Car crash ends in military trial for five teenagers
Federica Marsi, Open Democracy
August 12, 2013
Israel has charged five Palestinian teenagers for having allegedly thrown stones at a settler’s car. They face 25 years to life imprisonment for attempted murder. Yet again, the system punishes the crime while being blind to the triggering circumstances.
Ali Shamlawi’s mother cannot hold back the tears as she repeats the words pronounced by a soldier while pushing her son out of the house: “Kiss goodbye to your mother, because you might not see her again”. If condemned, the boy will return home at the age of 41, in the best-case scenario. Ali is one of the five Palestinian teenagers facing 25 years to life imprisonment for having allegedly thrown stones at a settler’s car, severely injuring a two year old.
Youths accused of throwing stones are rarely convicted for more than one year. In this case, the prosecution claims that the boys “intended to kill” and should therefore be tried for attempted murder rather than for stone throwing. The harshness of the punishment requested by the prosecution against Mohammad Suleiman, Ammar Souf, Mohammed Kleib, Tamer Souf and Ali Shamlawi, all 16 and 17 years old, is unprecedented.
The episode took place on March 14 in Hares, a West Bank village in the Salfit governorate, and has been widely reported by Israeli media as a ‘terrorist attack’. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cited the incident during a ceremony at Mount Herzl national cemetery, calling for national union in the fight against terrorism: “We shall not retreat, not surrender, not give in … Terror is not a blow from above, it is the work of humans, or subhumans. We shall defeat them.” Prisoner support organization Addameer, defending Ali Shamlawi, believes the high level of media attention and political exploitation of the episode could negatively influence the court’s sentence.
Adele Biton, the two-year-old who was seriously injured in a car crash caused, it is alleged, by the ‘Hares boys’
Adva Biton, mother of the two-year-old toddler injured in the crash, is a resident in the nearby settlement of Yakir. She blames the accident on stone throwers. But no witnesses can testify to having seen the boys on the hill overlooking Route 5, where the car crash took place. The driver of the truck against which the car collided first testified that he pulled over because of a flat tire, but later changed his declaration to match Biton’s. Meanwhile the families of the arrested boys insist on the innocence of their children, who that day crossed the highway to look for almonds on the nearby mountain.
Physical abuse in Israeli jails
After the car crash, Israeli police stormed the Hares village and arrested 19 boys. These five, Mohammad Suleiman, Ammar Souf, Mohammed Kleib, Tamer Souf and Ali Shamlawi, were charged with intent to kill. They are held in G4S-secured Megiddo prison. Torture to extract their confessions is alleged.
A dozen soldiers stormed Ali Shamlawi’s house at 3 am on March 17, without providing a reason for their presence. The boy was arrested and taken to the Jalame military detention centre and then transferred to the Israeli prison of Megiddo. The arrest is in contravention of the Fourth Geneva convention, which prohibits the detention of prisoners outside the occupied Palestinian territories. The family has accused the jailers of physically abusing Ali, who suffers from severe headaches as a result of constant beating. His father recalls begging the soldiers not to hit his son on the shoulder, as he had just undergone an operation. His pleading was ignored: “When we managed to visit Ali in jail, after two months from his detention, he told us that they would always beat him there on purpose”.
The boy was not granted a lawyer until March 21, after he signed a confession. His mother claims he was forced to admit to a crime he did not commit: “Ali was detained in an isolation cell, without food or water for 14 hours, without being able to sleep. The soldiers threatened that if he did not confess, they would jail his sister and me. He is a 16 year-old child. How much do you think he could resist under this pressure before confessing?” According to Defence for Children International, between 2001 and 2010, 645 complaints were filed against the Israeli Security Agency interrogators for torture of Palestinian prisoners, but none were investigated.
