“It is a mistake to conceptualize ethnic cleansing simply as a physical act. It’s importance lies in its psychological power.” ~ Steven Salaita
No evidence, no eye witnesses, and no crime preceded the capture, torture and forced confessions of the Hares Boys, 5 Palestinian youths from the West Bank village of Hares. And yet Ali Shamlawi, Mohammed Kleib, Mohammed Suleiman, Ammar Souf, and Tamer Souf were recently sentenced, after almost 3 years of imprisonment and over 100 hearings, by the Israeli occupation military court to 15 years in prison.
How do we tell the story that has been reported repeatedly since the Hares Boys horrific abductions? Beginning at 3 a.m. the morning after the crash? Do we start with the car accident on Thursday night March 14 resulting, eventually 2 years later, in the death of a little girl who became a national symbol of the dangers of rock throwing? Or the Prime Minister facing a gridlock trying to form a government while members in his own party were threatening to abandon him if he didn’t kowtow to the settlers (extremist members had threatened to take over Likud)? Or perhaps the coalition agreement signed the afternoon after the accident between Netanyahu’s Likud and the religious Zionist Jewish Home party, an agreement Gershon Mesika, then head of Shomron Regional Council representing over 30 illegal settlements in the northern West Bank, called “a wet dream” for settlers?
A distraught settler mother from the illegal West Bank settlement of Yakir who slammed her car into the back of a parked truck on Route 5, injuring herself and her 3 children, claimed the accident occurred because a rock hit her car. The truck driver had suddenly hit his brakes, he told police, because he heard a thud and thought he had a flat tire. The truck driver mentions nothing about rocks when he makes his initial statement to the police. The settler, Adva Biton, whose mother Rachel happened to work at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office on his professional staff, claimed a rock hit her car which caused her to drive into the back of the truck. Tragically, one of Biton’s children, 3 year-old Adele, had suffered brain injuries and was pronounced clinically dead at the scene of the accident by an Israeli doctor, but Muawiya Qabha, a Palestinian volunteer paramedic who was the first medical responder was convinced he could save little Adele’s life.
The truck driver later amended his statement, coincidentally corroborating the settler mother, and claimed he too recalled rocks hitting his vehicle.
Haaretz reported on the evening of the accident that Shomron council chief Gershon Masika, (an infamous settler, lawyer, politician, who ran over a 16-year-old girl before getting out of his car and shooting her to death last November), responded to the Biton accident by saying stone-throwing should be defined as terrorism:
[T]he warped policy of not defining stone-throwing as terrorism creates a situation of utter anarchy. In the last few months the number of stone-throwing incidents has increased yet the government refuses to respond.
The political climate during winter 2013 was dire. Palestinians had accused Israel of taking provocative actions in retaliation for their successful statehood bid at the U.N.. Israeli forces were escalating their crowd control methods, stepping up the use of live ammunition to provoke violent resistance, arresting, wounding and killing many Palestinian youths protesting while Palestinian prisoners were on hungerstrike over Israel’s draconian policy of administration detention. Samer Issawi was on verge of death and the Israeli government was claiming Hamas was gearing up “terror cells” for suicide bombing operations in the West Bank. The night before the car accident Israeli soldiers had been launching raids all across the West Bank. Provocative raids had been going on for months.
This is the climate in which masked Israeli soldiers and attack dogs raided Hares and the neighboring village of Kifl Hares, Palestinian villages near the scene of the car accident, breaking down doors blindfolding and handcuffing children — eventually abducting 19 boys for torture and interrogation, none of whom had ever been arrested for rock throwing before. Reuters reported Mohammed Suleiman had to be hospitalized from beatings endured during interrogations, “jailed in an underground cell for 24 days.”
Not one piece of evidence. In the ensuing weeks after arrests, interrogations, solitary confinement, forced confessions and military court hearings, 14 boys were released but 5 boys from Hares remained in prison. Ignoring eyewitness testimony which placed them at other locations at the time of the accident, the Hares Boys were each charged with 25 counts of attempted murder.
