Freed 14-Year-Old Palestinian Girl Insists on Her Innocence

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Malak al-Khatib, center, a 14-year old schoolgirl who was jailed in an Israeli prison for six week, sits with friends at her home in the West Bank village of Beitin after she was released the previous day on February 14, 2015. AFP/Abbas Momani

Published Sunday, February 15, 2015

A 14-year-old Palestinian girl who has become a symbol for Palestinian minors arrested by Israel insisted on Saturday after serving a 45-day sentence that she had been unjustly imprisoned.

"I do not admit to any crime: I was not throwing stones — I had no knife on me," Malak al-Khatib told AFP.

Malak, from the occupied West Bank town of Beitin near Ramallah, was arrested last December and sentenced to two months in jail after being charges with stone-throwing and possession of a knife. She was also fined 6,000 shekels ($1,500).

"After two hours of interrogation, a soldier forced me to sign a paper in Hebrew," said Malak, who does not understand the language.

A white and black Palestinian keffiyeh scarf draped across her shoulders, Malak sat among friends as relatives, Palestinian officials and journalists paraded through the family home, as they have since her release on Friday.

"I'll definitely have plenty to tell my classmates when I go back to school" in three days, she said at her house in Beitin near Ramallah in the West Bank, such as "how cold it is inside prison."

She served her time in a cell with three older Palestinian girls. The Palestinian Prisoners' Club said two weeks were deducted from the sentence because of her age.

The Prisoners' Club estimates that of 200 Palestinian minors in Israeli prisons, only four are female and Malak was the youngest.

Malak’s parents, Ali and Khawla al-Khatib had rejected the charges, which also included blocking a main road, as “fabricated.”

“She was leaving school after attending her last exam for the first semester when all of a sudden soldiers jumped at her, handcuffed her hands and took her with them,” Malak’s father told reporters after a court hearing in January.

"How could a 14-year-old have committed these acts?" the girl's mother asked.

Her family repeatedly said that none of its members had ever been arrested by the Israelis before, a rarity in the occupied West Bank.

Her father Ali said on Saturday he was "very pleased and touched by the many visitors who came to congratulate Malak."

But his daughter was beginning to show the strain, whispering to her mother: "Do you think this will go on for long? I'm tired of all these visits."

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.

But Malak’s case has attracted an outpouring of public attention and had media organizations flocking to her family's door.

The Ramallah-based Ahrar Center for Prisoners' Studies and Human Rights had said Malak was considered the youngest prisoner currently serving a sentence in Israeli jails.

According to the UN children's fund (UNICEF), over the past decade, Israel has detained "an average of two children each day."

In its 2013 report, UNICEF added that Israel was the only country in the world where children were "systematically tried" in military courts and gave evidence of practices it said were "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment."

The Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights said Israeli forces arrested nearly 3,000 Palestinian children from the beginning of 2010 to mid-2014, the majority of them between the ages of 12 and 15 years old.

It also documented dozens of video recorded testimonies of children arrested during the first months of 2014, pointing out that 75 percent of the detained children are subjected to physical torture and 25 percent faced military trials.

The roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict date back to 1917, when the British government, in the now-infamous Balfour Declaration, called for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

In 1948, with the end of the mandate, a new state — Israel — was declared inside historical Palestine, leading to the mass displacement and killing of Palestinians.

Israel then occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1967 Middle East War. It later annexed the holy city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the self-proclaimed Zionist state — a move never recognized by the international community.

(Ma’an, Al-Akhbar)

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