Jerusalem Prosecution Hardens Stance on Palestinian Minors Suspected of Rioting

Under new policy in force since July, dozens of Palestinian minors have been jailed for a month or two before their trials.

Nir Hasson
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The Jerusalem district prosecutor’s office has instituted a harsher policy regarding Palestinians suspected of throwing stones or other disturbances of the peace – requesting remand until the end of proceedings. The new policy, in place since July, also applies to minors. As a result, dozens of Palestinian minors have been jailed for a month or two before their trial starts.

The prosecutor’s office said the policy does not differentiate between Arabs and Jews, but in the case of Jews the court is usually willing to entertain an alternative to jail, while such alternatives are usually rejected when it comes to Arabs. In internal discussions it has been said that these are punitive measures to deter suspects from further participation in disturbances.

The policy change began shortly after the murder of the Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir on July 2. In the days following the murder there were dozens of incidents of stone throwing. The police documented the incidents on camera and made arrests in the evenings. Among the 760 suspects taken into custody, 260 were minors. Most were indicted on charges ranging from rioting, to attacking a police officer to endangering human life on a road.

Together with the indictment, a request for remand until the end of proceedings is automatically submitted. Such a request is made in the case of any suspect over the age of 14, the youngest age the law permits incarceration until the end of proceedings.

One of the reasons Arabs are not usually granted an alternative to incarceration is that when the unrest started, all neighborhoods in East Jerusalem were defined as “the place of the offense.” Thus, prosecutors and judges did not want to release the minors to a different neighborhood, out of concern that they would continue to participate in violence. In contrast to Jewish detainees, Arabs do not usually have relatives outside Jerusalem where they could be sent if they are not allowed to return to their home until the end of proceedings, nor do they have the money to be sent elsewhere.

Another reason alternatives to jail are not offered to Arabs is that electronic monitor cuffs do not work in East Jerusalem. Two figures close to the matter gave different explanations why this is so. One said it was a technical problem having to do with the antennas that monitor the cuff. The other said that the electronic cuff requires that the police be able to reach the suspect at any time, and the extensive violence in East Jerusalem and the need for a large contingent to enter the eastern neighborhoods makes use of the cuffs impossible.

However, according to defense attorneys, since some of the neighborhoods have begun to quiet down somewhat, the courts have been approving alternatives to jail.

According to figures collected by attorney Mohammad Mahmoud, who represents several of the East Jerusalem detainees, 58 Palestinian minors are currently under arrest for participating in disturbances in East Jerusalem.

T., a 16-year-old from Shoafat, was a relative and classmate of Mohammed Abu Khdeir and has no criminal record. According to the indictment he took part in one stone-throwing incident on the day of Abu Khdeir’s murder or the following day. He was arrested a month later and a probation officer recommended that he be released. Attorney Leah Tsemel, who represented him at the hearing, asked for the court’s consideration, noting that her client’s actions were a one-time event sparked by the horror of Abu Khdeir’s murder. However, the prosecution objected, stating concerns over “releasing the respondent in the area of Shoafat, which is a tense area, and his return to school where he might be influenced by his friends to take part again in riots of this type.” Magistrate’s Court Judge Sharon Larry-Bavly accepted the prosecution’s position.

However, Jewish suspects are released even when they stand accused of far more serious offenses, and despite the prosecution’s remand request. For example, on Sunday the Supreme Court ordered the release to house arrest of four minors from West Bank settlements suspected of setting fire to a coffee shop in the Palestinian village of Dura.

The Jerusalem district prosecutor’s office responded: “The prosecution’s recent decision to request the incarceration of minors accused of rioting and attacking police conforms to the Supreme Court ruling that in times of greater security tension minors should be incarcerated under suitable circumstances.”

The prosecution also said that following rioting after the abduction and murder of the three Jewish teens from Gush Etzion and Abu Khdeir, remands were requested for minors suspected of rioting, both Jews and Arabs. The prosecution said: “It is to be made clear that in the case of teens under 14 years of age, the prosecution did not request remand until the end of proceedings. It goes without saying that the Jerusalem district prosecutor’s office acts in coordination with the police and according to the law, and the teens’ rights are maintained.”

Palestinian stone throwers in East JerusalemCredit: Emil Salman