Ramallah, West Bank – Ali al-Khatib and his wife, Khawla, waited outside Ofer military prison on the outskirts of Ramallah for hours before they were allowed to attend a final court hearing for their 14-year-old daughter, Malak, who has been incarcerated since December 31, 2014.
In the course of at least three other hearings they heard the Israeli prosecutor make allegations about the 8th grader from Beitin, near Ramallah, that they did not believe to be true. Malak’s charge sheet included stone-throwing and possession of a weapon (a knife).
The Khatibs said they were shocked when the judge sentenced Malak to two months in prison, including time served, and a 6,000 shekel ($1,500) fine, making her the youngest Palestinian female held by Israel.
During the hearings, the Khatibs were not allowed to speak to Malak, who was brought into the courtroom handcuffed, her ankles shackled together.
“Malak was out near a bypass road when the army detained her,” Ali said. “They said she was throwing stones there. She was so scared, she confessed to whatever charges they brought before her.”
The young teen spent almost three weeks in detention pending sentencing. At the time of arrest, she was handcuffed and blindfolded before she was taken in for interrogation, where she was questioned without the presence of her family, the Khatibs said.
“She is a child,” said Malak’s mother, Khawla. “She should be in school, with her friends. She was framed. She did not throw stones, nor did she carry a knife.”
The Palestine chapter of Defence for Children International said 600 children were brought before military judges in 2014 – the average number of minors held in Israeli military detention stood at 197 per month.
By October, there were 18 imprisoned minors between the ages of 14-15, according to DCI’s most recent figures.
“The Israeli authorities’ policy of child detention contravenes with all international conventions on the rights of minors,” said the Palestinian Prisoners Society’s Jawad Bulous, who represented Malak.
Israeli authorities said they have made significant changes in practices related to child detention, which include requiring police officers to conduct interrogations using the minor’s own language.
Audio or video recordings of these sessions must be made if the interrogation is documented in Hebrew, and if the offences carry a sentence of more than 10 years.
Military Order 1745, which came into effect in September 2014, however, does not apply to children, like Malak, who are suspected of committing “security offences” such as throwing stones.
“Military Order 1745 is the latest attempt by Israeli authorities to provide cosmetic legal improvements that in the end have zero practical impact,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability programme director at DCI-Palestine.
The majority of Palestinian children arrested, detained or prosecuted through the Israeli court system are arrested for throwing stones, and so would not be protected by the new law.
The Israeli military says that stone-throwing can endanger lives, irrespective of the age of the assailant.
In November, Israel’s cabinet approved an amendment to the country’s criminal law which would have significantly raised the penalty for Palestinians convicted of throwing stones – up to 20 years.
The draft law, however, did not go through the necessary three Knesset votes.
The cabinet’s decision to back the draft law came during the height of tensions in Jerusalem, when a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was burned alive in apparent revenge for the killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the legislation was meant to help restore security and calm to the Holy City.
And while the bill would have only applied to Israeli citizens or residents, including East Jerusalemites, some observers argued – at the time – that its message was clear; any “Palestinian caught throwing a stone will go away for a long, long time.”