After the accident 61 settler “witnesses” came forward claiming their cars were also damaged by Palestinian rock throwers, although extensive CCTV footage in the area did not verify their claims and not one of those so called witnesses had called the police that day when their cars were allegedly damaged. Not one.
No doubt challenged by settler council chief Gershon Masika’s accusation, within the month Netanyahu had used the occasion of the annual Yom Hazikaron ceremony, the national day of public mourning for those who die “in defense” of Israel, to open his speech mourning the plight of Adele Biton and declaring rocks were “lethal weapons” and branded rock throwing as “an act of terror”.
After almost 3 grueling years, on Thursday, January 28, 2016 each of the Hares Boys were officially sentenced to 15 years in prison for manslaughter, after a plea deal in which $7,750 was extracted, by the court, from each boy’s family as a ‘compensation’ to the Bikon settler family. Non-acceptance of this ‘deal’ carried the threat of an even steeper charge and sentence.
The Free The Hares Boys campaign press release:
The sentence was announced following almost three years of uncertainty since Mohammed Suleiman, Mohammed Kleib, Ali Shamlawi, Tamer Souf andAmmar Souf – residents of Hares village in the West Bank of Palestine – were arrested and accused of ‘attempted murder’ by stone-throwing after an illegal Israeli settler car crashed into a truck parked on a road next to their village. That was mid-March 2013, light years away when you are 16 years old and locked up in an occupation dungeon for a car accident you had nothing to do with; a crime that never happened.
Thursday’s sentencing was a plea deal offered by the Israeli military prosecutor that involved ‘fines’ of NIS 30,000 (appr. €7,100 or $7,750) per boy to be paid to the settler driver as ‘compensation’. One of her daughters died two years after the crash from pneumonia complications attributed to neurological damage experienced during the accident. Failure to accept the deal, it was implied, would result in extended prison sentences. The boys’ families felt they had no choice but to accept. “We took the bad to avoid the worst,” they said in their despair.
Almost three years of legal battles in military courts that have a record of convicting Palestinians at a rate very close to 100%.
Almost three years of military court ‘hearings’ that last just a few minutes, conducted by Israeli military personnel in Hebrew, a language neither the boys nor their families understand; the soldier-translator would rarely do their job properly and would instead prefer to play with their phone.
Almost three years of dozens – well over 100 – such ‘hearings’ in metal cages that pass for a House of Justice, only to find out that your incarceration is prolonged once again.
Almost three years knowing that you ‘confessed’, under torture, of throwing stones at settler cars, that you ‘confessed’ after being beaten up and psychologically intimidated, and spending days in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer, and that this ‘confession’ is the only ‘evidence’ the military tribunal has against you, yet that it would probably be enough for them to convict you.
Almost three years of mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers not knowing whether you would be home for the next Ramadan or to finish your high school exams. Not knowing when they could finally hug you and talk to you without a broken telephone through a dirty glass window.
Almost three years of international efforts to bring the case of the Hares Boys to the eyes and consciences of those in power, and to demand justice. We invited you to protest, organize demonstrations, write to your MPs, write to your embassy in Tel Aviv, attend military court ‘hearings’, collect money to help the families deal with the financial burden, to spread the message about the injustice being committed to these young lives of Palestine. And you responded, in your hundreds and in your thousands, from Costa Rica to France, from Mexico to Britain. We thank you for that. You’ve been a lifeline of support to the boys’ families in such devastating time.
But the fight is not over.
If we stop demanding justice, five young men are to spend the next 15 years of their lives in prison. For them and other prisoners, their families, communities and their people, we must continue the struggle.
We invite you all, wherever you are, to join hands with us, to strengthen the efforts to achieve justice and FREEDOM for the five youth of Hares, Palestine.
Randa Wahbe from Addameer Prisoners Support and Human Rights organization stated “It’s quite clear that they’re using this case as an example to other children to control the population and to control communities, that they could face charges like this if they step out of line in any way.” Yeah, it’s importance lies in its psychological power.
In a military court system that serves the occupation of a colonial state convicting Palestinians at a 99.7% rate, justice takes a beating.
And that, is the draconian fate of the Hares Boys.