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Israel punishes Palestinian teens to deter protest

Palestinian student Lina Khattab was released last week from Ofer, an Israeli prison in the West Bank, infamous for torture and injustice.

The 18-year-old journalism student had spent almost seven months in Israeli detention. What was her crime? The simple act of daring to protest, daring to object and daring to speak out against Israel’s system of injustice. She participated in protests against the Israeli occupation of Palestine in the West Bank.

This brave young woman was seen as a threat by Israel, the most powerful army in the entire middle east, which holds undeclared unclear weapons and whose military is one of the most well-equipped in the world.

What was she accused of? “Throwing stones” and “attending an illegal demonstration“. The “crime” of protesting against Israeli occupation, in other words. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is illegal under international law. The refusal of Israel to allow Palestinian refugees to return home to Palestine is illegal under international law.

Khattab was given a trial, of sorts. But it was a sham, a show-trial. Israel’s racist legal system in the West Bank applies military law to Palestinians only, but civillian law to Jewish settlers (whose colonial presence in the West Bank is illegal in the first place) living in the same area. One law for one ethnic group group, but another for a different ethnic group: this is the very definition of apartheid, under UN conventions intended to combat that crime.

These military trials are a farce, in which Israeli soldiers act as both defence and prosecution lawyers, as well as judges. This is a kangaroo court, by any rational standard.

According to Israel’s own figures, 99.7 percent of Palestinians brought before Israel’s ridiculous military courts system are convicted. Hence Khattab was sent down and spent months in jail.

It is well worth noting the reason the military judge gave for refusing to release this brave teen, whose only “crime” was protesting Israeli injustice against her people.

According Miriam Barghouti, another young Palestinian activist unjustly imprisoned by Israel, the judge refused to even consider releasing her to house arrest, stating: “looking at her, I can see the characteristics of a leader”.

In other words she was punished to set an example. To deter other Palestinians from protesting against Israel.

A Palestinian human rights group confirmed as much earlier this year. “We believe this case is part of increasing attacks on peaceful resistance activities,” Addameer director Sahar Francis said, speaking to The Electronic Intifada. “They treated Lina as if she is so dangerous, such a serious security threat — this is what makes us believe that they are using her case in order to frighten students from being involved in activism,” she added.

Khattab is by no means alone. Barghouti was interred by Israel last year. The soldiers fabricated an accusation of throwing stones during a demonstration. In fact, Barghouti had been at a demonstration in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh acting as a fixer and translator for journalists. But assaulting Palestinian protesters and then inventing false charges of assault or throwing stones is something Israeli soldiers do as a matter of routine. I have witnessed that myself during my time in the West Bank.

Israel likes to smear the Palestinian prisoners as “terrorists”, but the truth is that Israel is opposed to any form of resistance against its occupation whatsoever. When even the simple act of declining to buy Israeli products – the boycott – is declared by Israeli politicians to be “terrorism”, it becomes clear that Israel is not so much opposed to Palestinian violence as simply opposed to Palestinian existence.

Israel’s cruel and inhumane system of injustice in the West Bank and the rest of Palestine needs to end now. The system of apartheid needs to end now. We in the West need to put more pressure on our governments to stop supporting, rewarding and legitimising this entity.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

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