Shadi, the youngest prisoner in Palestine
In December 2015, Shadi and his friend Ahmad were arrested at a bus stop in Jerusalem because a group of East Jerusalem settlers had called the police on suspicion of the boys being Palestinian. During the ensuing process of arrest, interrogation and abuse, the Israeli police claimed that the two boys had gone to Jerusalem with the intent of stabbing a soldier, and subsequently charged them both with attempted manslaughter. The interrogation included the boys being shouted at, beaten, and given electric shocks. After being subject to several days of such interrogation methods, all without the presence of a lawyer or parent, the boys confessed to the crime. Shadi, aged 12 at the time, thus became the youngest Palestinian political prisoner and has since been held in al Masra juvenile detention centre awaiting an official sentence.
Al Masra centre is a facility for teenagers incarcerated for theft, assault and drug possession. Shadi has suffered from isolation and abuse from the other boys. The detention centre allows weekly family visits on Sundays but travelling from the hometown of Kufr Akab to the north of Israel is expensive, meaning that the family can only afford to visit him about once a month. The ICRC often provides financial support to families for transport to prisons but not to juvenile detention centres.
On Wednesday the 9th of November 2016, some IWPS volunteers accompanied Shadi’s parents to his court hearing in Jerusalem. The boys have East Jerusalem IDs, meaning that they are being tried in civilian courts rather than military courts. In the past 11 months, they have attended over 20 such hearings. Proceedings are held in Hebrew with interpretation provided for Shadi, but not for his parents. Luckily, Shadi’s father speaks some Hebrew. On this morning, we had no idea what the outcome might be. Sitting alongside her on the bus, Shadi’s mother was visibly very nervous. She was hopeful she would be able to take him home that day. At the same time, we had heard of the 12-year sentencing of 14 year-old Ahmed Manasra just a few days previously for his role in the stabbing attack of two Israeli settlers.
When Shadi arrived at the court, he was embraced by his family and friends and we sang happy birthday to him to celebrate his 13th birthday that had just passed. IWPS was refused entry to the courtroom due to the fact that Shadi is a minor. In the hearing, Shadi and his parents felt pressured to sign an agreement to a two-year sentence, which does not include the 11 months already served. They stated that they were tired of not knowing, of court postponements and they were afraid that the prosecutors would give a longer sentence or await Shadi’s 14th birthday, by which time the sentence could be much harsher. They also felt that they lacked clear guidance from their state defence lawyer, who advised against the agreement. However, she has never visited Shadi in his detention centre and had little contact with the parents to explain her reasoning. After signing the agreement, they were told that the official sentencing would be on the 29th of November. We spoke to Shadi’s parents afterwards:
“I was put in a position where I had to agree. If they allowed me to speak, I would have asked to take him home with me. He has done nothing wrong. My life has been put on hold today. I see my son as a child. He will grow up far away from me. He went in as a child, sucking his thumb, he will leave an adult. He needs his mother’s care. When winter comes, who will put a blanket on him when he shivers? Every time we go to court we expect we might go home with him. His youngest brother wanted to come today but he decided to go to school because he would see Shadi when he got home later. God knows what these two years will bring for our children”.
On Tuesday the 29th of November, some IWPS volunteers were on their way to Shadi’s next court hearing when we received a phone call from his mother telling us that the hearing had been postponed until the 15th of January 2017. We then visited Shadi’s parents at their home. They were at a loss, lacking any justification for the postponement. They had been able to speak with Shadi on the phone the previous evening, and they told us how excited he was to see his parents the next day and finally receive his sentence. His parents were therefore very concerned for the psychological impacts of these last-minute adjustments on their son. Although they did not complain, it was also an inconvenience: Shadi’s father had taken the day off work and they had sent one of their children to school, even though he was sick, in order to attend the hearing.
International organisations seem to be doing very little. In a phone call with the EU representatives who have been ‘monitoring’ the case, we found that they also had little information and stated that they are ‘doing all they can’. Other than International Solidarity Movement’s fundraising campaign, there are no children’s rights organisations or NGO’s supporting the family. Shadi’s mother additionally spoke of her exasperation with the Palestinian Authority, who has done nothing.
In order to find some answers, we decided to go with Shadi’s mother to visit their lawyer in Jerusalem. When we arrived, the lawyer was absent but her co-workers informed us that the probation officer had filed for a one-month extension in order for a social worker to write a report on Shadi’s current condition. They told us that there were no available court dates in a month’s time and so the 15th of January was the next possible date.
Our attempts to demonstrate the injustice at play and pleas for them to pressure the court to bring the hearing forward were met with rejection: “this is how it is”, “we are under occupation”, “these things always get postponed”, “we have to work within the system; the system is corrupt” and “we have many cases like this, many children, this is one of many”.
About half an hour later, the lawyer arrived. She told us that she believes that the 2-year sentence began on the 10th of November after the last hearing, but she could not be sure. She also insisted that Shadi’s was a positive outcome: that he is still alive, he is studying, he can eat and drink. It was eye-opening to see first-hand how jaded even the lawyers are becoming through the occupation. For Shadi’s mother and ourselves, the situation seemed anything but optimal.
Unfortunately, Shadi’s case is not unique. Since October 2015, there has been a systematic campaign of arrests increasingly targeting children for offenses such as stone-throwing and carrying knives, creating a new generation of children deeply traumatised by Israeli interrogation and detention. The last two years have seen a substantial increase of child prisoners and the numbers continue to rise: according to the most recently available statistics published by Israeli human rights watchdog B’Tselem, as of April 2016, 438 Palestinian minors were held in Israeli prisons as security detainees and prisoners.