Tears fell down her cheeks when the judge read the sentence, she shivered, cuffed and in a cage, surrounded by armed occupation soldiers. Her parents, sitting but a few meters away from her, shocked, unable to touch their daughter, hug her, comfort her, or wipe away her tears. “They treated her as an adult…. She is but a child.” Said Ali Al-Khateeb, in his sixties, his face tired, wrinkled with years under occupation, and great sadness in his tired eyes… “When the judge read the sentence”, Abu Yousif recalls:” I saw Malak wiping away her tears and shivering, I felt that a fire was burning inside my heart”. Her 50 year-old mother Khawla says: “In court, I cried with my daughter who is separated from me by a few meters, we could not touch her or talk to her, I wished I could embrace her, even for a minute, to make her feel warm.”
Malak Al-Khateeb, 14 years old, left her home in Beitin, near Ramallah, on the morning of 31.12.2014. The 8th grader had with her a copybook and a pen, and was heading to school to sit for her English exam, the last exam before the semester vacation. Afterwards, and while walking in the village lands, she was stopped by Israeli occupation forces, before being kidnapped to an interrogation centre. Four court sessions and three weeks later, 14 year-old Malak was charged on 21.01.2015 by Ofer occupation military court and sentenced to 2 months in jail, a 6000 NIS fine and 3 years under probation. Currently, the Zionist entity holds 6500 Palestinian political prisoners captive, including 214 children below the age of 18 years. Among the 214 children, 4 girls between 14 and 16 years old are detained, Malak being the youngest registered detainee till now. According to various statistics, Israeli occupation forces arrest around a 1000 Palestinian child annually, with 500 to 700 children brought in front of Israeli military courts. Alone in 2014, the IOF kidnapped 1800 children, mostly from occupied Jerusalem. The Israeli military law allows the prosecution of Palestinian children from the age of 12 years in military courts. Malak’s sentence was based on the testimony of five Israeli occupation officers in the patrol that arrested her. The indictment document claims that Malak was “in possession of a knife to stab the soldiers in case they come to arrest.”
In the simply-furnished sitting room, a framed family picture hung on the wall near a Key of Return in the colours of Palestine. The Key had a simple dedication: “From Khaeld Bin Al-Walid School – Aqraba to the child prisoner Malak Al-Khateeb.” Malak’s niece was running across the room and jumping on the couch between her grandparents. She reminded me of Malak’s pictures that were spreading on social media networks. Abu Yousef, with his wrinkles white beard and kuffiyeh, played with his granddaughter, hugging her and asking her how much she loved him… “Sarsour” she would answer… and her aunt, Malak’s older sister would explain: “She means as big as a cockroach… she would usually say as big as a moon and father would ask her: “Not bigger than a moon?” and she would reply: “As big as a cockroach.”… often we would play with her and ask her how much she loved us, “50%” she would answer, not more we would ask, “16%” would be her reply.” We all laughed, but the laughter was coated with sadness, and their eyes betrayed that sadness, a sadness mixed with yearning, a sadness mixed with the knowledge that this momentarily happiness was incomplete, was meaningless… “We know that she is coming back to us… she is imprisoned, not killed God forbid, but there is sadness within us” Malak’s mother said “but at least she is coming back home”.
