Israeli Military Prosecutors: If Freed, Palestinian Teen at Risk for COVID-19 Will Be Detained Without Trial

An Israeli military judge ordered the release on bail of Amal Nakhleh, accused of stone throwing, but an appeal is keeping the minor, at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19, in jail

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Amal Nakhleh, a 17-year-old Palestinian who suffers from an auto-immune diseased and arrested by the Israeli military for allegedly throwing stones
Amal Nakhleh, who's being held in jail, pending an appeal. His mother, Dr. Iman Arar, doesn't know details of his incarceration and worries he's not getting his medication. Credit: No credit
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

An Israeli military judge ordered the release on bail of a Palestinian boy, not yet 17 years old, who is suspected of throwing stones. The military prosecution opposed the order, however, threatening that if the minor is released on bail, a warrant for administrative detention will be immediately issued based on “confidential information.”

This is a fairly common procedure in Israel’s military courts, but this time, the young Palestinian involved is Amal Nakhleh, born in January 2004, who recently underwent surgery to remove a tumor.

Nakhleh also suffers from an auto-immune disease that is affecting his muscles and thus his ability to swallow and to breathe, so he needs on-going medical supervision and medication. However, the military prosecution in the West Bank does not care about that. Nor does it care that Nakhleh is at an increased risk of for severe illness if he contracts COVID-19.

He’ll receive his medicine in jail, the prosecutors insist. The options are either detention until the conclusion of court proceedings against him or administrative detention – meaning being held without a proper trial.

Amal Nakhleh was arrested on November 2 at around 10 P.M. at the entrance to the village of Bir Zeit north of Ramallah. He was coming back with friends in their car from shopping in the town of Rawabi on the last day of end-of-season sales.

“Special forces [police or army] pounced on the car, took everyone out and turned the guts of the car inside-out in their search,” Amal’s father, Muammar Nakhleh, told Haaretz, according to what he heard from the two friends arrested with Amal, who were released two hours later. He found the bag of new clothes his son had bought later on, in the car.

The Israeli troops took Amal to Ofer Prison, then further south to Etzion Prison, and finally schlepped him from there to Megiddo Prison, in the north. Amal’s mother, Dr. Iman Arar, says her son is in the wing for minors (all Palestinians). How big it is, how many children there are in his cell, how they are protecting themselves from infection by the coronavirus, and how many days passed until her son received his medication – she doesn’t know.

Arar told Haaretz that on November 24, the judge at the military youth court, Lt. Col. Sharon Keinan, ordered Amal released on bail set at 3,000 shekels ($917), to be paid immediately. The mother, a family doctor, swallowed a shout of joy. She imagined her son coming home, and herself both spoiling him and telling him her opinion about the uselessness of throwing stones. But Arar's joy was premature, because the military prosecutor asked the court to delay Amal’s release for 72 hours, during which the prosecution filed an appeal against the release. The president of the appeals court, Lt. Col. Yair Tirosh, ordered the minor to remain in detention until a final ruling on the appeal.

Amal’s father, a journalist and lawyer, told Haaretz that the military prosecution proposed a deal to Amal’s lawyers: one year in prison. “After that the prosecution agreed to six months,” he added, but with an ‘option’ of administrative detention right after that.”

The attorneys, Mahmoud Hassan and Firas Sabah of the Addameer prisoner aid and human rights group, rejected the deal. The sword of administrative arrest – without clear suspicions to respond to, without evidence and without the right to defense – is hovering over Amal and his parents.

“Administrative detention for a child? Seriously?” Muammar Nakhleh said. “When I was Amal’s age, in the first intifada and before, they put senior political activists in administrative detention. Is it not shameful for you [the Israeli military] to say there is ‘confidential material’ against a child?

“The boy doesn’t even know what administrative detention is,” Nakhleh continued. “At the hearing I attended Sunday last week at Ofer military court [on the prosecution’s appeal], the prosecution claimed he has dangerous ideology. The boy asked me what ideology is. What administrative detention is, what confidential means. He doesn’t know any of these terms. At the end of the hearing, he asked me: ‘So I’m getting out?’ When I told him he wasn’t, he started to cry.”

