A 16-year-old Palestinian boy, shown in a photo that has been roundly condemned as symbolising the Israeli army’s use of excessive force, has been charged with throwing stones at a group of armed Israeli soldiers.
An image of Fawzi al-Junaidi, blindfolded and surrounded by more than 20 Israeli occupation forces, was widely denounced as it was shared on social media earlier this week.
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The scene pictures al-Junaidi looking disoriented, wearing a grey shirt and ripped jeans as dozens of soldiers crowd around him carrying guns and wearing protective gear, including helmets and knee pads.
The teenager, who denies throwing stones, was arrested on Thursday amid ongoing protests across the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip over a US decision on December 6 to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In the six day after the US announcement, at least 16 other Palestinians were arrested for protesting. At least four have been killed in the violence since the US declaration, and more than 700 injured.
‘He was beaten with a rifle’
Al-Junaidi also denies accusations of “participating in protests”.
Witnesses have claimed they saw al-Junaidi throwing stones.
“He said he was fearful and was running away when tear gas canisters were being thrown,” his lawyer, Farah Bayadsi, told Al Jazeera. “Fawzi said he was beaten with a rifle and he showed up with bruises all over his neck, chest and back.”
The child faced an Israeli military court on Wednesday, following an initial hearing on Monday. He was charged with throwing stones, but the decision on his sentencing or release was adjourned until December 18.
“The police had called for an extension on Fawzi’s arrest during the initial hearing,” said Bayadsi, who works under the Defence for Children International – Palestine (DCIP).
“The prosecutor demanded a seven-day extension to the arrest so that they can prepare a list of indictments, but we refused,” she said.
According to Bayadsi, the judge was stunned at the excessive force that al-Junaidi was subjected to – most apparent in the manner in which he was transferred to prison.
“He showed up with large slippers from the prison. He had lost his shoes and spoke about the way he was abused while being transferred to prison,” she said.
“The prosecutors didn’t even say whether the soldiers would be investigated for using excessive force. The whole case so far has been handled with neglect.”
Though unlikely, Bayadsi said the defence team would try to secure al-Junaidi‘s release while his case is ongoing.
“It would be easier to speak with him [and] other witnesses, and to gather more evidence,” she said.
‘He was not protesting’
Due to his father’s leg injury and his mother’s terminal illness, al-Junaidi had been the main provider for his family of nine.
His uncle Rashad said that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“He left his house to buy some groceries. Unfortunately, as he was looking for the store, he bumped into a military ambush and was confronted with Israeli forces.
“They beat him, blindfolded him, arrested him, and first took him to the detention centre in a nearby settlement. That night, at 2am, he was transferred another detention centre,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The day after, they took him to Ofer prison.”
Ofer mostly holds administrative detainees. The prison rarely grants prisoners with visitation rights, and families are often denied entry.
“He was not protesting or anything”, Rashad said. “Unfortunately, there has been absolutely no form of communication – we haven’t spoken to him since his arrest.”
Administrative detention is a practice in which Israel imprisons Palestinians without charge or trial, often based on “secret evidence”.
More than 300 children detained in Israeli prisons
Ayed Abu Qtaish, DCIP’s accountability programme director, said about 320 children are currently held in Israeli prisons and detention centres.
“In October 2015, there was a spike in the number of children being interrogated and arrested … A lot of them end up being tried in military courts,” he said.
“These children are usually picked up at protests, arrested for throwing stones, for allegedly possessing a weapon, things like that,” he explained.
Arrests of children usually happen at friction points – either near settlements, bypass roads, or at a construction site neat the separation barrier, he said.
“During these arrests, the children undergo various types of mistreatment, including torture,” he said.
The southern West Bank city of Hebron has become the site of several Israeli settlements in the middle of the local Palestinian population.
According to Israeli rights group B’Tselem, Palestinians in Hebron have been subject to restrictions on movement, the closure of main streets, and the shutting down of a major commercial hub.
B’Tselem has documented Palestinians’ experiences of lengthy, humiliating inspections at 20 permanent checkpoints across Hebron.
The presence of Israeli soldiers has led to a cycle of confrontation, often resulting in nightly military raids and arrests.
‘The infamous breaking the bones policy is back’
Amjad Al-Najjar, spokesperson for the Hebron-based Palestinian Prisoners Club, told Al Jazeera that since the last wave of protests, Israeli forces have used excessive force when beating and arresting Palestinians.
“The infamous breaking the bones policy is back,” he said, referencing policy by Israel’s former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
When he was defence minister during the first Intifada – or mass uprising, Rabin ordered Israeli army commanders to break the bones of Palestinian protesters.
Today, this policy has evolved to specifically target the knees and legs of Palestinian youth to disable them and as a means to prevent them from protesting altogether.
“In the last few days, after the protests over the US embassy move, a lot of the youth who return home after being detained were in miserable shape,” said Al-Najjar.
“They’re often covered in blood and with stitches on their heads as a result of being severely abused and beaten up by Israeli forces,” he added.
“They’re often in so much pain, that they are unable to consume water and food.”