Nema Shamlawi and her family were sleeping when over 15 armed and masked Israeli soldiers raided their home in the West Bank village of Hares, during the early hours of the morning.
After searching the house and questioning her husband and sons they left, but not empty handed. Amidst Nema’s protests her youngest son Ali was blindfolded, handcuffed and instructed to kiss her and his sister goodbye.
Over six months on 16 year old Ali still remains inside an Israeli adult prison on charges of “stone throwing.”
“He still a child, he is 16 years old. What mind can understand that a child of just 16 years old can endure this much pain and suffering,” said his mother.
The day before Ali’s arrest, Israeli settler Adva Biton had been travelling with her three daughters back to her home in the settlement of Yakir, an internationally deemed illegal settlement, in occupied Palestine, when her car collided with a van on March 14th of this year, leaving one of her children severely injured.
While the driver of the van originally stated he pulled over to check what he believed to be a flat tyre, Biton reported to the police at the time of the accident that the crash had been caused by a group of Palestinian youths throwing stones at her car. The driver of the van later amended his statement to say he had noticed stones at the side of the road.
As a result the neighbouring villages of Hares and Kifl Hares faced a series of early morning raids led by Israeli soldiers in search of the alleged “culprits.” Over a matter of days 19 boys, one as young as 13, were arrested.
While most were released over the coming weeks, five remain behind bars in an Israeli military prison. After over a month of waiting, the boys were formally charged with attempted murder for throwing the stones that allegedly caused settler Biton to crash her car. One of these is Ali.
Alongside Mohammad Suleiman, Ammar Souf, Mohammed Kleib and Tamer Souf, Ali faces 25 counts of attempted murder, one for every stone allegedly thrown. If the prosecution is successful the boys may not be released until they turn 41- at the very best.
There is no eyewitness testimony of what happened, nor did the police receive any calls or complaints at the time the boys were allegedly throwing stones, neither do the boys have any history of criminal behavior.
“When I see his friends go to school, which the Israeli’s have forbidden him, or when I see his empty bed, or when I do not see him at the food table, I feel so sad and in so much pain,” said Nema Shamlawi.
In the time that has passed since his arrest, Ali’s mother described her son as having faced the first three days without food and water, without trips to the bathroom, two weeks of continued solitary confinement with enforced sleep deprivation, beatings and threats to arrest his mother and sister.
Ali’s story seems to resonate with accounts of detention arising from other boys who have since been released. One boy who was found not guilty, despite being denied a lawyer during his interrogation, reported being placed in a windowless cell around 1m wide and 2m long; with no mattress or blanket to sleep on and with six lights continuously kept on, causing him to lose track of the time of day throughout his reportedly violent interrogation.
All five Hares boys have faced repeated court hearings, with the latest due to be held in October, but a verdict has yet to be reached. During this lengthy process, all five have reportedly confessed to throwing stones at Biton’s car, causing her to crash. Their confessions underpin the prosecution’s case.
However Ali’s mother says her son has claimed he was forced to sign papers which he did not know what they contained after many days of sleep deprivation. This is presumed to be his confession.
Despite no eye witnesses the prosecution relies, alongside the confessions, on statements given by 61 alleged witnesses. The boy’s attorneys are denied access to information which would show the credibility of these witnesses, some of whom claim to have been hit by stones on the same road and surfaced after widespread condemnation of what Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “terrorist attack.”
Yisrael Beytenu chairman, Avigdor Lieberman, was reported in the Jerusalem Post following the crash, as urging the incoming Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to change the IDF’s rules of engagement to instruct soldiers to open fire at “rock-throwing terrorists.” He said, “Rock-throwing [should] be treated like shooting using firearms.”
An IDF spokesperson commented on the case:
“Five defendants will stand trial for the attempted murder of three year old Adelle Biton. During questioning, all five admitted to committing the crimes, as well as acknowledged their presence at the scene of the crime.”
“We would like to emphasize that the defendants received all of their rights according to the law, including the right to avoid self-incrimination and the right to legal counsel over the course of the investigation.” But Ali’s mother sees a different reality. “He was a nice child who he didn’t like to hurt anyone, he was afraid to kill even an insect; he loves the life and peace. All his friends love him,” she said.
“Ali, now, is spending his time in the prison lonely, all the time crying , doesn’t see the sun and the air, doesn’t play like the other world’s children, doesn’t live his childhood as it should be.”
Detention of Minors
The case of the Hares boys is not an isolated incident. Currently there are 195 minors residing in Israeli jails. Since 2000 over 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested, detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system, with criminal responsibility set at the young age of 12, although children even younger have been detained, including the recent case of a 5 year old who was briefly detained for throwing a stone.
For Israeli children, the story is slightly different as Israel operates a dual legal system. A West Bank Palestinian child can be detained for four days before seeing a military judge compared to an Israeli settler child living in the same territory, who would only have to wait 24 hours before seeing a civilian judge.
The Palestinian West Bank child can also be held for 88 days longer before seeing a lawyer, has 67% less chance of receiving bail, and are eligible for prison two years earlier, according to infographics produced by Visualizing Occupation.
A UNICEF report published this year concluded, “The ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.”
Stone throwing is the most common charge against minors, and for children over 14, can lead to a maximum sentence of 20 years. Whilst the prosecution rarely pursues longer sentences, there is conviction rate of nearing 100% for children charged with the crime. Israeli politicians, such as Lieberman have helped to define “stone throwing” boys as “terrorists” in the minds of Israel’s general public.
Israeli journalist Amira Hass published a powerful piece defending the practice of stone throwing by youth living under the oppression of a military occupation and challenging the ‘terrorist” nexus. “Throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule,” she said. For the families who do not know when their children will be released from prison, held on charges on the basis of little evidence, the reality of the Israel’s policy in regards to Palestinian children reportedly throwing stones has had a devastating effect.
“They stole his childhood and his innocence. And when they took him from my lap and my hands, they left me to suffer and enter in this nightmare,” Ali’s mother said.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.