Calls grow for release of Palestinian prisoner Ahmad Manasra

Manasra, who suffers mental health issues, is appealing a rejection of his parole request.

Ahmed Manasra
Ahmad Manasra was arrested by Israeli authorities when he was 13 [File: Ammar Awad/Reuters]

Occupied East Jerusalem – Palestinians are increasing calls for the release of Ahmad Manasra, who was arrested and interrogated under horrific circumstances at the age of 13, before being imprisoned by Israel, and is currently suffering from serious mental health problems.

A hearing to review the now 21-year-old Manasra’s case was held at the Beer Sabaa (Beersheva) district court on Wednesday afternoon.

Manasra’s lawyers had appealed to the court against a special prison committee’s rejection of Manasra’s earlier request to have his case reviewed by a parole committee after he had served six years on his nine-year sentence.

Shortly after the hearing, one of Ahmad’s lawyers Khaled Zabarqa said the court ruled the committee must review his case and listen to the lawyer’s arguments. It is unclear when the committee session will be held.

According to regulations, prisoners who have served two-thirds of their sentences are eligible for this review. The committee originally rejected looking into his file on the basis that it was a case of “terrorism” – for which such regulations do not apply.

“These are all attempts to try and change the conditions he is in, even if we get him out only a few days earlier,” his uncle, who shares the same name, told Al Jazeera.

Ahmad Manasra was initially sentenced to 12 years in prison, later reduced to nine years, for being with his cousin Hassan Manasra, who allegedly stabbed two Israeli settlers near the illegal settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev in occupied East Jerusalem in 2015.

Hassan, who was 15 at the time, was shot dead by an Israeli civilian, while Ahmad was severely beaten by an Israeli mob and run over by an Israeli driver, suffering fractures to his skull and internal bleeding.

A video showing Ahmad Manasra bleeding on the ground and gasping for help, while Israeli bystanders shouted and swore at the boy, telling him to “die”, garnered widespread attention and outrage. Another video of Manasra undergoing harsh Israeli interrogation after the incident caused further anger.

Despite not having participated in the attack – which the courts acknowledged – Manasra was charged with attempted murder.

At the time of Manasra’s arrest, Israeli law stated that children under 14 could not be held criminally responsible.

To circumvent this, Israeli authorities waited until Manasra was 14 to sentence him, before the law was changed by the government in August 2016.

The new law states that it is permissible “to imprison a minor convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder or manslaughter.”

Mental health

Manasra has been held in solitary confinement for the past five months, which has only worsened his mental health condition, the signs of which began appearing about a year and a half ago, according to Manasra’s lawyer Khaled Zabarqa and his uncle.

In December 2021, an external doctor was allowed to visit Manasra for the first time since his imprisonment. The doctor, a psychiatrist from Doctors Without Borders (MSF), issued a medical report, which has since been attached to his case file, stating that Manasra suffers from schizophrenia.

“His mental health is deteriorating inside the prison. He keeps crying, he imagines things and situations that don’t exist, he mixes up his speech,” Manasra’s uncle said. “I’ve been in prison and I’ve seen cases like this – we thought it was a phase that would pass – but he is only getting worse.”

“We must use the tools that are at our disposal,” Zabarqa told Al Jazeera while admitting that he was not hopeful of a positive outcome from the Israeli courts.

“Ahmad should have been released a long time ago,” Zabarqa added, noting Manasra’s non-participation in the attack.

“He is suffering, he is a chronically mentally ill patient, and there is a real danger to his life. The last time I visited him, three weeks ago, he asked me whether I am sure if it is unlawful in Islam for people to [kill themselves],” Zabarqa said.

Global campaign

The Palestine-Global Mental Health Network launched a campaign last month calling for Ahmad’s immediate release, which has made ripples on social media under the hashtag #FreeAhmadManasra.

An online petition has more than 178,000 signatures so far.

“We want to attest to the fact that Ahmad has been subjected to continuous punishment and abuse, multiple physical, psychological, and social torture, including deprivation from family connectivity, visits and communication with his parents and brothers, and recent solitary confinement,” the Network said in a March 6 statement.

Bilal Odeh, one of the campaign’s organisers and a social and psychological expert, said Manasra’s mental health is “highly damaged as a result of the tremendous pressure that was placed on him since his violent arrest [and] the violations of his right as a child”.

“His mental health has severely deteriorated in the last period, as a result of his ongoing solitary confinement,” Odeh told Al Jazeera.

Odeh said Israeli prison authorities have made it very difficult to obtain medical information about Manasra, and that the doctor’s report diagnosing Manasra’s case as schizophrenia cannot be admitted as an official medical report.

“There is a serious need to release him immediately, so that he can get the psychological support he needs, to be with his family, and to lessen his suffering and that of his family.”

Source: Al Jazeera