Occupied West Bank – The trial of Ahmed Manasra, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy, charged by an Israeli court with two counts of attempted murder, is expected to resume today in a Jerusalem court. Manasra could face the maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison, his lawyers said.
“The allegation against him [Manasra] is not that he stabbed anybody, but that he had the intention to kill,” said Lea Tsemel, Mansara’s lawyer. “We will have to prove he did not have that intention, but rather to cause pain and frighten,” Tsemel told Al Jazeera.
Israel’s Jerusalem District Court indicted Manasra on charges of attempted murder on October 30, following an attack on two Israelis on October 12 at the illegal Pisgat Ze’ev settlement. The two Israelis survived their wounds. Israeli Police shot dead Hassan Manasra, Ahmed’s cousin who accompanied him at the time, and a passing car ran over Manasra.
A video of Ahmed, gasping and reaching his hand out for help, a terrified expression on his face, went viral and sparked outrage. In the video, someone is heard shouting and cursing him in Arabic with an Israeli accent: “Die, son of a whore, die!” Other bystanders cursed him and shouted “Die!” in Hebrew.
He was admitted into the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem and was recovering from a broken skull.
Manasra is currently being held in a closed treatment facility in northern Israel, with the court rejecting the family’s request that he be placed under house arrest. As his birthday approaches later this month, so is the likelihood that he will be sentenced once he turns 14.
were regular kids, going to school and playing video games and doing parkour.”]
According to Israeli law, children under 14 cannot be sentenced to jail. Last November, however, in a preliminary vote, the Israeli Knesset approved a bill that would allow Palestinian minors under 14 who are facing terrorism charges to receive prison sentences, which they would start serving upon turning 14.
If passed, the law would only affect children who are citizens of Israel, as Israeli military law already allows for children from the occupied West Bank and Gaza to be placed in security prisons from the age of 12.
The bill is part of Israel’s crackdown on Palestinian opposition to Israel’s colonial policies. An outbreak of mass demonstrations took place across Israel and the occupied territories by Palestinians in protest at the raids by Jewish extremist groups into the al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the continued settlement expansion.
In 2015, Israeli soldiers or settlers shot and killed 179 Palestinians, including unarmed protesters, bystanders and alleged attackers.
Since October 1, lone Palestinian assailants have killed 23 Israelis, including soldiers. Israel has also used the developments in the past several months to impose severe restrictions on Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem. Human rights organisations, including B’Tselem and Amnesty International, have accused Israel of shooting to kill in cases where the suspect no longer posed any danger, and of extrajudicial executions.
Manasra’s interrogation was also caught on camera. Last November, in a widely shared video, released ahead of the trial, Israeli policemen appear to be verbally abusing Manasra, who is from Jerusalem, pressuring him to confess to attempting to “murder Jews” and “aiding an enemy at the time of war”.
Several Israeli police officers are seen screaming at Manasra, telling him that he had committed crimes and that he must confess. Manasra, visibly traumatised, is seen crying, hitting his own head, and repeating “I do not remember” before breaking down in tears.
Human rights watchdogs have often denounced Israel’s ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children during arrest and interrogation.
The number of Palestinian children in Israeli custody more than doubled as a result of the unrest, and a new juvenile section was opened at Givot prison. According to prisoner support group Addameer, at least 876 Palestinians, including 133 children, have been arrested since October 1 across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Israel.
Other figures, collected by the Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan, say that at least 60 children were arrested in Jerusalem during the first two weeks of the unrest last October.
“Interrogations can be even more severe than what the video shows, involving tying in painful positions, kicking and slapping, and sleep deprivation,” Sahar Francis, director of prisoners’ rights group Addameer, told Al Jazeera.
Manasra’s family believes it was precisely videos such as these that are partly to blame for what happened.
“Young people see what happens at the al-Aqsa Mosque, how [Israeli forces] beat Palestinians, ladies – they see Palestinians being killed, like what happened to the Dawabsheh family,” Khaled Manasra, Ahmed’s uncle and Hassan’s father, told Al Jazeera. “In their minds, they think they can stop it.
“Later, Ahmed told us that they had been talking about the price tag attacks in our own neighbourhood, where settlers damaged cars and sprayed graffiti against Arabs,” the boy’s uncle said.
Still, Khaled Manasra struggles to understand what happened. “They were regular kids, going to school and playing video games and doing parkour,” he said, adding they had never been arrested before.
“I don’t think Ahmed understands the gravity of what is going on. When he was at the hospital, he told his lawyer, ‘Enough now, I’m tired. Take me home.'”
Alaa Tartir, programme director at the Palestinian think-tank al-Shabaka, which examines the role of political parties in the recent uprising, holds the traditional Palestinian political parties responsible for ‘educating’ and spreading awareness about the political situation among young Palestinians.
“At some point in the struggle, it was the responsibility of the Palestinian political parties to ‘educate’ those children and offer them the political knowledge and awareness needed,” said Tartir.
“Most likely a 13-year-old child does not understand what is political or revolutionary violence, but he knows well what it means to live under a brutal military occupation. He would witness injustice and oppression on a daily basis, feel angry and humiliated, watch clips of others who are tortured by the occupying forces, and consequently struggle with painful images that get entrenched in his psychology.”