By Jessica Purkiss*
Ramallah, March 20, 2014—A Palestinian teenager who confessed to throwing stones after he was tortured in Israeli custody faces attempted murder charges and a severe prison sentence.
Ali Shamlawi, 17, is accused of throwing stones at a truck near Ariel, a settlement in the occupied West Bank, causing a traffic accident in which a three-year-old Israeli girl was seriously injured.
He is facing charges of attempted murder. The maximum sentence for attempted murder under Israeli military law is life in prison.
Shamlawi says he confessed to throwing stones under duress and now denies the charges.
In a sworn testimony given to DCI-Palestine, he claims he was held in solitary confinement, beaten and intimidated, and denied access to counsel by Israeli authorities during his arrest and interrogation.
He has now been in detention for a year and neither his lawyer, nor his family know when a verdict will be reached.
After Shamlawi’s latest appearance in court on March 13, 2014, his mother, Nema Shamlawi said: "[Ali’s] childhood is being lost. He doesn't see the sun and the air … doesn't live his childhood as it should be."
Under Israeli military law, Palestinian children can be imprisoned for up to a maximum of one year before legal proceedings must be completed against them. The military court has the right to extend detention by a further 60 days. After that, the military court of appeals can extend custody indefinitely in three-month chunks.
Shamlawi is one of five boys arrested in connection with the same stone-throwing incident. The others are: Mohammed Suliman, Mohammad Kleib, Tamer Souf, and Ammar Souf. They were all aged 16 at the time.
The Israeli army alleges that on the evening of March 14, 2013, the boys were throwing stones at passing vehicles on a main road near Ariel settlement.
The stones caused a passing truck to brake suddenly, and Edva Biton, an Israeli woman from the West Bank settlement, Yakir, crashed the car she was driving into the back of the truck. She and her three daughters were injured in the accident — her three-year-old daughter, Adele, suffered serious head injuries.
The boys are each charged with 20 counts of attempted murder - among other charges. The Israeli military prosecution insists that the boys consciously “intended to kill.” A senior Israeli military officer speaking on the condition of anonymity previously declared that factors specific to the case merited filing attempted murder charges, but prosecutors would not seek life sentences because the case did not warrant it, according to Al-Jazeera English.
Israeli military law, which fails to ensure and denies basic and fundamental rights, is applied exclusively to the Palestinian population, including women and children. Settlers living in the West Bank are subject to the Israeli civil legal system. No Israeli children come into contact with the military court system.
The case received extensive press coverage inside Israel. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu branded stone throwing as an act of terror, saying “stones are lethal weapons.” While Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for the Israeli army’s rules of engagement to be changed to allow them to open fire on stone-throwers.
"Palestinian kids, whether they throw stones or not, must be judged impartially," said Adnan Rabi, a lawyer with DCI-Palestine. "In this case, punishment and retribution seem to be underlying statements made by some Israeli officials.”
Throwing an object, including a stone, at a moving vehicle with the intent to harm it or the person travelling in it carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment under Israeli Military Order 1651.
While the age of majority for Palestinians was raised from 16 to 18 in 2011, the amendment did not apply to sentencing provisions, leaving children 16 and older subject to the same maximum sentences as adults.
Each year, around 500-700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12, are arrested, detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military detention system, with the majority of Palestinian child detainees held on charges of throwing stones. Israeli children living in the same territory do not come into contact with the military court system.
According to figures from DCI-Palestine, three out of four Palestinian children experience physical violence during their arrest, transfer or interrogation.
Shamlawi testified to DCI-Palestine that he was subjected to both physical and psychological abuse during his arrest and interrogation. He says he was repeatedly beaten by soldiers during his arrest and strip-searched.
Shamlawi was interrogated without being informed of his rights and without the presence of a lawyer or a family member. During interrogation, he says that his interrogator pulled his hair, made him watch his friends being interrogated and threatened to torture his mother if he did not confess.
Shamlawi did sign a confession in which he admitted to throwing two stones. He says he confessed under duress - and continues to deny that he did actually throw stones.
An Israeli army spokesperson commented on the case in October 2013: "We would like to emphasize that the defendants received all of their rights according to the law, including the right to avoid self-incrimination and the right to legal counsel over the course of the investigation."
Shamlawi says he also spent five days in solitary confinement.
In 2012, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, condemned Israel’s use of solitary confinement against Palestinian children saying it “flagrantly violates international human rights standards.”
In sworn testimonies to DCI-Palestine, the other four boys also reported physical abuse and stints in solitary confinement. One boy reported sexual threats from a prison guard.
The boys’ allegations constitute a violation of international human rights treaties ratified by Israel, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
A 2013 United Nations report from the Committee on the Rights of the Child found that “Palestinian children arrested by the [Israeli] military and police are systematically subject to degrading treatment, and often to acts of torture.”
All five teens are currently being held in Megiddo Prison in Israel. The transfer of Palestinian children to prisons inside Israel contravenes article 76 of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.
It provides that “protected persons accused of offences shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein.”
DCI-Palestine lawyer Adnan Rabi added: “We are concerned that the children's best interests, which should be regarded as a primary consideration by the military prosecutors and judges, will not be factored in at all."
*Jessica Purkiss is a freelance contributor to Defence for Children International Palestine.