Youngest prisoner in Israeli jail is a 12-year-old girl
There is a dramatic rise in the number of Palestinian minors detained since October, rights groups say.
Halhul, Occupied West Bank – On a hilltop overlooking the town of Halhul from the West, the al-Wawi family home looks unremarkable at first. A row of potted plants sit on a low wall above a plot of barren grape trees out front.
A large plastic poster, hanging from the roof, displays a photograph of some of the family’s young daughters.
Among the smiling faces is 12 year-old D*, who no longer lives in the family home.
Instead, she is detained at the Hasharon prison in Israel.
On February 18 she was sentenced – in a plea bargain – to four and a half months in prison, after being charged with attempted manslaughter and possession of a knife.
Amid a dramatic rise in the number of Palestinian minors detained in Israeli prisons since October, D is probably the youngest person in the system.
Under the Israeli military legal system, which applies to Palestinians living in the West Bank, D was just two and a half months over the age of criminal responsibility, 12 under Israeli law, when she was arrested and imprisoned.
On the morning of February 9, the child arrived at the entrance to the illegal Israeli settlement of Carmei Tzur, just north of Halhul in the occupied West Bank.
Since October, incitement has been used a lot against children when they are posting things on Facebook, Twitter or social media in general. Also the charge of throwing stones has been used a lot, as well as charges related to attempted attacks.
According to media reports from the day, witnesses alleged that she had a knife hidden under her shirt and was asked to stop by the settlement’s security guard, who was suspicious of the young girl.
A passing settler then allegedly took the knife from the girl and detained her until soldiers arrived at the scene. Soon afterwards, she was arrested by soldiers and taken for interrogation.
Sitting in the living room with her husband and youngest daughter, Sabha Mudya recalled the morning when her daughter was arrested at the entrance to the illegal settlement.
“She woke up around 6.30am and made a few sandwiches for her sisters. She didn’t eat herself, but she got dressed and tidied up her room and the house. She left for school around 7.40am. It was a completely normal morning,” said Mudya.
“I was sitting outside and talking with a neighbour when my brother Jamil arrived at the house, looking very distracted and upset. That’s when he told me that they had found my child near the Carmei Tzur settlement.”
Following her arrest, the 12 year-old was interrogated twice that afternoon. For both sessions she was alone, without an attorney or her parents present.
Such practices are common for Palestinian minors who have been arrested in the West Bank but can lead to a violation of the detainee’s legal rights.
“The initial interrogation will often determine the continuation of the process. Very often if children confess or make statements and do not get legal advice to explain their rights to them, they will very often incriminate themselves,” said Sarit Michaeli, spokesperson at Israeli human rights NGO BTSelem.
“Sometimes they make false confessions, sometimes they will incriminate themselves in a way that a lawyer would be able to protect them from.”
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Meanwhile, in practice there is a vast disparity in the way that Israeli civil law treats children compared with the way military law treats them, according to BTselem.
“When it comes to periods of detention, minors under military law can be held for much longer before being brought in front of a judge. In Israeli law, however, [minors] can only be held for 12 hours before being brought in front of a judge. Long periods of detention also lead to self-incrimination, they lead to children being harmed and they lead to pressure being applied on the children to sign plea bargains that might be problematic,” said Michaeli.
As of the end of January 2016, 415 Palestinian minors under the age of 18 were held as prisoners or detainees in Israeli prisons, according to Israeli military statistics.
Laith Abu Zeyad, international advocacy officer at the Palestinian prisoners’ rights NGO Addameer, said the number of minors being arrested has spiked since the current outbreak of violence began in October 2015.
“Since the beginning of October there has been an increase in the number of children being arrested and detained. Since October 2015, incitement has been used a lot against children, for example when children are posting things on Facebook, Twitter or social media in general. Also the charge of throwing stones has been used a lot, as well as charges related to attempted attacks,” he told Al Jazeera.
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Triggered by Israeli incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem, protests spread throughout the Palestinian territory and Israel in September.Israeli troops have responded with force, using live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas and stun grenades.
Since October 1, Israeli troops or settlers have killed 199 Palestinians, including bystanders, unarmed protesters and alleged attackers.
While D’s parents have been able to glimpse their daughter and have brief exchanges at court hearings, they last saw her at the court hearing when she was sentenced on February 18, they have not been able to visit the Hasharon prison where she is serving her sentence.
The International Red Cross informed the family that they were working to organise a trip to visit their daughter in the near future but the family is pessimistic.
“No one has told us when we can talk to her. Unless we get a permit to visit her in prison, we don’t know if we can visit her. This is controlled by the Israelis,” said Mudya.
“After she was convicted and sent to prison, I felt a great loss. It is the first time I’ve felt actual pain in my chest, losing my child and not being able to see her every day. I don’t see her any more and I miss her.”