SUNDAY marked two years since five boys from the northern West Bank village of Hares were arrested over an alleged stone-throwing incident that saw all five charged with attempted murder, despite strongly contested evidence.
The five Palestinian teenagers, aged 16 to 17 at the time of their arrest, each face 20 charges of attempted murder and potential life imprisonment for allegedly throwing rocks.
Their arrests on March 15, 2013 followed the hospitalisation of a three-year-old Israeli girl, Adele Biton, who suffered severe head injuries when her mother’s car collided with a truck near the Israeli mega settlement of Ariel.
Israeli police said her vehicle stopped abruptly after being hit with stones, and accused the five boys of having thrown stones that day at Israeli vehicles driving on Route 5, the highway leading to several nearby Israeli settlements.
Twenty Israeli drivers afterwards filed insurance claims stating that stones hit their cars, but there was no eyewitness testimony of the incidents and the police received no calls at the time the boys were allegedly throwing stones.
All five boys denied the allegations, but later signed confessions ‘after being repeatedly abused in prison and during interrogations,’ according to ‘Hares Boys,’ an activist blog dedicated to raising awareness of their case.
Another boy, then 16, who was arrested along with the five but later released, described his ordeal in a report published by the International Women’s Peace Service, an organisation that monitors human rights.
For the first three days of his detention, the boy said he was kept in solitary confinement in a windowless cell about one metre wide and two metres long, with neither a mattress nor blanket provided. He slept on the floor.
The six lights were kept on continually so that he was not aware of the time of day, and the food made him feel ill. Any water he was given had sugar in it. He was not given the opportunity to leave the cell and was unable to speak to anyone for two full days.
He said that soldiers threatened to hit him if he did not confess, and told him: ‘If you do not speak, bad things will happen to your mother and sister.’
One of the boys who remains in detention, Ali Shamlawi, was reportedly told upon his arrest to ‘kiss and hug your mother goodbye. You may never see her again’.
The Hares Boys blog wrote in their defences in 2013: ‘If the boys are convicted, this case would set a legal precedent which would allow the Israeli military to convict any Palestinian child or youngster for attempted murder in cases of stone-throwing’.
It added: ‘The boys are now 16 to 17 years old. If the Israeli military get their way, the boys would only return to their homes and their families at the age of 41.’
The five boys are Ali Shamlawi, Muhammad Kleib, Muhammad Suleiman, Ammar Souf and Tamer Souf.
According to Military Court Watch, there were 163 Palestinian children in Israeli detention as of January 31, 2015, including 16 children aged 15 or younger. Approximately 5,500 Palestinians are being held in Israeli jails in total.
Israeli forces arrested four Palestinian girls outside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and another girl inside on Sunday, witnesses said, on a day in which dozens of right-wing Jewish Israelis entered the compound.
Witnesses said that 16-year-old Ayah Abu Nab was arrested at the al-Aqsa compound’s Chain Gate as she attempted to enter, while Ayah al-Zaghal, 12, Anhar al-Ajlouni, 12, and Randas Abu Sneina, whose age is unclear, were detained as they were leaving by the same gate. The four were taken to a nearby police station.
In a separate incident, Israeli police physically assaulted a 10-year-old Palestinian girl, Hadil al-Rajabi, inside the al-Aqsa compound. When the officers assaulted the girl, a Palestinian security guard, Abd al-Rahman al-Sharif, intervened to defend her and was also assaulted.
Meanwhile, dozens of right-wing Jews, including more than 80 religious students, were said to have entered the Al-Aqsa compound through the Moroccan Gate on Sunday morning.
Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has maintained an agreement with the Islamic trust that controls the Al-Aqsa compound not to allow non-Muslim prayer in the area. Jewish prayer is allowed at the neighbouring Western Wall. Israeli forces regularly escort Jewish visitors to Al-Aqsa, however, leading to tension with Palestinian worshippers.
In a separate incident, Israeli forces set up military checkpoints in the early morning hours on Sunday on the main roads around the East Jerusalem village of Sur Bahir.
The soldiers stopped eight buses leaving the village for the Al-Aqsa mosque for two hours, checking passengers’ identities and questioning some of them.
Village residents had organised group visits to Al-Aqsa mosque under the slogan ‘Jerusalem is our city and Al-Aqsa is our mosque’. In total twelve busloads left Sur Bahir for Al-Aqsa mosque on Sunday.
Meanwhile, seven Palestinian men remain in Israeli detention nine years after they were illegally detained during an Israeli attack on a Palestinian prison in Jericho, the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society said in a report released last Saturday.
The report highlighted the dismal prison conditions faced by Ahmad Saadat, secretary-general of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, as well as Ahed Abu Ghalma, Hamdi Qaraan, Basel Asmar, Majdi al-Rimawi, Yasser Abu Turki, and 75-year-old Fuad Shubaki, who is the oldest Palestinian prisoner currently serving time in Israeli prison.
The group was arrested on Mar. 14, 2006 as part of the Israeli military operation ‘Bringing Home the Goods,’ which involved an attack on a prison run by the Palestinian Authority where the men were being held.
According to the PPS report, Abla Saadat, wife of Ahmad Saadat, said she has recently been banned by the Israeli authorities from visiting her husband, and most of his relatives have been prevented from visiting him since he was detained.
Hazem Shubaki, Fuad Shubaki’s son, said that his 75-year-old father is suffering from difficult health conditions, which are deteriorating due to the living conditions in prison.
He said his family is awaiting their father’s return, especially after their mother passed away four years ago without having had a chance to say goodbye to her husband.
Shubaki added that the Israeli authorities only allow him to visit his father once a year. Wafaa Abu Ghalma has also been prevented from visiting her husband, Ahed, since 2009. She said that he suffers migraines, which only increases his ordeal in prison.
The prisoners were initially held in a PA prison in Jericho, under the supervision of British and American wardens, as part of a US-brokered agreement in April 2002, at the height of the Second Intifada.
Israel claimed that under Saadat’s authority, the men carried out the 2001 assassination of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Ze’evi, in response to the Israeli assassination of PFLP Secretary-General Abu Ali Mustafa.
Fuad Shubaki, meanwhile, was suspected by Israel of having been responsible for organising a shipment of weapons to Palestine from abroad that was intercepted in 2002.
In 2006, following the Palestinian elections that year, the newly formed Hamas government announced its intention to release the prisoners.
As a result, on March 14, hundreds of Israeli troops descended on the Jericho prison in an operation named ‘Bringing Home the Goods,’ killing two PA security men and arresting 182 people from inside the prison. A third of the prison compound was subsequently demolished.
Saadat is serving a 30-year sentence, Shubaki a 20-year sentence, and Ahed Abu Ghalma was sentenced to life and five years in prison.
Ahmad Qaraan was sentenced to 100 years, Bassel Asmar to a lifetime and 20 years, Majdi al-Rimawi to a lifetime and 80 years, and Yasser Abu Turki to two lifetimes and 20 years of jail.
The group is among the approximately 5,500 Palestinians currently serving time in Israeli prisons.