by political NGOs, such as the Israeli NGO B’Tselem. MCW’s decision not to submit its own Freedom of Information request perhaps stems from its baseless belief that the Israeli Military and Police “most likely understate the number of minors detained and generally do not include minors held by the military and released within a few hours or a day.” The specific statistics that MCW refers to were compiled by the previous head of the IDF Military Prosecution for Judea and Samaria, Lt. Col. (Res) Maurice Hirsch. As attested to by Hirsch, these statistics included all minors arrested by the Israeli authorities in the West Bank, including those arrested for short periods of time. For example, in 2015, 886 Palestinian minors were arrested, of those 157 were arrested for short periods of time and handed over to the Palestinian police force.2

Similarly, MCW accuses Israel of failing to provide “written notification of the reasons for arrest or place of detention” to the parents of Palestinian minors arrested in their home. However, investigative files that are passed on to the Military Prosecution include copies of the “notification of arrest” forms handed to the families of the minor upon arrest. These forms are even sometimes signed by the parents.

The NGO further makes claims regarding documentation of the interrogation being written in Hebrew. Yet, MCW fails to note that the stated policy of the Military Prosecution is only to indict Palestinian minors whose statement was written only in Hebrew if it was accompanied by an audio or audio-visual recording. Secondly, MCW fails to note that by law a suspect is not actually required to sign his statement, and it is sufficient to for the police officer to note his refusal on the statement. Accordingly, MCW’s line of argumentation is illogical and irrelevant.

Additionally, MCW claims that 60% of Palestinian minors are arrested in “night arrests” between the hours of 22:00 and 5:00, despite the fact that statistics provided by the IDF show that on average, between the years of 2013-2015, only 21.3% of Palestinian minors arrested by the Israeli Authorities were arrested during this time span. MCW’s widely inaccurate claim stems from numbers derived from a small sample of cherry-picked cases chosen by the NGO rather than the actual figures, as documented by the IDF.

Misrepresentation of Israeli Law

A number of MCW’s accusations attempt to accuse Israel of discrimination against Israeli and Palestinian minors. As explained above, this occurs due to the NGO’s flawed research methodology, which relies on a non-randomized sample supplemented by the unverified claims of other organizations. For example, MCW states that “60 percent of children report being strip searched on arrival at a detention centre.” The practice of strip searches is common in most prisons. In all Israeli controlled prisons, all detainees are searched in this way upon entering the prison system, irrespective of the detainee’s national, ethnic, or racial background. The conduct of the IPS staff is regulated by IPS procedures. The cited UNICEF recommendations on this subject likewise lack an understanding of these procedures.

Regarding MCW’s claim that there is a right of a minor suspect to be accompanied by a parent during their interrogation, MCW misstates Israeli law, alleging that under Israeli domestic law all children have the right to have a parent present during their interrogation. In reality, the same principles are applied to both Israelis and Palestinians. If a minor is summoned for interrogation but not under arrest, then that individual has the right to have a parent present during the interrogation. If the minor is interrogated under arrest, then that minor does not have the right to have a parent present. Additionally, if a minor is interrogated while not under arrest for a security offence, then the investigator has discretion over whether to allow the presence of a parent during interrogation.

MCW also falsely accuses Israel of insufficiently informing the minors of their rights, including the right to consult with a lawyer. In reality, the right to consult with a lawyer has been accepted by Israel’s Supreme Court as one of the fundamental rights of a suspect and breach of this right, according to precedent, can lead to the inadmissibility of any statement given by the suspect. The language used by the Israeli Police to inform a suspect of his rights was reviewed within the past three years, amended, and approved by the Ministry of Justice to ensure that it meets the legal requirements. Additionally, the right to avoid self-incrimination (right to silence) is prescribed by law and is included in this same standard text that is used for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The basic law of whether to audio or audio-visually record interrogations is likewise the same in both the Israeli domestic and military courts. While not required by law for security related offenses, IDF statistics show that in many cases, interrogations are in fact audio or audio-visually recorded. For instance, in 2015, of the 505 Palestinian minors indicted, the interrogations of 416 of them were audio or audio-visually recorded.3

MCW misleads the reader in comparing the number of minor suspects released on bail in the Israeli domestic and military courts. As opposed to the military courts, which deal primarily with violent offenses and terrorism, the Israeli domestic juvenile justice system deals with the full spectrum of offences committed by minors, ranging from public nuisance and disturbances of the peace to the use of narcotics and to violent offences. Accordingly, the only relevant and meaningful statistical comparison for release on bail would be to compare similar offences in both jurisdictions, and not the systems in their entirety.

