‘I want all the people to come to the court and see what democracy in Israel really is,’ says the mother of Ali Shamlawi, a Palestinian teenager detained without charge.
On 14 March, a car carrying Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank crashed into the back of an Israeli truck, leaving four people injured, one seriously. The driver of the car described the incident as a stone-throwing attack carried out by Palestinian teenagers, but there were no witnesses to verify this statement; neither were there any reports of Palestinian children or young people throwing stones that day. The driver of the truck, having testified after the accident that he had pulled over because of a flat tyre, later changed his mind and said he had seen stones by the road.
Early on 15 March, more than 50 masked Israeli soldiers, some with dogs, carried out a night raid in the village of Hares, located close to Salfit, a West Bank city close to Nablus. They were joined by Shabak (Israeli Secret Service) agents who broke down doors of family homes in the village, demanding to question their teenage sons. Ten boys were blindfolded, handcuffed and taken to prison.
There were two more raids in the village the next week. ‘Kiss and hug your mother goodbye,’ a Shabak agent told one boy, ‘you may never see her again’ as he was taken away at 3 o’clock in the morning. A few days later, several boys, including a six-year-old, were lined up and questioned at gun point on their way home from school. Three of them, aged 13, 14 and 17, were randomly selected and detained. Their families were not informed of the charges against the boys or told where the army had taken them. In total, 19 boys, who had no previous history of stone-throwing and were all under the age of 18 were arrested in connection with the incident and detained in a G4S secure children’s unit at Al-Jalame Prison in Israel.
The minors reported that they were kept in solitary confinement for almost two weeks in windowless, one-by-two-metre cells without beds or blankets; the lights were kept on 24 hours a day. They were denied lawyers – according to Israeli military law, minors can be denied a lawyer for up to 90 days, whereas civil law sets a limit of 48 hours. Following the interrogations 14 of the boys were released without charge, although two of the boys’ families had to pay a fine of $1,600 each to secure their release.
Five of the teenagers, now known as the ‘Hares Boys’, were not so lucky. Ali Shamlawi, Mohammed Kleib, Mohammad Suleiman, Tamer Souf and Ammar Souf confessed to stone-throwing and have remained in prison. The prisoner support organization, Addameer, states that Palestinians often endure emotional and physical abuse to secure confessions. The teenagers have reported ill-treatment and coercion, with sexual threats made against female family members. Ali Shamlawi has reported being kept in an isolation cell for the first 16 days, being beaten, and threats being made against his mother and sister.
The boys are now aged 16 and 17 and have been transferred to a secure adult facility in Megiddo Prison in Israel, where they are granted only occasional visits from their families and lawyers. Under UN law, it is illegal for prisoners in an occupied country to be detained in the occupying country. The boys’ military court hearings have been closed to outside observers.
The teenagers had already been ‘tried’ by most Israeli media and condemned as terrorists even before their coerced confessions. The prosecution’s case rests on these confessions and the 61 Israeli ‘witnesses’ who came forward from surrounding Israeli settlements after the media coverage to claim their cars were damaged by stones on the same day. Other ‘witnesses’ include police and Shabak agents who were not even present at the time. No evidence of injuries, hospital admissions or car damage has been documented or presented as evidence to the boys’ lawyers.
The Hares Boys aren’t alone in facing the Israeli military justice system after alleged or actual stone-throwing. Stone-throwing is a tool of resistance used by some young people in Palestine, mostly during demonstrations against the separation wall and the occupation and, as such, it is easy for soldiers and police to accuse youngsters of this act in an attempt to quash dissent and incite fear.
According to Israeli human rights association B’Tselem, 97 per cent of youth stone-throwing cases between 2005-2010 (out of a total of 835 cases) resulted in jail sentences, 19 of these children were under 14-years-old.
Between April 2010 and March 2011 a study by ‘No Legal Frontiers’ concluded that 100 per cent of Palestinian children brought before Israeli military courts over 12 months were convicted. The evidence suggests that the Israeli military court system is neither reputable nor fair for any Palestinian civilian, let alone children, to be tried under.
Thousands of Palestinian children are treated as adults in the Israeli military court system despite an admendment signed in 2011 to raise the age of Palestinian minors from 16 to 18. International human rights law and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines adults as being over 18; this convention is upheld for Israeli children. The latest figures show however that 194 Palestinian children are 18 are currently detained in two Israeli prisons and detention centers and of these, at least 30 are under the age of 16.
The case of the Hares Boys could set a worrying precedent: if the five teenagers are convicted, it could make it easier for military courts to convict Palestinian children for attempted murder in alleged cases of stone-throwing.
For more information, see the Free the Hares Boys blog and facebook group.
Sign the petition calling for the boys’ release.