FRIDAY’S FACT: Ahed Tamimi’s release highlights Israeli practices of imprisoning minors

Ahed Tamimi

The 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi was released from prison on Sunday, 29 July, after being held in an Israeli jail for eight months. Tamimi gained wide-spead attention when she was arrested last December, after a video of her slapping an Israeli soldier went public. Her mother Nariman Tamimi was arrested and released at the same time. She was imprisoned on charges of incitement for filming the incident.

On 15 December 2017, Tamimi’s 14-year-old cousin Muhammed was shot in the head by the Israeli army at close range with a rubber-coated steel bullet during a protest in their home town of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank. Later that day, the Israeli army invaded the yard of the Tamimi family’s house, according to multiple news outlets, such as Haaretz. A video shows how Ahed Tamimi, alongside other family members, was trying to order the soldiers off the property, slapping one of the soldiers into his face. According to her own pre-trial testimony cited in Times of Israel, the soldiers featured in the video shot her younger cousin shortly before the filming of the incident. After the video went viral, she was arrested during an overnight raid of the family’s home four days later, 19 December.

Ahed Tamimi had remained in detention and the trial had been rescheduled several times, when it finally took place on 21 March 2018. Contrary to the demand of Tamimi’s lawyer Gaby Lasky, who is also reporting for Haaretz, the judge announced in a statement that the trial would be held behind closed doors, claiming to do so for the well-being of the teenager. In the end, Tamimi was sentenced on four charges, including assault, incitement and two counts of slapping a soldier to serve eight months in prison as well as a fine of 1,500 US Dollars. By standing up to military forces and the regular raids of Nabi Saleh, Ahed Tamimi has since become a symbol for the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation. The Jerusalem Post has also cited unnamed critics of the Tamimi family, saying that they made “declarations that can be interpreted as celebrating violence”.

However, Ahed Tamimi’s case is far from unusual. According to Israel Prison Service (IPS) data, which were published by B’Tselem in January this year, the state of Israel is holding 5,732 Palestinians in prison, thereof nearly 300 minors. Moreover, 190 were detained without having been convicted of a crime. The state applies the so called administrative detention under the Military Order 1651. It empowers the state to detain a person up to six months without charge or trial and can extend the detention for renewable periods of six months with no limitation of a maximum amount of time.

As in Tamimi’s case, minors regularly get arrested by heavily armed soldiers from their homes in the middle of the night. Defense for Children International (DCI) argues that Israel is the only country where children are automatically prosecuted in military courts, having arrested and prosecuted more than 8000 children since the year 2000, detaining between 500 and 700 children each year. In 2011, Haaretz reported that nearly 100% of military court cases in the West Bank ended in a conviction, clearly favoring the prosecution. Upon being detained, children undergo intense interrogation, often without being accompanied by a legal guardian or legal assistance and unaware of their rights. Reports of verbal and physical abuse are common and, according to DCI, Israeli authorities do not deter from using intimidation to coerce detainees into signing confessions solely drafted in Hebrew.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Israel has signed, specifies that children up to the age of 18 can be detained only as a measure of last resort. According to Amnesty International, Israel applies military law on Palestinians living in the West Bank since 1967. In order to comply with international standards, it has established a military juvenile court in 2009. While the court is only responsible for the trial, minors are interrogated by conventional military courts similar to adults. By law, 12 to 14-year-old minors have to be brought before a judge within 24 hours, while that period extends to 48 hours for 14 to 16-year-olds. Amnesty International criticizes that Israel often neglects these requirements. Moreover, sentences are decided on the basis of the age at the time of sentencing and not based on the age at the time the crime was committed. After receiving their sentence, 60% of minors are detained outside of the West Bank in violation of the Geneva Convention. Therefore, parents, who in most cases do not have a permit to enter Israel, are often unable to visit.

Following Tamimi’s release, PA President Mahmoud Abbas called the young activist a “Model for the Palestinian Struggle”, adding to her already existing status as a symbol of Palestinian resistance. While Ahed Tamimi’s case has gained far-reaching attention in local and international media, it shines a light on hundreds of minors in Israeli prison that have not received similar attention, many of which will remain under administrative detention without any echo in the international media.

Photograph: Ahed Tamimi shortly after her release after serving an eight month prison sentence in Israel, Al-Jazeera.