“She went in the morning to school carrying her copybook and a pen, after school, she went walking in the village lands, she loves walking on the grass, collecting flowers…. We received a call from the Local Council that the Israeli occupation soldiers had Malak…. They had called the Local Council in Beitin through the Palestinian “military liaison” office, and immediately we went to “Benyamin Interrogation Centre” near Ramallah, and there we waited 4 hours for the interrogator. When he was done interrogating with Malak, he came and told us that our daughter throws stones at the soldiers, that she crossed Road 60 and tried to close it, and had a knife. I told him she is but a child, what could she possibly do to an army of soldiers? … Even if she threw stones, what is she going to do to them? How is she going to close Road 60, a main road that connects North West Bank to its South? If this was true, all news agencies would have known… and how is she going to stab a soldier? She is small and the soldier is 170-180 cm. Is she going to throw him on the ground, trample on his neck and stab him? The interrogator looked at me not liking what I said…. I told him a child like this… according to what law? He said she will be referred to court and that she was old enough and aware of what she was doing. When we asked to see her, he refused, saying it was not allowed. My older son asked him to at least let her mother and me see her, and we were allowed 3 minutes. We told her what they were accusing her of, which she denied and stressed: “This is not true, I don’t have a knife.” She said. The interrogator looked at her in a weird way and she immediately said: “I had a knife!” Out of fear, she said “I had a knife”. At the time, it seemed to us that they had frightened her… she looked afraid, maybe they frightened her… but we didn’t see any signs of beating… maybe (they did)… but we didn’t see anything… She was afraid but tried to comfort us, and said: “Don’t worry about me, whatever happens it’s okay… don’t worry.” They referred her to court, and told us they will call to inform us where they will be sending her. That evening, we got a call from the Prisoners’ Club that Malak was sent to Hasharon prison. We felt that she was pressured, if it weren’t for the fact that she was scared, she would not have confessed… She is but a child; if the soldier shouts at her, if the interrogator shouts at her… of course she would be afraid…”
“They referred her to court and called us saying she is in Hasharon. They kidnapped her on Wednesday 31.12.2014; she was brought to court the next day for the first time, on 01.01.2015. We didn’t know about the court except after 15:00, after we received a call from the Prisoners’ Club. “We will release her on bail… prepare 3000 – 4000 NIS” they told us, we said no problem. They called later in the evening, saying that the court session was postponed until Sunday. On Sunday, we went to court; it was a military court with Israeli military soldiers. They brought Malak, it was cold and raining, and she was wearing nothing but a blouse and thin jeans. She was pale, shivering from cold and had her hands and legs cuffed…. as if she was thirty years old and as if she had committed a huge (resistance) operation … and not “throwing stones” as they claim, but as if she was going to erase Israel, as if had they not detained her when they did, had they waited 5 minutes before arresting her, she would have erased Israel and the USA! As if she is a danger to all countries, a child like this… I swear, if they told her you have rockets or a nuclear bomb, out of fear she would have confessed. The judge told us they wanted to examine why she did what they claim she did, and postponed the court session. The next court session was on a Wednesday. The prosecutor asked for a high sentence. Immediately, the lawyer from the Prisoners’ Club appealed, and they referred us to the appeal court at 16:00 that day. At the appeals court, the prosecution did not come, and the judge postponed the session. Later, the Prisoners’ Club informed us they had appointed Jawad Bulous and Ahmad Abu Safiyyeh as Malak’s lawyers. So, we went to court, and found out that the prosecutor had asked for a high sentence for Malak. Mr. Bulous postponed the session in order to meet with the prosecution and try to negotiate her release with the least “losses”.”
Abu Yousif stopped, and repeated again what everyone was thinking: “The way they treated her in court was as if she was an adult, a 30 year-old woman… they treated her as a threat to the state … a girl of 14 is a danger!” Im Yousef remembered that day: “It was a big shock to all of us when we heard of her detention, and when we went to the interrogation centre that day, we thought she was coming home with us. We thought they would fine her and she would come back home. We said it doesn’t matter, we would borrow the money, or even if needed, we would sell the house we live in, to spare Malak the prison… but we were not able to do anything… in the end they sentenced her to a fine and imprisonment. I wish they had fined her another 5000 NIS, but spared her the prison. We miss her… she should be with her friends in school, she should be studying, a 14 year-old should not be locked up in Hasharon since over a month… where are the child’s rights? Where are the human rights? Where are women’s rights? To imprison a 14 year-old child … it’s a shock, not only for me… this means that tomorrow, they could take any little child they find walking down the street, and claim the child committed an operation… it is not only my daughter who is targeted, and I hope that she is the first and last child prisoner.”
“There were two further court sessions” Abu Yousef continued, “but Mr. Bulous wasn’t able to do anything, and he met again with the prosecution. In the last session on 21.01.2015, they sentenced Malak to 2 months imprisonment, a 6000 NIS fine and 3 years under probation. The lawyer told us he was not able to do more than that and that he had to make a deal with them in order not to sentence her to 4 or 5 months. They would bring her to court hand and leg cuffed as if she was 30 years old… the world closes its eyes to the Palestinian people, and is in deep sleep as to what is happening to the Palestinians. If this was a girl in France or Israel, and someone kidnapped her or detained her… you world would have risen in uproar! In the court room, they made us sit in the last rows, so when she would talk to us we wouldn’t hear her clearly or know what she was saying most of the time. They didn’t allow us to sit close to her, and one time we sat in the front row, they kicked us to the back rows. Her mother had brought her a jacket, and when the judge sentenced her, he asked if we wanted anything.”
