Palestinian children behind bars: 14-year-old sentenced to over 6 years, visits denied, exorbitant fines

muawiya-alqamPalestinian children continue to be targeted for collective punishment and harsh sentences, as 14-year-old Muawiya Alqam was sentenced to six and one-half years in Israeli occupation prisons and fined 26,000 NIS (approximately $6,750).

Ma’an News reported that the sentence came in a plea bargain that will be officially pronounced at a sentencing in July. Palestinian children ages 14 and up are ostensibly limited to a 6-month maximum sentence; however, this limitation no longer applies for any conviction for which the maximum sentence is greater than five years, which includes throwing stones, one of the most common charges raised against Palestinian children. Israeli officials are frequently thought to postpone trials until children reach the age of 14, as in the case of Ahmad Manasrah.

Muawiya’s cousin, Ali Alqam, 12, is currently serving a 1 year sentence in a juvenile detention center; Ali was shot at least three times and underwent surgery to remove a bullet from his stomach. Muawiya and Ali were accused of stabbing and “moderately wounding” an Israeli security guard on the Jerusalem Light Rail.

Muawiya and Ali are among over 330 Palestinian children imprisoned by Israeli occupation forces, according to May 2016 statistics compiled by Palestinian organizations. Also in May 2016, Israeli occupation courts imposed fines of 88,000 NIS (Approximately $22,000 USD) on Palestinian children in Ofer prison. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society reported that 48 children were convicted in May, with sentences ranging between three months and 30 months. There are 183 Palestinian children held in Ofer prison, 81 in Megiddo prison, and an additional number in multiple detention and interrogation centers, home detention centers, and juvenile detention facilities.

28 children in Ofer have also been denied family visits, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society – 14 have been denied visits since their arrest, while 14 families have had their permits suddenly withdrawn or cancelled when they arrive at the checkpoint for visitation, on the grounds of “security.”

12-year-old Shadi Farrah, another of the youngest Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, was arrested along with 13-year-old Ahmad Zaatari on 30 December when they were accused of having knives in their possession after they were stopped and searched by Israeli police. Despite never touching or attempting to touch a single person, both are accused of possession of a knife with intent to kill, reports the International Solidarity Movement . The boys were interrogated in Moskobiya interrogation center without their lawyers or parents. They have made 11 appearances in court and are held in a juvenile detention center. Shadi’s letter to his mother, in which he says “Mum, I want you to keep your head up high like a palm tree that cannot be moved by the wind or even an earthquake…Don’t be sad about what’s happened, mum. Today I stand in front of the mirror to shed my faults and I can see my good side,” has been widely distributed.

Shadi’s mother is only able to visit monthly due to the approximately 800-shekel ($213 USD) cost to visit the distant detention center for the day, and according to the ISM, they have been denied assistance from the ICRC because Shadi is detained in a juvenile detention center rather than a prison. This comes as the ICRC has announced plans to reduce family visits that it organizes from the West Bank to Palestinian adult male prisoners held inside the Israeli state, from twice to once monthly, denying not only the prisoners but also their families ongoing connection and relationships. The Palestinian prisoners’ movement has broadly denounced the ICRC for this action; Samidoun is urging international action to restore family visits and protest “budget cuts” taking place at the cost of some of the most marginalized and vulnerable people in Palestine.