Malak al-Khatib: a childhood disfigured by Israeli occupation

Malak al-Khatib: a childhood disfigured by Israeli occupation
The jailing of Malak al-Khatib the 14 year-old Palestinian girl has caused outrage in her native West Bank and the rest of occupied Palestine. But the case brought into sharp focus the brutality and injustice of the Israeli occupation.
5 min read
05 February, 2015
There around 6,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails (Anadolu)
Malak al-Khatib, 14, the youngest Palestinian female prisoner, has become a symbol of the systemic jailing of Palestinian children and the cruelty of the Israeli occupation.

Malak's arrest by five Israeli soldiers while she walked home from school has unleashed a wave of solidarity among Palestinians.

She was arrested and accused of throwing stones and possessing a knife with intent to stab Israeli soldiers.

After almost three weeks in custody, deprived of family visits and legal counsel,  on 19 January, 2015, she was bought to an Israeli military court in tears with her hands and ankles shackled.
     My heart broke when I saw her in court, cuffed and shackled.

- Malak's mother.

The court sentenced Malak to two months in prison and ordered her to pay a fine of $1,500. 

"My heart broke when I saw her shackled in court," her mother told the AFP news agency from her home in the town of Beitin, near Ramallah. "I brought a coat for her to wear because it was cold, but the judge refused to let her have it."

A report released by a Palestinian monitor, Military Court Watch, on 5 February, 2015, estimates that 151 Palestinian children are currently held as "security prisoners" in Israeli jails. Four are girls and Malak is the youngest.

A pattern of abuse

In occupied Palestine, the repressive treatment of Malak - and thousands of other Palestinian children - by her jailers is the rule rather than the exception. 

On 17 December, 2014, Christian Peacemaker Teams released a video showing Israeli soldiers arresting Taha and Akram Zayed al-Jamal, both 10, from Hebron. Their alleged crime was throwing stones as they walked to school.

B'tselem, an Israeli non-governmental organisation, documented the case of Rajbi, 11, who was arrested and accused of throwing stones on 19 December, 2014. Rajabi, whose full name is not disclosed, was handcuffed, blindfolded and held on the floor of an army jeep for 15 minutes. Rajbi was only released after his father managed to convince the Israeli soldiers that his son was disabled and could not speak.

The majority of children held by Israel are accused of throwing stones. 

In November, the Israeli cabinet approved an amendment to it's criminal law to significantly increase the penalty for Palestinians convicted of throwing stones to up to 20 years.


The draft law, is yet to go through the necessary three Knesset votes.

In 2014, 600 children were brought before military judges, according to the Palestine chapter of Defence for Children International (DCI-Palestine).

By October, there were 18 minors imprisoned between the ages of 14-15, according to DCI's most recent figures.

In a report released in February 2013, the UN children's agency Unicef criticised 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.

Ayed Abu Wteish, DCI-Palestine’s representative, said Israeli military law allows the prosecution of children from as young as 12, which Unicef says is unique to Israel.

Israeli military courts normally refuse bail and rely primarily on the children's confessions, Unicef says.

Plea bargains

Malak was convicted after a plea bargain, according to an Israeli military spokesperson. 

"Rock throwing is an extremely dangerous crime, which has maimed and killed Israeli civilians in the past," she said. 

     I had to confess to throwing stones because of my horrible conditions in the cell. 

- Diyaa, Palestinian child prisoner.

Human rights organisations have documented a pattern of forced confessions in Israeli jails. 

DCI-Palestine documented the case of Diyaa, 16, whose last name was not dicsclosed, who says he was kicked and beaten by Israeli soldiers for saying, "I won't move until I say goodbye to my mother."

It was 3am, and Diyaa was blindfolded and dragged into an army jeep and after a couple of hours driving, he was thrown into a cold windowless cement cell, where he spent the next 15 days.

"He asked me when I threw stones and with whom, but I did not answer. He interrogated me for about two hours. He did the same the following five days," Diyaa said. 

According to a sworn affidavit Diyaa capitulated on the fifth day.

"I had to confess to throwing stones because of my horrible conditions in the cell. I also thought they would transfer me to a regular prison if I confessed." Even after his confession, Diyaa was thrown back into his cell. His isolation was to last another 10 days.

Israel is the only country that holds children - and only Palestinian children - in solitary confinement for interrogation purposes, according to Brad Parker, an intentional advocacy officer and lawyer for DCI-Palestine. This amounts to torture under intentional law, said Parker as quoted by Samer Badawi.

In 40 cases documented by DCI-Palestine between 2012 and 2013, the average time a child spent in solitary confinement was 10 days. The longest period was 29 days.

In more than 97 percent of cases, "children held in solitary confinement were not properly informed of their right to silence, were denied access to legal counsel and did not have a family member present during interrogation," according to a May 2014 report.

"This pattern of abuse by Israel is grave," said Richard Falk, a former UN special rapporteur for human rights in occupied Palestinian. Falk called Israel's use of solitary confinement against children "inhumane, cruel, degrading, and unlawful; and, most worryingly, it is likely to adversely affect the mental and physical health of underage detainees".

Malak's father thinks that his daughter's confession - like that of hundreds of minors before her - counts for little.

"A 14-year-old girl surrounded by Israeli soldiers will admit anything," he said. "She would admit to holding a nuclear weapon if she were accused."