A 14-year old boy from New Orleans, Louisiana was sentenced on Wednesday to a two-week term in an Israeli prison, after having been abducted on April 5th by Israeli forces while sleeping in his family’s home in the West Bank.Mohammed Khalek is a dual Palestinian-US citizen, having been born in New Orleans but living now in the West Bank with his family. He suffers from a heart murmur, and says that he was physically abused during interrogation. He was charged with throwing stones, and will have to pay a fine of $835, in addition to the two weeks in adult prison.
The sentencing on Wednesday followed a ‘call-in campaign’ by Palestine solidarity activists from Mohammed’s home state of Louisiana, in the southern US. Jacob Flom, a member of Palestine Solidarity Committee, New Orleans, which helped organize the campaign, said, “The U.S. has deliberately ignored the abuses of Palestinians by Israel, as our politicians continue to send over $3 billion a year to support the illegal occupation. We are demanding our representatives take a stand now by supporting their own constituent, Mohammed Khalek. We will not allow our representatives to be silent as they send our tax dollars to imprison children who have been stripped of their land and their rights.”
According to a dual press release from Addameer and Defence for Children International (DCI-Palestine), Israeli forces detained Mohammad on suspicion of stone-throwing during a predawn raid on his home, according to his father. Israeli soldiers tied his hands and roughed him up while transferring him for interrogation at a nearby police station. Mohammad was unaccompanied by his parents during questioning, but heard his father arguing to see him. After interrogators told Mohammad they would release him to his father if he cooperated with them, he confessed.
“Mohammad was arrested without a warrant, denied access to an attorney, and interrogated without the presence of a parent,” said RandaWahbe, advocacy officer at Addameer. “There is also evidence that he was mistreated during his arrest and transfer. It is difficult to find a right that was not violated.”
Mohammad is being held at Ofer prison in the West Bank, according to his lawyer, Firas Sabah of Addameer. On April 7, he appeared before an Israeli military court judge, who granted the prosecution’s request to extend the interrogation period. Mohammad complained to the judge about the physical abuse he endured during arrest and questioning. His father was particularly concerned for Mohammad’s wellbeing because he has suffered from a heart murmur since birth.
“In every way, this is a typical case involving the arrest and mistreatment of a Palestinian child by Israeli forces,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCI-Palestine. “Sadly, night time arrests and the abuse of children are systematic within the Israeli military detention system. This case is exceptional only because the child happens to also have US citizenship.”
Some form of physical violence during arrest, interrogation and pretrial detention occurred in nearly 79 percent of cases documented by DCI-Palestine in 2012. In more than half of those cases, children were arrested from the family home between midnight and dawn.
DCI-Palestine evidence shows that children arrive to Israeli interrogation centers blindfolded, bound and sleep deprived. Unlike their Israeli counterparts, Palestinian children have no right to be accompanied by their parents during an interrogation. They are questioned alone and rarely informed of their rights, particularly their right against self-incrimination. The interrogation techniques are generally mentally and physically coercive, frequently incorporating a mix of intimidation, threats and physical violence with a clear purpose of obtaining a confession.
DCI-Palestine and Addameer maintain that all children must be entitled to have a parent present at all times during interrogation, as well as have access to a lawyer of their choice prior to interrogation, and preferably throughout the interrogation process. All interrogations of children must be audio-visually recorded.
In March, there was a total of 4,812 Palestinians being held in Israeli jails, according to Addameer. Of those, 236 were children aged 12-17, based on DCI-Palestine research.