Jail term for 14-year-old Palestinian girl stirs controversy

Jail term for 14-year-old Palestinian girl stirs controversy

IDF says rock-throwing serious crime, but group decries sentence handed down to Malak al-Khatib as excessive

Khawla Al-Khatib, holds a poster of her imprisoned 14-year-old daughter, Malak, in the village of Beitin near Ramallah (Majdi Mohammed/AP Photo)
Khawla Al-Khatib, holds a poster of her imprisoned 14-year-old daughter, Malak, in the village of Beitin near Ramallah (Majdi Mohammed/AP Photo)

A sentence of two months in jail handed down by an Israeli court to a Palestinian teen girl for throwing rocks at cars has angered Palestinians and human rights groups, who call the punishment extreme.

Malak al-Khatib, 14, was also sentenced to pay NIS 6,000 ($1,500) by a military court for stone-throwing, attempted stone-throwing and possession of a knife after being arrested in late December.

Her sentence was reached under a plea bargain.

“A 14-year-old girl won’t pose any threat to soldiers’ lives,” her father, Ali al-Khatib, told The Associated Press. “They are well equipped and well trained so what kind of threat could she have posed to them?”

But the IDF stressed the seriousness of her actions. “Rock throwing is an extremely dangerous crime, which has maimed and killed Israeli civilians in the past,” the IDF Spokesperson said.

While al-Khatib is young, her case is not necessarily unique.

According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, Israel has held dozens of Palestinians between the ages of 14 and 16 in the Israel Prison Service system through 2014, and in 2013 some minors even younger than 14 were incarcerated in IPS prisons.

But al-Khatib, from the town of Beitin outside Ramallah, is among only a handful of female minors ever held by Israel. Palestinian officials say she is the youngest girl ever detained and sentenced by Israel — a claim Israeli officials and rights groups said they were not able to confirm.

Palestinians living in the West Bank are subject to Israel’s military justice system, while Israelis who live in the same area fall under a separate legal system.

Sarit Michaeli from B’Tselem said that under Israel’s military justice system, Khatib will not be afforded the same rights and protections as Israeli minors under Israel’s legal system.

“An Israeli child will not be held in detention for three weeks, even a boy, let alone a girl, because of these protections provided to children by the Israeli youth law,” she said.

Israel was hit by a wave of riots by Palestinians in East Jerusalem last year following the killing of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy by Jewish extremists in revenge for the abduction and murder of three Israeli teens.

Up to 1,000 protesters were arrested, many of them for stone-throwing. Israeli police said many of those arrested were minors.

Protests in the West Bank since then have been more subdued, but still occur frequently, with Palestinian protesters clashing with Israeli troops — incidents that often end in arrests.

On December 31, Khatib walked to a West Bank road used by both Israelis and Palestinians, and began throwing stones at passing cars, Palestinian officials told her parents.

Israeli security forces later arrested her and said they found a knife in her possession.

“These kids grow up with news about clashes, about oppression of Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and they go to express themselves,” her father said.

Since her arrest, the case has received constant media attention in the West Bank and spawned countless memes and caricatures, some showing Khatib, full-cheeked and pouty-lipped, behind bars and holding a teddy bear. One drawing shows a cherubic Khatib — whose first name means angel in Arabic — tied to shackles held by an Israeli soldier.

Having spent four weeks in detention, Khatib has another four left weeks left at a central Israeli prison for women.

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