No guilt for settlement expansion
Like Ali and the other boys, most of the children detained for stone throwing are arrested from locations close to friction points, such as settlements or roads reserved for settlers and the Israeli army. Between 2005 and 2010, 835 minors were persecuted for stone throwing, according to the Israeli human rights association B’Tselem. The Salfit governorate is the site of a particular intense policy of maximum territorial control that seeks to create contiguity between the settlements and Israel at the expense of Palestinian land. In addition to their youngest son, the Shamlawi family has lost part of their private land and income due to the occupation.
Israeli border policemen detaining a Palestinian stone-throwing youth during clashes on in the east Jerusalem Shuafat refugee camp. Stone throwing, a symbol of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, began among the youth in the first Palestinian uprising 26 years ago and still puts hundreds of children as young as 12 in prison, some for months on end. Photo by Ahmad Ghrabli/AFP
The resulting paradox is that five teenagers are being detained for having allegedly thrown stones at people or vehicles which should not have been present in the area to begin with, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. While Palestinians who breach the Israeli military law are jailed, no measures are taken against the more than 300,000 settlers illegally controlling over 42 percent of the West Bank, in contravention of Israel’s international commitments. Israeli human rights association Yesh Din reports that over 91 percent of the investigations into episodes of settler violence, including igniting cultivated land, beating Palestinian farmers, and expelling Palestinians attempting to harvest crops, are concluded without indictment.
Palestinian-only military courts
The boys will be judged by a military court, presided over by military officers in regular or army reserve service. Amnesty International among others has raised doubts as to whether such a court can truly provide an independent and impartial trial. Civilian law grants settler children the right to have their parents present during the interrogation. In contrast, none of the five boys were allowed to see a lawyer or a family member. According to Israeli military law, minors can be denied a lawyer for up to 90 days, whereas the civil law sets a maximum of 48 hours.
Sixteen years old Tamer Souf is still unable to see his parents. Permission has been granted only to the two youngest brothers, who have to bear the psychological trauma of visiting their brother in jail and ascertaining his physical conditions. No explanation has been given as to why the rest of the family is prevented from seeing the boy. Tamer‘s mother is only able to gather a few words before her eyes fill with tears: “I just want to say that it is haram (prohibited) what has happened to these boys. You see them in front of a court, but they are children!”
According to the Prisoner Support Association Addameer, reaching a final decision on the case could take up to two years. The defence fears that a harsh punishment will be enforced to set an example that discourages Palestinians from opposing future settlement activity. Once again, we are faced with a system that is all too eager to punish the crime, while remaining blind to the triggering circumstances.
Federica Marsi is a journalist based in Ramallah, West Bank. She is a contributor to the online newspapers Palestine Monitor and Frontiere News. Follow her on twitter: @_bocchia
Petitioning Israeli Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office
To sign the petition, click on the headline above.
Free the Hares Boys!
Petition by Hares Boys Campaign
Hares, Palestinian Territory, Occupied
Five Palestinian teenagers from Hares village in the occupied West Bank potentially face life in prison for a crime that may never have happened. Mohammad Suleiman, Ammar Souf, Mohammed Kleib, Tamer Souf, and Ali Shamlawi are being held in an Israeli adult military prison charged with 20 counts of attempted murder for alleged stone-throwing and 5 counts of stone-throwing each, with no evidence whatsoever.
The boys have been labelled as “terrorists” before any objective investigation even took place. They’ve been condemned in the Israeli media as guilty even before they “confessed” to stone-throwing under torture. They’ve been denied any sort of justice in the Israeli military court system that convicts Palestinian children at a 99.7% rate.
The Hares Boys have the right to live their young lives without the brutal military court system cutting them short in a mock judicial process. The Israeli government needs a scapegoat to appease illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank and are hoping that this high-profile case will result in long prison sentences for the boys.
We, as people of conscience, must stand together in protest of these crimes committed by a brutal, apartheid regime and its unjust military court system.
Please sign this petition demanding the freedom for the Hares Boys.
You can find more information about the case at: Hares Boys website, Facebook page, and Twitter.
