Israel Sentenced a 13-year-old Palestinian Girl to Prison

This week, just as a 12-year-old's term was reduced, a 13-year-old girl was sentenced and told to pay an unimaginable fine – and if not, her mother will be sent to jail for up to seven months

S., 13-year-old Palestinian girl sentenced to jail by an Israeli military court.
Family

They’re not even sure of the exact date of her arrest. They only remember that it was on a Wednesday nearly a month ago. (It was March 23.) They also had a hard time finding a photograph of S. Her mother rummaged around for a long time until she found a faded and wrinkled studio picture of the family, taken a few years ago. S. is in the front, sitting on a rocking horse, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. There’s another shot of S. as a baby. That’s all. Where’s her room? It’s here, the room we’re sitting in: a living room with moldy walls that contains nothing apart from a few mattresses on the floor and two light-brown plastic chairs. At night, it’s her room.

But now S. is not home. She is in Sharon Prison. A 13-year-old girl, in the seventh grade, she is an inmate in an Israeli jail. Last Thursday, S. was sentenced to four-and-a-half months in prison and a fine of 7,000 shekels ($1,860). If the fine is not paid – and for this family it’s an absolutely unimaginable amount – S.’s mother, Amna Takatka, will be sent to jail for up to seven months: one month for every 1,000 unpaid shekels, for what her daughter did. That was the sentence handed down by military judge Lt. Col. Ami Navon.

Six weeks ago, we visited the family of another girl, D., a 12-year-old from Halhul, who in February was also sentenced to four-and-a-half months in prison. She too is in the seventh grade.

Thus, during the same week in which the public campaign to bring about D.’s early release succeeded – she will be let out on April 24, about two months early – another girl of about the same age, S., was thrown into prison.

In the home of the al-Wawi family in Halhul, D.’s well-kept room awaits her, the stuffed rabbit, kitty-cat and teddy-bear perched on her bed.

For her part, S. will come back to her dingy home in Beit Fajjar, a few kilometers from Halhul, both of them suburbs of Hebron.

In Beit Fajjar, known for its stonemasonry, everything is covered in dust – the streets, the cars, the clothes people wear and the air they breathe. S.’s home is located very close to the industrial area where the stonemasons are concentrated, at the town’s entrance, where her father works as a stonecutter. Amna, 45, mother of six children, sits on a mattress in the living room. All she knows about her daughter at the moment is that she’s incarcerated in Sharon Prison.

On the day of her arrest, S. went to school as usual. She then came home, ate lunch and helped her mother with housework and with preparations for a special supper with the family of her aunt. S. then served tea to the guests, at her mother’s request. She placed the glasses of tea on the table and disappeared.

She was distraught, her mother recalls now: She’d been in a highly emotional state for the whole week, since two residents of her town, Ali al-Kar and Ali Takatka, were killed in the course of a stabbing attack that they perpeatrate near the West Bank settlement of Ariel, on March 17. S. watched the reports of their killing on television. The former was the brother of a classmate, the latter a member of her own extended family. Their killing shocked S. deeply.

Her classmates related that S. said she hates Israel for killing the two and wanted to avenge their death. Her grandfather saw her leave the house and run toward the road that leads out of town, but wasn’t able to stop her. It was early evening. He said afterward that her face was flushed and that she seemed to be holding back tears. He did not see a knife in her hand.

An improvised Israel Defense Forces checkpoint had been set up on the main street. The army often swoops into Beit Fajjar, by day and by night, because of the town’s proximity to the Etzion Bloc Junction, a major settler site and a focal point of the present wave of resistance. The soldiers sometimes prevent young people from leaving the town; night arrests are routine.

According to eyewitnesses, S. was a few dozen meters from the soldiers. It would later be alleged that she was holding a knife (“a particularly long one”). She apparently also threw stones. A few locals tried to calm her down and put her into a car, to take her away. But the soldiers ran after her and arrested her before the vehicle could pull away.

Her father says he got a phone call that evening from the local Civil Administration District Coordination Office, informing him that his daughter had been detained. Her mother saw her a few days later at a hearing in a courtroom on the Ofer base, near Ramallah. It looked to her as though S.’s face was sickly and yellowish. S., who was handcuffed, burst into tears when she saw her mother crying. Her mother has not seen her since. A prison visit will not be allowed for another three months, S.’s mother was told.

As happened in the case of D., with S., too, the prosecution and the defense agreed on a plea bargain.

“Juvenile Court in Judea, before his honor Judge Lt. Gen. Ami Navon,” the court transcript states. “The accused: The court read me what is attributed to me in the indictment. I understood it and I admit it.”

“The judgment: I convict the accused [the male rather than the female form is used] of what is attributed to him in the indictment, namely an attempt to cause death deliberately, an offense under Article[s] 205, 209 of the Security Directives Order. Being in possession of a knife, as per Article 248. Throwing objects at a person or at property. Article 248.

“The verdict: The accused was convicted, according to her confession within the framework of a plea bargain, of deciding, on March 23, 2016, after watching a program and content on television channels, to stab and cause the death of Jewish civilians [according to the indictment, she tried to attack soldiers, not civilians]. Accordingly, the accused took a knife with a particularly long blade, 19 centimeters [7.5 inches], and went to execute her plan, to cause the death of a Jewish civilian as such. In addition, the accused threw stones at soldiers, so that they would approach her, with the intention of later being able to implement her plan to stab one of them.

“There is no doubt that these are among the gravest offenses there are, whose aim is to take human life as such, only because of its belonging to the Jewish people, in this case.”

Here the court’s interpretation echoes that of the Israeli propaganda machine: The Palestinians are trying to kill Jews because they are Jews, not because they are occupiers.

Judge Navon concluded, “After considering the arguments of the sides, I found that the plea bargain is reasonable and deserves to be honored,” and handed down his sentence.

That same day Israeli soldiers arrested another child, a boy, a few streets from S.’s home; making it another family with a child in jail. It’s a more affluent home. Zinab Takatka shows us her son’s handsome room, all in light blue, the walls and the bed, and can’t stop crying. Her 14-year-old son, M., was arrested at school last Thursday. His friends brought her his schoolbag and told her that soldiers had arrived and arrested M. and another boy, who has since been released. M.’s trial has not yet been held.

His mother says now that some local children told her that they were playing soccer when the soldiers made the arrest. It’s very possible that stone throwing took place: Maybe that’s exactly why soldiers raid the premises while the children are in school or are leaving the grounds. Zinab is convinced that her son was arrested because he’s the biggest boy in the class. His 4-year-old sister, Fatma, and his 3-year-old brother, Osama, keep asking about him. And again, Zinab breaks down.

Asked to comment on the arrests of M. and the other boy, the IDF Spokesman told Haaretz that on April 7, “army forces identified youths, including the subject of the inquiry, burning tires on the outskirts of Beit Fajjar, for the purpose of provocation. The forces arrived at the site, and caught the two youths with the lighters still in their hands. The youths were turned over to the security forces.”