“What would we ask for? This is a child… we ask that you reduce her sentence.”
“No, ask for mercy from God, but not from this court.” The judge said.
“Why?” I asked, “She is but a child! You would imprison such a small child? … Only in your laws she is imprisoned!”
“I want to give her this jacket… it’s cold, and I want to give her some money” her mother said.
“No!” the judge replied “It’s not allowed!”
Her spirits were high, during the last court session, and she had hoped to go back home with us after paying the fine… and when she realized she was not being released, she had tears in her eyes. “Don’t be afraid, yaba, what has happened has happened, don’t worry.”… Malak said to me… “Don’t worry; you are not the first detainee.” I told her “It’s alright yaba, it’s only 2 months, and they will pass in a minute.” This is a racist entity, it is a stigma to imprison a child like this… they kill and when you ask them about it, they claim the soldier who killed is mad… they killed Ziad Abu Ein in front of the whole world… on camera… and everyone saw this… I tell you this government whose soldier is mad as they claim is itself mad… This state fears Palestinian children. We are not the aggressors, they are the aggressors, they occupied our homeland and deny us all our rights… to the extent that they cut down trees, poison cattle, deface mosques. But if you deface a synagogue, the entire world would stand with them and would say we are terrorists, and that Arabs are terrorists… No, the Arabs are not terrorists; the terrorists are Israel and those who cooperate with Israel…. The first night Malak spent in jail, we spent it at home in tears… I am an old man, but believe me, I would sit in the room and cry because she is a child… if she were an adult, one wouldn’t be so worried… how did she spend her first night in jail? I kept thinking. But thank God, we are a people, wherever we are, we support each other; we stand in solidarity with each other. We were very worried that they might have put her together with Israeli criminals, but when we heard that she was placed with Palestinian political prisoners, we were relieved.”
Abu Yousif had so much to say, wanted to say more… to talk about Malak, to remind the world that she is 14 years old! A little school girl, who left her home in the morning to go to school and was kidnapped by Israeli occupation soldiers. As Abu Yousif and Im Yousif spoke, I wanted to share with them my own experience; a school girl, on my way to school, attacked by soldiers, beaten and dragged to an interrogation centre. On that day, when the minutes seemed days, my thoughts were with my parents… will I ever see them again? What are the soldiers going to do to me? Will they beat me? But I kept silent, yes, no matter the “preparations”, one is afraid but keeps a brave face… no need to add to their worry and their pain.
Khawla’s words interrupted my thoughts: “Malak was always moving in the house, she was never still; plays with her siblings, watches TV, a very active child. The first night after they detained her, I was shocked; I was slapping my face the whole time, blood seeping down my mouth and nose, until I lost 2 teeth… I was in such shock… that they would imprison 14 year old Malak! That she sleeps in a prison cell! As a mother, I was unable to do anything. All the time, thoughts were filling our heads; what have they done with her? Where have they taken her? Where did she sleep? Only God knows if she is safe or not…. You know the feeling of a mother…. A mother keeps thinking about everything; how is she? Did they frighten her? Did they beat her? 4 court sessions and we were not able to ask her any of these questions. From the first day they arrested her, we were told they held her at Hasharon prison with the Palestinian women prisoners. The Prisoners’ Club reassured us about her situation and that she is doing well. Every court session, I would ask her from far away: “How are you, Malak?” She would reply: “Don’t worry about me yama, the girls (Palestinian political prisoners) take good care of me.” But, deep inside, I still worried, I still felt that she was frightened… you know a mother’s heart… I felt every time I saw her that she was not able to tell me what’s in her heart, what she saw, what she felt, whether they beat her, whether they frightened her… But when she would see me crying in court, she would say from afar: “Yama, don’t cry, don’t worry about me, the girls take good care of me”. I would come home from court, and from shock, I would talk and not realize what I was saying… We would sit to eat, I would start crying, Malak’s siblings would leave the table and no one would eat.”