Israeli Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office
I write to you on behalf of Mohammed Suleiman, Ammar Souf, Mohammed Kleib, Tamer Souf, and Ali Shamlawi – five Palestinian teenagers who are being held in an Israeli adult military prison charged with 20 counts of attempted murder for alleged stone-throwing and 5 counts of stone-throwing following a car accident on Road 5 on March 14, 2013.
These boys – who are only 16-17 years old – are beloved members in their community. I am convinced from the accounts of the boys’ families that they were wrongfully charged with “stone-throwing” and “attempted murder”. I am also convinced that they are being prosecuted unlawfully through the military court system due to allegations of torture and mistreatment during their arrests, detention, and interrogation.
I therefore request that you immediately release these five boys and dismiss all charges against them. I also request an investigation into the actions of the Israeli military, police, and interrogators following their arrests.
Child arrests, particularly accompanied with coerced confessions and torture, and arbitrary trials under the military court are an affront to justice. I, and many others, protest the imprisonment of the Hares Boys and the ongoing abuse of Palestinian children.
International Solidarity Movement
July 24, 2013
ISM London is asking all those who support human rights to write to the British Foreign Secretary the Rt. Hon. William Hague, to their MP and to the British Consulate in Jerusalem demanding the release of five boys from the village of Hares, Salfit, occupied Palestine.
The boys were arrested as part of a sustained campaign of violent arrests by the Israeli Army in March 2013. The Army were looking for boys who had been throwing stones alleged to have struck a settler car that then hit a truck injuring both the settler and her children.
Once arrested, the boys were subjected to abuse and ill-behaviour constituting torture. Upon detention, they were kept in solitary confinement for up to two weeks. One boy, since released, described his cell: a windowless hole 1m wide and 2m long; there was no mattress or blanket to sleep on; toilet facilities were dirty; the six lights were kept on continuously, causing the boy to lose track of the time of the day; the food made him feel ill. The boy was denied access to a lawyer; he was interrogated violently three times during three days, and eventually released after found not guilty at trial.
Other boys have also described very similar treatment to their lawyers. They “confessed” to stone-throwing after being repeatedly abused in prison and during interrogation.
There is no evidence against the boys and witnesses have stated they saw no stone-throwing in the area. In fact, the driver of the truck into which the settler’s car crashed first stated that he pulled over because he thought he had a flat tyre. Only later did he change his story to say that he pulled over due to stone-throwing.
The five boys from Hares are charged with 25 counts of attempted murder each, apparently one count for every alleged stone thrown at passing cars. The Israeli prosecution insists that the boys consciously “intended to kill” and are asking for the maximum punishment for attempted murder: 25 years to life imprisonment.
The prosecution’s case relies on the boys’ “confessions”, which were obtained under torture, and 61 “witnesses,” some of whom claim that their cars were damaged by stones on Road 5 on the same day. These witnesses only appeared after the car accident received a lot of media coverage as a “terrorist act”, and the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu announced, following the boys’ arrest, that he “caught the terrorists that did it”. Other “witnesses” include the police and the Shabak, who were not even present at that location at the time. It is unclear whether the 61 “witnesses” have been properly questioned and their claims verified with CCTV footage and hospital admission data, or even if the alleged damage to their vehicles has been photographed or otherwise documented. Such information is not even available to the boys’ lawyers.
If the boys are convicted, this case would set a legal precedent that would allow the Israeli military to convict any Palestinian child for attempted murder in cases of stone-throwing.
The boys are now 16-17 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 – at best. Five young lives ruined with no evidence of their guilt, a slap in the face to all who believe in principles of justice.
What you can do
We would ask you all to support and share the campaign with your friends at https://www.facebook.com/FreeTheHaresBoys?ref=ts&fref=ts
Write to the Foreign Secretary the Rt. Hon. William Hague:
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London, SW1A 2AH
Write to your MP
Please also write a letter to your embassy. Here is suggested letter that can be used to email and/or telephone the embassy (PDF EN):
For the latest news on these trials, see Hares Boys website