Agencies | 14 Rabi uth Thani 1436/05 February 2015
A 14-year-old schoolgirl jailed for trying to attack Israeli soldiers has become a symbol of Palestinian anger over the arrests of children in the occupied territories.
The two-month sentence for Malak Al-Khatib, who was accused of stone-throwing and possession of a knife, has unleashed a wave of solidarity and support among Palestinians.
“My heart broke when I saw her in court, cuffed and shackled,” her mother Khawla Al-Khatib told AFP from her home in the town of Beitin near Ramallah.
“I brought in a coat for her to wear because it was cold, but the judge refused to let her have it,” the distressed 50-year-old said.
Israeli forces arrest about 1,000 children every year in the occupied West Bank, often on charges of stone-throwing, according to rights group Defense for Children International Palestine (DCI Palestine). But the case of Malak has brought countless media organizations flocking to her family’s door and attracted more public attention than most. The difference — she is a girl.
The Palestinian Prisoners’ Club estimates that 200 Palestinian minors are held in Israeli prisons, but only four are girls, and Malak is the youngest.
Amani Sarahna, spokeswoman for the Ramallah-based organization, said it was the first time in years that four female minors were held in Israeli jails, out of the 6,500 Palestinians incarcerated.
Following Malak’s arrest, the Palestinian leadership sent a letter to the United Nations denouncing the Israeli practice of “seizing children in the dead of night”, detaining Palestinian children “for extended periods of time” and subjecting them to “psychological and physical torture”.
A picture of Malak’s face framed in black hair, her dark eyes staring squarely into the camera, has been circulating in social media and Palestinian newspapers. “I don’t know why a state like Israel, with the most powerful weapons at its disposal, is pursuing my 14-year-old daughter,” Malak’s father Ali Al-Khatib said.
“They accused her of trying to stab a soldier. Really? A child against an armed and heavily equipped solider, a grown man?” he asked incredulously.
The father-of-eight said his daughter was arrested on her way home from school in Beitin on Dec. 31.
According to the indictment served at a military court, Malak had “picked up a stone” to throw at cars on route 60, which is near the village and serves Israeli settlers as well as Palestinians.
The indictment, citing five Israeli officials, said Malak – whose name translates to ‘angel’ was in possession of a knife which she intended to use to stab security personnel in the case of her arrest. As well as the jail term she was fined $1,500.
In a report released in February 2013, the UN children’s agency UNICEF criticized Israel for its treatment of arrested Palestinian children, saying their interrogation mixes “intimidation, threats and physical violence, with the clear purpose of forcing the child to confess.”
“Children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member,” the report said. After three weeks in custody Malak was brought before an Israeli military court and sentenced to prison.
“Every year, between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are tried before Israeli military courts,” said DCI Palestine’s Ayed Abu Qteish.
Qteish said Israeli military law allows the prosecution of children from as young as 12, which UNICEF says is unique to the Jewish state.
Israeli military courts normally refuse bail and rely primarily on the children’s confessions, UNICEF says.
An Israeli military spokeswoman told AFP that Malak was convicted after a plea bargain. “Rock throwing is an extremely dangerous crime, which has maimed and killed Israeli civilians in the past,” she added.
Malak’s father thinks his daughter’s confession counts for little.
“A 14-year-old girl surrounded by Israeli soldiers will admit to anything,” he said bitterly. “She would admit to holding a nuclear weapon if she were accused.”
The Palestinian Higher Follow-Up Committee for Prisoners in association with the Prisoners’ Affairs Association have launched a global campaign to free Malak.
US Loses Its Grip On Israel And Palestinians
By Jonathan Cook
04 February, 2015
Nazareth: For 20 years, the White House stood guard over the peace process, reserving for itself the role of stewarding Israel and the Palestinians to a resolution of their conflict. Like some Godfather, the US expected unquestioning loyalty.
But Washington’s primacy in the relationship with both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships is unravelling at astonishing speed.
The crisis has been building for six years. Barack Obama arrived at the White House just as Israel elected one of the most right-wing governments in its history, led by Benjamin Netanyahu.
