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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Feb 15 2015 (IPS) - Fourteen-year-old Malak al Khatib, one of the youngest Palestinian detainees and one of only a handful of girls, was released from an Israeli prison on Feb. 13 into the arms of emotional family members and supporters after being incarcerated in an Israeli prison for two months on “security offences”.
Details of what happened to the Palestinian minor were made public only after an Israeli gag order on the case was lifted on appeal after a global campaign for her release.
The slightly built, dark-haired girl, from the town of Beitin near Ramallah, was arrested in December last year and later charged with stone-throwing and possession of a knife. However, al Khatib says the confessions were coerced under duress during interrogation.
Al Khatib was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment, a suspended sentence of three months and fined 6,000 shekels (approximately 1,500 dollars).
According to volunteer organisation Military Court Watch, 151 Palestinian children are currently being held in Israeli detention for “security offences” in the Occupied Territories and within Israel.
The group added that 47 percent of these children were being held in jails inside Israel in contravention of the Geneva Convention because this limits the ability of family and legal representatives from the West Bank and Gaza to visit them.
Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP) says that in December last year 10 Palestinian children aged between 10 and 15 were incarcerated. However, children as young as eight have also been arrested by Israeli soldiers or police. According to DCIP, Israeli forces arrest about 1,000 children every year in the occupied West Bank.
However, it is not only the large numbers of Palestinian children arrested which is of concern to human rights organisations but also their treatment during incarceration.
In 2013, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was attacked by Israeli critics after releasing a report title ‘Children in Israeli Military Detention’, which slammed the Israeli authorities for using “intimidation, threats and physical violence to coerce confessions out of Palestinian children.”
“Children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member,” the report said.
IPS spoke to two Palestinian boys from the Jelazon refugee camp, near Ramallah, who were beaten, abused during interrogation and jailed on allegations of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces and settlers.
One hundred heavily armed Israeli soldiers, their faces masked, broke down the door and stormed the home of Khalil Khaled Nakhli, 17, in the early hours of Aug. 11 last year, terrifying his six younger brothers and sisters.
“My arm was broken after the soldiers beat me as they arrested me. They accused me of throwing stones at Israeli settlers from the Beit El settlement near Jelazon camp,” Nakhli told IPS.
Nakhli was taken to an Israeli prison where he was roughed up during interrogation and eventually sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, despite refusing to admit to the charges against him.
The home of Nakhli’s friend Ahmed Othman Safi, 17, was similarly stormed in the early hours of Sep. 7 last year. This time the soldiers used explosives to blow the door open.
Safi was left bloody and his skull fractured when the arresting soldiers used the back of their guns to club him on the head. An inch-wide indentation, where the hair refuses to grow, remains on Safi’s skull to this day.
“I was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment even though they failed to force me to confess to anything,” said Safi.
Their treatment has only further angered the boys. “We all feel bitter at the way we were treated and this exacerbates our anger at living under occupation,” Safi told IPS.
Palestinian minors are treated harshly in comparison with how Israeli minors are treated following arrest.
“Two children, one Jewish and one Palestinian, who are accused of committing the same act, such as stone throwing, will receive substantially different treatment from two separate legal systems,” the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said in a recently released report titled ‘One Rule, Two Legal Systems: Israel’s Regime of Laws in the West Bank’.
“The Israeli child will be afforded the extensive rights and protections granted to minors under Israeli law. His Palestinian counterpart will be entitled to limited rights and protections, which are not sufficient to ensure his physical and mental wellbeing and which do not sufficiently meet his unique needs as a minor,” said the report.
Moreover, in many cases, the criminal law applying to Palestinian minors is stricter and even more severe than the one applied to Israeli adults.
“If Malak al Khatib had been arrested for violent activity as an Israeli child she would have received certain rights. These were denied to her for being Palestinian,” ACRI spokesperson Nuri Moskovich told IPS.
Decades of ‘temporary’ Israeli military rule in the Occupied Territories have given rise to two separate and unequal systems of law that discriminate between Israelis and Palestinians. The legal differentiation is not restricted to security or criminal matters, but touches upon almost every aspect of daily life.
“A series of military decrees, legal rulings and legislative amendments have resulted in a situation whereby Israeli citizens living in the Occupied Territories remain under the jurisdiction of Israeli law and the Israeli court system, with all the benefits that this confers,” said ACRI.
“By contrast, Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to much stricter military legal law – military orders that have been issued by Israeli generals since 1967.”
Edited by Phil Harris
This story includes downloadable print-quality images -- Copyright IPS, to be used exclusively with this story.
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