A 12-year-old Palestinian Inmate Languishing in Israeli Prison

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D.'s room.
D.'s room.Credit: Alex Levac

Her bed is empty. Only her furry friends – teddy bear, bunny rabbit and kitty cat – are lying on it now. For the past two-and-a-half weeks, D. hasn’t been sleeping in her bed. She is doing time in Hasharon Prison. At the age of 12, and just two-and-a-half months over the age of criminal responsibility, she’s probably the youngest inmate languishing in the Israeli prison system. Her parents have so far been prohibited from visiting her.

D. was sentenced in a plea bargain to a prison term of four-and-a-half months. The charges: attempting to cause death with intent and being in possession of a knife. Still, she was lucky. If the armed civilian security guard who confronted her hadn’t been restrained and brave, in contrast to the soldiers and policemen who empty their magazines in similar situations – D. would have been shot to death like all the other young people wielding knives. Her parents, too, understand that their daughter was spared a far crueler fate.

Their home seems completely normative, as nicely kept as the family’s eight other children are well groomed. The house stands on the western slopes of Halhul, north of Hebron. There’s an iPad that displays a photograph of D. after she was handcuffed and made to lie down on the road by the guard, who suspected that she was carrying a knife. That was on the morning of the February 9. According to D.’s parents, Umm Rashid and Ismail al-Wawi, nothing in her behavior that morning suggested what would happen after her mother gave her pocket money and she set off for school.

The school is about 200 meters from the house, but it turns out that D. had other plans that morning. She walked toward the settlement of Karmei Tzur, some two or three kilometers away. When she approached the barrier at the entrance to the settlement, the guard’s suspicions were aroused. He ordered her to kneel and she obeyed. He noticed a protruding object beneath her clothing and told her to get up and take it out; it was a knife. According to her mother, the knife – which she has seen in a photograph – did not come from the house. D. was arrested, interrogated and within a few days placed on trial in the Judea Juvenile Military Court.

Ismail, 53, is a construction worker who is employed in building the rail line for the fast train to Jerusalem. His work permit was of the highest category, entitling him to sleep in Israel. But it was immediately revoked because of his daughter’s action, and his world fell apart. Umm Rashid is a 47-year-old homemaker who passed on her blue eyes to several of her children, though not to D. – she has “honey-colored eyes,” her parents say.

D. is in the seventh grade at school. On the evening before she set out to perpetrate an attack, she played a game with her sisters that resembles Scattergories, but only with types of fruits. The family had planned to go to Jericho for a picnic that Friday.

D.'s parents. Credit: Alex Levac

We are sitting in the living room of their spacious home. A few of the other daughters are here, too. Around mid-morning that day, neighbors told Umm Rashid that her daughter had been arrested at Karmei Tzur. Ismail, who was at work, received a call from Shin Bet security service agent “Benny,” ordering him to come at once to Etzion detention facility. There, “Benny” showed him the photograph of his daughter, her purple schoolbag on her back and her hands cuffed behind her. “Benny” wanted to know if D. had social problems or family issues. Her parents say now that she was jealous because her grades were lower than those of her sisters. In her trial it was also revealed that she had attention-deficit problems in school.

According to her parents, D. was also overwrought in the wake of the deteriorating condition of Mohammed al-Qiq, the imprisoned Palestinian journalist who is on a hunger strike. The day before the incident involving her, she asked her parents what would become of his children if he were to die. These are the things that occupy a 12-year-old girl in Halhul.

Her trial took place on February 18 before Judge Lt. Col. Shmuel Fleischman. It was the first time her parents had seen their daughter since she left for school nine days earlier. From a distance her mother asked her if she was cold, and she said no; if she was hungry – no; if she was sleeping at night – yes.

Umm Rashid was very upset by the fact that D. had no socks on her shackled legs. She was stunned, she says, to see that her daughter’s hands were also cuffed. D. did not cry, but when she was removed from the courtroom her mother noticed that her eyes were moist. D. did not look directly at her parents; her mother thinks she was embarrassed or frightened. She’d brought a coat for her daughter but was not permitted to give it to her.

File 2127/16, State of Israel vs. D., did not demand prolonged deliberation, as the defendant’s lawyer had already reached an agreement with the prosecution on a plea bargain. The court asked her to state her age and explained the meaning of an indictment. Someone noted that D. had no prior offenses.

According to the transcript of the court proceedings, “The defendant’s final words: I am in the seventh grade. I go to Shahada School. I understand that my defense counsel reached an agreement according to which I will have to serve a prison term of four and a half months. I understand that my parents will pay a fine of 8,000 shekels [about $2,000]. In my school we learn arithmetic, English, Arabic and religious studies.”

Her parents told the court that it is unjust to see their daughter in this situation; they had nothing to say about the fine.

Liat Sherf, the welfare coordinator in the Israeli Civil Administration, related that “the minor” was cooperative in their meeting and that the general impression is that D. is “suffering a little from problems of loneliness and inattention at home on the part of the parents and the family. She feels quite alone when she comes home from school As for the offense itself, she said she wanted to have a new experience and be famous She also refers to the atmosphere that prevails in the region as a whole. The minor said that she was not aware of the danger and the gravity of her acts. She expressed contrition and promised not to repeat such behavior, even when she feels bored.”

Judge Fleischman accepted the plea bargain: “No one’s heart, including that of a judge, can be hardened upon hearing these things in court or by the words of little D., spoken in a weak, low voice” The judge expressed sorrow “for placing the minor behind bars,” explained that there was no choice but to jail her and ordered the knife to be impounded and D.’s schoolbag to be returned.

“I can’t imagine her spending four-and-a-half months in prison,” D.’s mother says, even though she is certain that D. is strong and will not crack. In regard to the allegations of insufficient attention being paid to D., Umm Rashid says that she has nine children in the house and can’t be attentive to all of them all the time. “Maybe she really does need more,” she says.

How will the incarceration affect D.? It’s hard to know, her mother says; possibly for the better, possibly for worse. The International Red Cross told the family that Israel will allow a visit only in another six to eight weeks. She won’t be home until the beginning of summer – they are already counting the days. Ismail is very worried about his livelihood if he doesn’t get his work permit back. “Maybe you can help?” he asks us.

On the wall of her room, above her bed, D. had drawn a few pencil sketches. The yard and the valley below the house are visible through the barred window in her room. Her parents relate that on one occasion, a few Israeli soldiers got lost here and D. gave them directions from her window. Now the parents also remember that when she was very young, they once went to meet an aunt who was visiting from the Gulf emirates. Noticing that the hosts had not prepared anything for the guests, D. stood up and, to the astonishment of the guests, said, “What is this? Isn’t anyone serving refreshments here?” That’s their D.

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