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Beaten Palestinian American teen returns home

The Palestinian American teenager whose savage beating by Israeli soldiers was caught on camera returned home to the United States on Wednesday.

Fifteen year old Tariq Abu Khdeir had reportedly attended a protest for his cousin, Muhammed Abu Khdeir, when he was seized by Israeli soldiers, beaten and detained. Mohammed, 16, was kidnapped and found murdered on July 2nd in a revenge attack following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youths. Autopsy reports showed he had been burnt alive.

A video of the attack on Tariq alongside images of his disfigured face, went viral. The US State Department said it was "deeply troubled" and demanded an investigation and President Barack Obama brought up the matter with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Justice Ministry was forced to respond, later saying that the officer suspected of beating Tariq had been suspended for 15 days and may face criminal charges.

196 minors currently reside in Israeli jails. With the age of criminal responsibility set at twelve years old, since 2000 over 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested, detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system. Unlike Tariq, they do not have the protection of a US passport, and the international media will not publish their stories.

Stone throwing is the most common charge against minors and for children over 14, can lead to a maximum sentence of 20 years.

Ali Shamlawi, Mohammad Suleiman, Ammar Souf, Mohammed Kleib and Tamer Souf, were arrested for this crime in March 2013. Today, they remain in an Israeli prison facing 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.

The boys waited more than a month behind bars before being formally charged with any crime. Since then they have faced repeated court hearings, with the latest due to be held in the coming week, but a verdict has yet to be reached.

Like many Palestinian children held in detention, the boys have complained of being left without food and water, being placed in solitary confinement, suffering from enforced sleep deprivation, beatings and threats.

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."

While the prosecution rarely pursues longer sentences, there is a conviction rate close to 100 percent for Palestinian children charged with the crime. However Israeli soldiers charged with crimes against Palestinians are rarely punished.

According to B'Tselem's statistics some 5,000 Palestinians, including approximately 1,000 minors under the age of 18, have been killed by the Israeli security forces in the Occupied Territories since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000.

Only 16 investigation files opened from September 2000 through to mid- 2013 regarding incidents in which Palestinian civilians were killed led to indictments. The military courts have only convicted 7 Israeli soldiers of offences relating to the deaths of just 6 civilians.

Last week, the Israel Defense Forces closed its investigation into the circumstances of the death of Yusef Abu Aker Shawamreh, 14, who was killed by live fire in March.Shawamreh was fatally shot in the hip while out with two friends to pick gundelia, a thistle-like edible plant on land belonging to the boy's family.

The chief military prosecutor, General Danny Efroni, announced he would not take further steps regarding the soldiers involved after concluding that there was no suspicion of a criminal act on their part. The prosecution's statement read, "The investigation showed that the force prepared for the operation professionally and acted in line with rules for opening fire." It announced, "And in the absence of doubt of a military figure being involved in anything criminal, the chief military prosecutor decided to stop dealing with the case without taking any further steps."

Instead of dishing out justice, the Israeli authorities often dish out double punishment. Memo's coverage of 15 year old Saleh Elamareen's death on the anniversary of his shooting showed that after an Israeli soldier killed the boy, the Israeli authorities revoked his father's permit to work in Israel. Elamareen was shot in the head with an internationally outlawed dumdum bullet in January 2013. Alongside their grief, the family now struggle to make ends meet, and still await justice.

The swelling on his face will have largely reduced as Tariq boards his flight to his Florida home. It is likely the mental scars will however remain for far longer than the physical ones, scars bore by many Palestinian children.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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