“The first 2 weeks after Malak’s detention, only God knows our situation. We never expected this. She had no activities whatsoever. The judge in the last court session said they interrogated with Malak to check if anyone pushed her to throw stones at the soldiers. He said that she did it on her own, that she used to watch the news on TV, that she lied to her parents and told them that she was going to school and went to throw stones, close the road and stab a soldier. We were surprised by all of this and we deny these accusations made to a 14 year-old girl. When I first saw her following her detention, her hands and legs were cuffed… you can’t imagine how I felt… I would be sitting in the court room and trembling… shivering… not able to comprehend what I was seeing… and when they would bring her into the cage… after the soldier un-cuffs her hands, she would feel and rub her wrists. Just imagine since how many hours had she been handcuffed? They bring them from Hasharom from 3 am, to reach Ofer at 7 or 8 am. At around 2 pm, her court session starts… and sometimes we had to wait till 16:00 or 17:30 pm… she remained handcuffed all this time… and when they finally un-cuffed her in the cage, she would rub her hands where the cuffs were placed… Malak didn’t receive any special treatment considering she is a child under 18 years old. In court, when the female soldier would sit by her side in the cage, Malak would not dare look in our direction… Sometimes, two soldiers would sit by her side, one on each side. They treated her as if she was over 25 years, not a child of 14… they didn’t treat her as a child. I remember during the interrogation, we weren’t able to take any information from her… were not able to ask her if they beat her, but I managed to ask her one thing before they transferred her to jail; I asked her about the school uniform she was wearing that morning when she left home. “The female soldiers took it off me”, she replied. Immediately after her detention, they took off her school uniform in order to claim that she is not a school girl, to discredit her story that she was coming back home from school. She left home that morning in her school uniform, went to school, did her exam and left. That morning, as she left, I called after her and told her to take a jacket because it was cold. She answered: “yama I won’t be late, we only have one exam and I will do it and come back home… I won’t be late”. She wore a blouse over her school uniform with the word Palestine on it… all the girls at school wear them… you know how it is with little school girls… they wear like each other. All 4 court sessions, Malak came wearing the same blouse … except the court session before the last, she came wearing a blouse that was too big, most probably from Palestinian female prisoners, and a very thin pyjama trouser. She sat shivering in the cage. This entity has no mercy, neither for a child nor for an adult.
“In the court room, they would seat us far away from her and if you want to tell her something, often she wouldn’t hear you. One time, we were placed far at the back, and the judge told the soldiers to bring us closer to him. Malak tried to move in the cage and get closer to us to talk to us but they didn’t allow her. The lawyers used to comfort us, and tell us she is alright and that Palestinian prisoners look after her, that her personality is strong and not to be afraid and worried, that they didn’t beat her in prison. But I don’t believe that they didn’t beat her, it’s something I don’t believe, because we see on TV what they do to children when they arrest them, so why would they spare Malak? From the minute they caught her near the main road, passing taxi drivers saw what they did to her… they were talking about how the soldiers detained a little girl, blindfolded and handcuffed her, threw her to the ground, like what they do when they arrest Palestinians, and a soldier put his foot on her neck, and afterwards they took her to interrogation. Every time I went to a court session, and Malak saw me crying, she would comfort me from afar: “Yama don’t worry, don’t be afraid, I am fine, don’t worry”. We, the Palestinian people, are always patient and brave, except that one’s heart is burning for his son or daughter… you feel pain, even if it’s not your daughter or son, you don’t want to see a cuffed child. This is the enemy of all of us; it’s not only my daughter. While sitting in the court room, I would pray to God that one day all these courts would open their doors, and all those handcuffed are free and handcuffing the Israelis. One woman sitting next to me heard me: “Aunt, this would need a miracle.” She commented. “God is generous… one day you will see the prisoners un-cuffing their hands and cuffing the soldiers.” When you come to the court room, you only hear the sound of the shackles in their legs. Imagine, Malak is a child of 14 years, hand and leg cuffed… the shackles on her legs are never untied. All during the court session, she sits with her legs cuffed, they only un-cuff her hands to give a fake image that they are merciful. The soldier sits by Malak’s side, the cuffs with her… I swear Malak doesn’t dare to raise her head, and sometimes she would look at us and then would immediately lower her hear out of fear of the soldier. She is a child… what can I say? She is a child, she should not be hand and leg cuffed, they shouldn’t frighten her in this way… I mean a military court with its army, a 14 year-old to be tried by an entire government?! This is the tragedy, but thank God, she is strong, she is a pride to all Palestine…. Lately, Malak sent us greetings with a female lawyer who visited her: “Send my greeting to my mother and tell her there is a Palestinian prisoner called Im Hassan, she combs my hair and washes my clothes… yama I miss your cooking, and when I come back home, I want you to cook for me stuffed vine leaves.” The lawyer told me: “Don’t worry about her, don’t be afraid for her, I swear her spirits are high and she sends you, her father and siblings greetings.” When a lawyer calls and reassure us like this, we are reassured a bit, although my heart remains uncomfortable because this is an enemy, in a minute everything can change… you don’t know what is happening inside the jails… I remember during the last court session, as we were leaving the court room, they were bringing in a little boy, maybe as old as Malak or even younger, but not older… he was shackled and you could hear the sound of the shackles as the soldiers dragged him… it was obvious that they had beaten him, we could see the marks clearly… we wanted to ask about the boy, his name and where he was from, to check on him, but no one could tell us…. They had beaten that poor boy!”