Because of coronavirus restrictions, military court proceedings are held via video conference. The accused remains in jail, while the judge, the prosecutor, the defense attorneys and the family are in a prefab structure at the Ofer base.

“I can talk to him a little, but not always is the voice clear enough,” Amal’s mother told Haaretz. “He appears on the judge’s computer screen. The judge turns the screen to me. That’s the way it is every time. We see one another and talk a little, and then they turn the screen back to the judge. Last week I wanted to find out from him whether he was getting the right medication. He isn’t getting them from a package with a label on it; they give him a pill each time. So he started to describe the colors and shapes of the pills, but it’s hard for me to know, because maybe they’re giving him pills from a different company.”

Under the conditions of a video chat, the parents and the defense attorneys can’t find out whether, when Amal was initially arrested, he was thrown on the floor of the military vehicle, as is the usual practice, or how the interrogation was conducted, during which hours (night or day?), for how long and under what conditions. Did he confess to what it was that he actually had done – or did he confess to what they wanted him to confess to because he was frightened and wanted the interrogation to be over?

Ofer military prison, where Nakhleh was first taken. His indictment is not based on objective evidence but on his confessions and likely those of another frightened minor.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The indictment says Amal is accused of four counts of stone throwing – the first when he was about 14 years old. Like all indictments for stone-throwing, the wording is bizarre. On the one hand, it’s ambiguous: There is no precise date for when the alleged offense occurred. For example, it only says that “during 2018” Amal learned from a post on Facebook that there was a clash near an army checkpoint and he joined it. On the other hand, the charge sheet states with surgical precision that back in 2018 he threw five stones, and three of them struck military vehicles.

Ambiguity vs. over-precision

This gap, between ambiguity and over-precision, which is also reflected in the other charges against him – shows that the indictment is not based on objective evidence but rather on confessions of the minor and the confession of another person – presumably another frightened minor whose interrogators demanded that he frame others as stone-throwers.

Amal’s lawyers asked that a social worker’s assessment be submitted to the court, as is the practice when minors are arrested. Last week, an official from the Civil Administration told Haaretz that a video chat had indeed taken place between Amal and a social worker from the administration’s welfare office unit, with the assistance of a translator. The social worker called to speak to the parents on Thursday, also with the help of a translator. This week the social worker’s assessment is due to be submitted to the military court of appeals.

In June this year, Amal started spitting up blood. Tests showed that he had a tumor in his thymus gland. When his parents submitted a request to go to a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem, to their great astonishment, they were turned down for “security reasons.”

A few days before the operation, Muammar Nakhleh recalled, “the Shin Bet security service called Amal and told him to come to their interrogation facility in the Ofer camp area. He went, waited three hours and finally they told him the captain wasn’t there, so he went home to Ramallah.”

The surgery took place on July 1; the tumor was completely removed together with the thymus gland. Only then was the family informed that the growth was benign, but that Amal suffers from an auto-immune disease.

About a week after the operation, Nakhleh continued, “the Shin Bet called him again. Addameer sent his medical records to the man in charge of interrogations, and they left him alone” – until he was arrested on November 2. The indictment said he had also thrown stones between August and October this year – “or about at that time.” Once again, without a date; once again citing an amazingly precise number of stones: four, on two occasions. Both times, the stones struck military vehicles, according to the charges.

As to the question of why Palestinian youths throw stones and risk injury, imprisonment and even death, there is a clear political answer: the violent presence of the Israeli army in their homeland. But there are also answers relating to personal and social circumstances, which vary from one teenager to another. The problem is that the military prosecution is free to hide in the comfort zone of “confidential material,” and to keep in prolonged detention a sick 17-year-old, who’s at high risk of contracting the coronavirus with severe complications – despite the order of a military judge to release him.

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