By Chandra Paul
The Hares boys are five schoolchildren from Occupied Palestine, who have been incarcerated in an adult criminal prison in Israel for over a year, on charges of throwing stones at a car. They will be tried for murder, as adults, in an Israeli military court, and each faces a life sentence. The families of these children have asked the international community to request the presence of ambassadors to Israel at the trials. They say the presence of international observers has a direct impact on the fairness of the trials, and that it can even determine whether or not proceedings are translated for the children.
The Australian government says it is committed to global human rights standards, and calls on all countries to adhere to their international human rights obligations. I wrote to the Australian Ambassador to Israel to request his presence at the trials and received a response from Mr Luke Davies, writing on behalf of the Embassy. He did not confirm that our Ambassador would attend proceedings, stating only that “Israeli officials have assured the Embassy that those accused in relation to the 14 March incident are represented by lawyers and enjoy all applicable legal rights”.
On March 14, 2013, a Jewish settler crashed into a truck whilst driving through Salfit Governorate in Occupied Palestine. She and her three daughters were injured. The settler claimed that the accident was caused by Palestinian children throwing stones, and the truck driver subsequently amended his testimony to corroborate hers. At the time, no one came forward to say they had witnessed the accident or seen children in the area throwing stones. Witnesses were procured later, as a result of a frenzied Israeli media blitz which framed the children as terrorists. There was no evidence that the car had been hit by a stone, and no stones were found inside the vehicle. The charges ignored eyewitness testimony which placed the children at other locations at the time of the accident.
The military conducted three violent raids into the nearby Palestinian towns of Hares and Kifl Hares, randomly apprehending groups of Palestinian male children. On March 15, 2013, 50 masked Israeli soldiers with attack dogs stormed Hares in the middle of the night, breaking down doors and demanding to be shown the villagers teenage sons. Ten children were blindfolded, handcuffed and removed from their families with no information as to why they were arrested or where they would be taken. Two days later, Israeli soldiers and Shabak officers stormed the homes of three Hares families in the middle of the night, herded them into a room, confiscated their phones, interrogated them and apprehended their teenage sons. A week later, the Israeli army entered the town again, randomly selecting a group of children coming home from school, one of whom was six. They apprehended three of them without providing their families with a reason, or telling them where their children would be taken. None of those nineteen children had a criminal history, or any record of stone throwing. After lengthy and violent interrogations, five of the children were detained in Megiddo, an adult Israeli criminal prison.
The “confessions” of these children were extracted under torture. The children were placed in solitary confinement, inside filthy, one by two meter windowless cells, with no mattress or blankets. Lights were kept on continuously, so they did not know if it was day or night, and they were fed contaminated food which made them sick. They were interrogated repeatedly and violently and were deprived of sleep. During interrogation sessions, the children were forced to sit for many hours on a low metal chair with their hands and feet shackled to the chair. They were beaten and threatened with sexual assault, and the threat of assaulting, torturing or detaining family members. They were not able to speak to their lawyers until after the confessions were signed and were made to sign confessions written in Hebrew, which they do not understand. All the boys have since denied the charges.
Conditions in Megiddo are severe. All prisoners, including children, are deliberately denied essential items such as food, clothing, bedding and hygiene products which have to be provided by their families, when families are permitted to deliver them, or purchased at inflated prices from the Israeli prison canteen. This means that inmates are required to fund their own incarceration. The children are almost entirely disconnected from the outside world. They are rarely allowed to exit their cells. Reports suggest that they are permitted to spend a couple of hours a week in the fresh air. Their schooling has been discontinued. They are allowed infrequent family visits and no direct physical contact is permitted. They must communicate with relatives through a glass screen and speak through phones which do not always work. Families from the Occupied Territories do not usually receive permission to travel to what is now the State of Israel. When permitted, these journeys are expensive, lengthy and dangerous. Inmates are rarely treated for medical conditions.
They will be tried in an Israeli military court which has a 99.7 percent conviction rate for Palestinian minors.
These children do not threaten anyone, and they have never threatened anyone. Their incarceration is intended to inflict injury, and is part of a wider systematic and institutionalised pattern which the State of Israel has adopted to traumatise, criminalize and impoverish Palestinian children and their families. If they are convicted, these cases will create a legal precedent, allowing the Israeli military to arrest Palestinian children on charges of attempted murder for throwing stones.
The incarceration of these children is a gross miscarriage of justice which violates international human rights law, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The transfer of prisoners from Occupied Palestine to Israeli prison facilities contravenes article 76 of the Geneva Convention.
I experience the suggestion that these children are somehow allowed to enjoy their legal rights, as disingenuous and deeply complacent. I am very sad that Mr Dave Sharma does not feel compelled to be present at the trials of these children. The international community cares about the safety of Palestinian children, and we have asked for the torture of Palestinian minors to stop. We want these boys out of Israeli cells and home with their families where they belong.
To Mohammed Kleib, Ali Shamlawi, Mohammed Suleiman, Ammar Souf, Tamer Souf, to their families and loved ones, to all Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli cells for the crime of peaceful protest and living ordinary lives, peace to you and may it come soon.
– Chandra Paul is an activist from Melbourne, Australia. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.