At their first meeting Obama reportedly told his Israeli counterpart “not one more brick”, insisting on a settlement-building freeze so that Washington could revive the long-stalled Oslo peace process.
Netanyahu soon defied the president, and has been doing so ever since. The latest humiliation – the final straw, according to White House officials – was Netanyahu’s success in engineering an invitation to address the US Congress next month.
By all accounts, the Israeli prime minister hopes to undermine a key plank of Obama’s foreign policy – negotiating a deal with Iran on its nuclear programme – by persuading Congress to stiffen sanctions against Tehran. That risks a crisis that might ultimately drag the US into war with Iran.
But Netanyahu is not alone in testing Obama’s power. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has also recently chosen to bypass the White House. After years of fruitless waiting, he has pinned his hopes on new international sponsors who can help him achieve his goal of statehood.
Ignoring White House injunctions, he has pressed ahead with resolutions at the United Nations and has now deployed his doomsday weapon: joining the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague. Israelis are calling this a “diplomatic intifada” and urging the US to cut its $400 million annual aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Just as with a mafioso boss, Obama is in trouble if he can no longer inspire fear, let alone respect. But the problem is all his own making.
For six years, Netanyahu “spat in our face”, as one White House official memorably observed of the latest crisis, and paid no discernible price for his impudence. Conversely, Abbas has done everything the Obama administration asked of him, and has precisely nothing to show for his efforts.
Both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships believe separately that they have core – even existential – interests that the White House is now an obstacle to realising.
Abbas’ disobedience is born of necessity. Aware that the US will never act as honest broker in the peace process, he has been forced to turn to international forums, where Washington’s power is weaker, in the hope of forcing Israel to concede a small Palestinian state.
Netanyahu’s move, meanwhile, is based on the risky calculation that he can manoeuvre the US into a confrontation with Iran to maintain Israel’s regional domination. In doing so, he has made two dubious assumptions.
The first is that he can wait out Obama, who has little more than a year and a half left in office. Netanyahu is betting on a hardline Republican successor who will follow his lead against Tehran.
He may well be disappointed. Even assuming a Republican wins, their hawkish campaign rhetoric on Iran will be fiercely tested by the limitations of office. The US intelligence agencies and military will be instructing the next president in the same cold political realities faced by Obama.
And second, Netanyahu believes he can use the Congress to stymie any threat of an agreement between Washington and Tehran. His working assumption is that the Congress is “Israeli-occupied territory”, as a US observer once called it.
Certainly, Israel has enormous sway in the Congress, but Netanyahu is already getting a lesson in the limits of his influence when up against a cornered US president.
Leading Democrats, it seems, are choosing to side with Obama. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, has already warned that many Democrats may boycott Netanyahu’s speech. Others may attend but sit on their hands rather than join in the rapturous applause he received last time he addressed Congress.
And here is one of the several warning signs Netanyahu has adamantly refused to heed.
His – and Israel’s – influence in the US depends on its bipartisan nature. By taking on the president, Netanyahu risks smashing apart Washington’s political consensus on Israel and exposing the American public for the first time to a debate about whether Israeli interests coincide with US ones.
The very rift he is fostering with Obama is likely to rebound on him strategically too. He is giving Tehran every incentive to sign an accord with the western powers, if only to deepen the fracturing relationship between Israel and Washington.
Meanwhile, the ICC has preferred to initiate an investigation itself against Israel for war crimes, even before the Palestinians’ accession, rather than wait for the threats of retaliation from Israel and the White House to escalate.
What the unravelling of the triangular relationship has achieved – stoked by Netanyahu’s intransigence towards the Palestinians and insolence towards the US – is an opening up of diplomatic wriggle room.
Others states, from Europe to Russia, China and Iran, and international bodies such as the ICC, will fill the void left by Washington’s diminishing credibility and start to shape perceptions about the Israel-Palestine conflict.
That could yet have unpredictable – and dangerous – consequences for Israel.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. He is the author of “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net
A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.