The NGO also falsely states that “Unlike Israeli child detainees, Palestinian children are denied telephone communication with their families while in prison.” According to Israeli law, all suspects and defendants held on remand on suspicion of committing security offences are prohibited from telephone communication. This provision applies equally to Palestinian and Israeli detainees.

MCW further attempts to demonstrate that Israel practices “unlawful discrimination” within the West Bank in distinguishing between “Israeli settlers” and “Palestinians.” Such a distinction is misleading since Israeli policy distinguishes between Palestinian residents of the West Bank who commit offences in areas under Israeli security control, and who under international law can only be brought to justice in the military courts, and Israeli citizens, legal residents (i.e. Palestinians residents of Jerusalem).

MCW also absurdly claims that proximity to settlements is the reason for the arrest of numerous Palestinian minors. While it is possible that many of the Palestinian minors arrested live within some proximity to Israeli settlements, the reason for their arrest is suspicion of committing a crime. For example, Morad Dayis, who brutally murdered Israeli nurse Dafna Meir at her home and in front of her children, may indeed live in close proximity to the settlement where he committed the murder; however, he was arrested for committing the crime.

The NGO reiterates the claim, touted by Palestinian NGOs, that holding Palestinians in prisons within the 1949 Armistice line breaches international law. The subject of the legality of holding Palestinian prisoners in facilities in Israel has twice been raised before Israel’s Supreme Court, and on both occasions the court rejected the claim that the practice breached international law.

Misrepresentation of International Law

MCW appears to hold Israel to a higher standard than all other countries in the world by determining that Israel’s enforcement of justice alone is outside the parameters of international law.

For example, MCW states that “92% of children report being hand tied on arrest…” as if this is an extraordinary practice. In fact, the use of hand restraints in law enforcement is ubiquitous around the world.

MCW also misleadingly states that it “is unaware of a single case during the past 5 years in which tapes have been provided to defence lawyers prior to the first hearing.” As is the case in many, if not most jurisdictions, the obligation to provide investigative materials to the defense arises upon submitting an indictment. Accordingly, while it may indeed be the fact that no defense lawyer received any investigative products before the first remand hearing, the fact that an organization would portray this recognized legal standard as impinging on the rights of suspects, and specifically an impingement on the rights of Palestinian minors, demonstrates that MCW’s understanding of basic criminal legal practices is severely flawed.

As UNICEF too does, MCW falsely claims that Palestinian minors are held in solitary confinement. It appears that these claims stem from the fact that a minor is held alone in a detention facility if he/she is the only minor held there at the time. This practice is not a product of a defined policy to hold Palestinian minors in solitary confinement, but rather an adherence to both domestic and international law, which requires minors to be held separately from adults. In other instances, when minors are interrogated at the same time as other suspects involved in committing the same crime, these suspects are also held separately from the other minors in order to avoid collusion and coordination of testimonies. This international standard and recognized practice is also not considered to be solitary confinement.

MCW condemns Israeli use of a number of practices which are common, if not the norm around the world. These include the facts that in Israel and in other jurisdictions most convictions are the product of plea bargains and that administrative detention is well founded in both international and domestic law, even for minors.

Despite the fact that there are no international standards stating that every legal system must apply the same standards to all persons, MCW absurdly claims that “Although Israel is not permitted to apply its civilian law to Palestinians in the West Bank on the grounds that this would be tantamount to unlawful annexation, the laws that are applied must contain rights and protections no less favourable than those applied to Israelis living in the settlements. Failure to do so violates the principle of non-discrimination.” In making this claim, MCW also ignores that the rules of evidence in the military and civilian systems are identical and the substantive rights and protections afforded to suspects in the Israeli domestic system and the military system are nearly identical with only minor exceptions.

Finally, MCW makes a number of recommendations that have no basis in international law, internationally recognized law enforcement practices, and domestic law, or even in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. For example, MCW falsely states that:

  • “Children should only be arrested during daylight hours except in rare and exceptional circumstances. In all other cases summonses should be used.”
  • “All children, and their legal guardians, should be provided on arrest with a written statement in Arabic informing them of their full legal rights in custody.”
  • “All children must be accompanied by a family member throughout their questioning.”
  • “Every interrogation must be audio-visually recorded and a copy of the tape must be provided to the defence prior to the first hearing.”
  • “Breach of any of these recommendations should result in the discontinuation of the prosecution and the child’s immediate release.”