Thursday March 14, 2013
A car crashes into the back of a truck on Road 5 in Salfit Governorate, northwestern West Bank. The driver and her three daughters are injured, one of them – seriously. Adva Biton, at the wheel, is going back to her home in Yakir, illegal Israeli settlement. She will later claim the accident was caused by Palestinian youth throwing stones at her vehicle. The driver of the truck, having testified immediately after the accident that he had pulled over because of a flat tyre, will change his version of the facts, attributing the cause of the car crash to the presence of stones on the road.[In the picture from right to left: Tamer Souf, Mohammed Kleib, Mohammed Suleiman l, Ali Shamlawi and Ammar Souf].
There were no witnesses present at the moment of the accident. No one that could testify in favor of against the youth that was allegedly throwing stones that day.
In the early hours of the following day, IDF soldiers stormed in the village of Hares with detection dogs. More than 50 soldiers broke the doors of the villagers’ houses, demanding the whereabouts of their teenage sons. Ten boys were arrested that night, blindfolded, handcuffed, and transferred to an unknown location. The families were not informed of their sons’ alleged wrongdoings.
Two days later, a second wave of violent arrests took place. At around 3 am, the Israeli army, accompanied by the Shabak (the Israeli secret service), entered the homes of three Palestinian adolescents. They had a piece of paper with their names in Hebrew. After forcing all the family members into one room, taking away their phones and interrogating them, the soldiers handcuffed their sons, all aged 16-17.
“Kiss and hug your mother goodbye,” a Shabak agent told one boy. “You may never see her again.”
A week later, Israeli army jeeps again entered the village and arrested several boys, who had just come back home from school. The soldiers lined all of them up, including a 6-year-old, and threatened at gunpoint their uncle who pleaded for the soldiers to at least release the youngest children. The army then randomly chose three boys, handcuffed them behind their backs, blindfolded them, and took them away. The families were not informed about either the allegations against their children, or their exact location of detention.
In total, 19 boys from the neighboring villages of Hares and Kifl Hares were arrested in relation to the settler car accident. None of them had previously had any history of stone throwing. After violent interrogations, most of the minors were released, except for five, who remain in Megiddo, an Israeli adult prison.
The arrested boys were subjected to a series of abuse upon detention, kept in solitary confinement for up to two weeks. One boy, since released, described his cell: “a windowless hole one meter wide and two meters long; there was no mattress or blanket to sleep on; toilet facilities were dirty; the six lights were kept on continuously, I lost track of the time; the food made me feel ill”. The boy was denied a lawyer; he was interrogated three times in three days, and eventually released after found not guilty at the trial.
Other boys have also told their lawyers of very similar treatment. They “confessed” of stone throwing after being repeatedly abused in prison and during interrogations.
The five boys from Hares are charged with 20 counts of attempted murder each, apparently one count for every alleged stone thrown at passing cars. The Israeli military prosecution insists that the boys consciously “intended to kill”. The maximum punishment for attempted murder is 20 years to life imprisonment.
The prosecution’s case relies on the boys’ “confessions”, which have been obtained in an abusive manner, and on 61 “witnesses”, some of which claim their cars have been damaged by stones on that same day on Road 5. The latter only appeared after the car accident got a lot of media coverage as a “terrorist act”, and after the declaration of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu: “I caught the terrorists that did it”. Other “witnesses” include the police and the Shabak, who were, however, not present when the actions occurred.It is not clear whether the 61 “witnesses” have been properly questioned and their claims verified or if the alleged damage to their vehicles has been photographed or otherwise documented. Such information is also not available to the boys’ attorneys.
If the Hares boys are found guilty, the case would set a legal precedent which would allow the Israeli military to convict any Palestinian child or youngster for attempted murder with 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 not before the age of 41. Local and international law has been mostly dismissed: five young lives ruined with no evidence of their guilt is a spit in the face to our common principles of justice as human beings and a squandering incalculable human potential.
- The Hares Boys, as well as thousands of other Palestinian youngsters, are treated in the Israeli military court system as adults. According to international human rights law in general, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in particular, adults are people over 18 years of age. Israel treats even 9-year-olds as adults.
- The racist system of “justice”: no matter the alleged crime, Palestinians are forced to go through the military courts and are tried under military law, while Israelis fall into the civil court system for the same crimes.
- Violent arrests and administrative detentions: youth arrests at night without charges and without informing the families about their children’s location goes against Israel’s own laws which state that minors are to be accompanied by an adult family member when detained or arrested.
- The denial of lawyer for several days (in some cases weeks) after detention also accounts as a major violation of Israel State rules.
- Children being put into solitary confinement for days on end is a form of torture; It is a severe punishment before the verdict.
- Abusive interrogations of scared minors is considered torture.
- The boys were arrested despite a total lack of evidence against them and condemned by the Israeli media as “terrorists”, which goes against the universal presumption of innocence (innocent until found guilty) and delivers a guilty verdict in the highly bombastic public trial, putting pressure on the judges to do likewise.
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