QALANDIA, January 25 (JMCC) - Four Palestinian boys were arrested in December by Israeli forces near the Qalandia
checkpoint in the occupied West Bank
. Over five weeks on, the minors remain in detention, but the families still do not know the reason for the arrests.
The father of one of the boys, Mohammed Musaab al-Shafei, 14, recalls the day of the arrest: “Someone from Israeli intelligence called me. He said, 'Your son has been detained, come to collect him.' When he arrived he says his son had disappeared. The soldiers and police at the checkpoint would give no information on his whereabouts.
This is the last time they heard news of their son.
“We have had no contact with our son at all. They didn’t give details of when he would be released or where he was.”
The father of Yazan Thaer Mahmoud al-Khatib, 16, tells a similar story. “I thought he was watching the Real Madrid match, but when he didn’t come home I became worried. I called his cell phone, at first it rang, and then it was shut.” He only learned of his son’s arrest the next day, from the family of another of the boys.
“I don’t know why my son was there. Of course I am sad, but there is nothing I can do; I don’t know where he is.”
These stories are not unusual in the occupied West Bank. Sitting on the worn sofa in the family home is al-Shafei’s brother. He was released from prison the day before.
Almost every family in al-Amari camp
has at least one member who has been in an Israeli prison he says. It is almost a badge of honor, jokes his friend.
The narrow passageways of the camp are dotted with paintings and bunting celebrating a family member’s release. The family’s concern is clear, but it is not coupled with shock. “It is a normal thing for us, a way of life,”explains the translator, also from al-Amari camp, but who asks not to be named.
“He is missing school,” says al-Shafei’s mother. “He is a good student.”
It is difficult for parents to get information about their children after they are arrested, says al-Shafei’s father. It was ten days before the family learned their son was in Ofer prison. Mohammed sent them word of his whereabouts via a fellow prisoner who was to be released.
The family of Dheeb Issa Atur Mussani, 15, was told of their son’s condition by the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club. The club was established by the Palestinian Authority
to provide legal support to Palestinians detained in Israeli jails.
The club has two lawyers who oversee new detainees in “administrative detention,” or those not yet charged for a crime, explains one of them, Amjad Ashellah. After this period, prisoners may be assigned their own lawyer to represent them in court.
Ashellah complains of difficulties in gaining proper access to the detainees. “The lawyers are allowed into the Ofer prison for only three days a week for a few hours a day. It is not enough time to see all the prisoners.”
While the detainees are being questioned, before the trial, the lawyers are not allowed to speak with the detainees in private, says Ashelleh.
Of the four boys, Dheeb is the only one on record with the club. “Until now we don’t know anything, because [Israeli army officials] are still questioning him,” he says.
The club lawyers report that Dheeb's health is good but he is afraid. “He is young; he is worried about how long he will remain in prison. He is also missing weeks of school. He said he didn’t do anything.”
The reason for the arrests remains unclear. Some speculate the boys may have been throwing rocks, though Ashelleh says that Dheeb denies this. Al-Shafei’s family say witnesses who saw the arrests say the boys were playing too close to the checkpoint.
“The four boys were close to Qalandia. They went through the checkpoint by mistake – they were running around, playing, and went too far.”
After the court case, the boys will serve their sentence at Rimonim prison that has a section for juveniles. But for the past weeks they have been in Ofer prison, an adult detention facility. Ashelleh describes conditions at Ofer as very difficult.
In December, the Israeli human rights group Btselem issued a report highlighting mistreatment of minors by Israeli police. Interrogators prevented parents from being present during the interrogation, although their right to be present, under certain limitations, is enshrined in law, says the report.
These legal rights do not apply to West Bank detainees who are convicted in a military court. “We have over 300 Palestinian children currently detained in Israeli jails in our records,” says Ashelleh.