“What can one say about this government?” Abu Yousif said “This is a crazy government… if it weren’t crazy, a child like this walking down the street, even if we assume she had a knife with her or threw a stone as they claim, you bring them back home, talk to their parents, but you don’t imprison children… I tell you they have great fear of Palestinian children… In any law, everywhere… there are rights of children, human rights… everyone everywhere has rights, except Palestinian children. Why is the world so blind? And then they talk about human rights organizations and the UN Security Council? Where is the UN Security Council? It only stands with the US and Israel, not with other countries. There is nothing good to be wished from this Council. What eases our pain is the support and solidarity from our people, otherwise believe me, we would have exploded. What can we do? Hasbiya Allah w ni’ma alwakeel! It’s not only our child, they detain children… look what happens in Jerusalem, we see them on TV, they are sentenced to house arrest… what did these children do? The extent of the lousiness of the Israeli government to be so scared of Palestinian children. A child from Shu’fat, 6 or 7 years old was arrested. What is his crime? What can you do? We can only say Hasbiya Allah w ni’ma alwakeel!”
Afterwards, as I looked at the inside of Malak’s cupboard; Palestinian flags, picture of martyr Saji Darweesh (Birzeit University student who was killed by the Israeli occupation forces in cold-blood), a map of Palestine, again it brought back memories of my own childhood… collecting pictures of martyrs, hiding the Palestinian flag among my clothes (at a time when it was punishable by the occupation forces to possess a Palestinian flag), drawing the Palestinian flag and writing Palestine and the names of martyrs, all over my notebooks, even adding the word martyr before my name on every copybook… and I remembered the cupboards of my little cousins… here a little girl from the village of Beitin in Ramallah… and my cousins, refugee kids living in Dheisheh in Bethlehem…. It was as if as I was looking at the same cupboard… Palestinian flags, pictures of martyrs, maps of Palestine, the Key of Return… and when Malak’s mother showed me her drawing copybook, she commented on the Palestinian flags Malak had drawn, and the sentence “I love Palestine” which was scribbled several times in her copybook, “We never knew… I never noticed she is interested in any of this… we never knew… we try to keep her away from this… to try to keep her safe”. I thought of my parents, my grandparents, my uncles and aunts…. they always try to protect us from the brutality of the occupation, they do their best to keep us safe, to give us the best life possible under the circumstances… but the occupation leaves you no choice, the occupation gives no one a chance. You see the occupation soldiers on the way to school, on the way to your friend’s house, on the way back home… you witness violent attacks by Zionist colonists, attacks that leave scars… you witness your neighbour’s house being demolished… you watch as your friends, killed by the occupation, are carried to their final resting place… you see your land, your trees, your home disappear in front of you to be replaced by Zionist colonies… you see and feel the military occupation in all its forms every minute of the day, and then comes a moment when you can’t sit and continue watching any more, you act!
According to 2014 statistics, Israeli occupation forces kidnapped on average 197 Palestinian children monthly. In the past four years, around 37,000 Palestinian children were detained. They are treated as adults, and charged by military courts based on testimonies of Israeli occupation soldiers or the confessions of the children themselves taken under pressure. These children are psychologically and physically assaulted during interrogation and detention. It is time the peoples of the world fulfil their moral obligations and pressure their governments to hold the Zionist entity accountable for its war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the kidnapping, physical abuse and detention of Palestinian children.
Freedom for ALL Palestinian Prisoners in Israeli dungeons