A controversial video was leaked to Palestinian media on November 8th, revealing an aggressive Israeli security interrogation of 13-year old Ahmad Manasra, who was indicted on October 30th by Israel’s Jerusalem District Court for attempting to murder two Israelis near the Pisgat Zeev settlement in East Jerusalem.
The 10-minute video depicts an Israeli interrogator verbally abusing and shouting curses at the visibly distressed boy, rigorously questioning his motives and accusing him of murder. The video then appears to show the young teen confessing to the crime under considerable duress.
Since the footage has gone viral there has been a strong public outrage, with rights-based groups condemning what appears to be a violation of the rights afforded to the treatment of minors in custody.
Brad Parker, attorney and international advocacy officer at Defence for Children – Palestine, spoke to Mondoweiss about the legal implications of the film. “The circumstances depicted in the video present a situation that may amount to torture” he explained. “When determining if certain acts constitute torture, the child’s age must be taken into account. Israeli interrogators are seen relying on verbal abuse, intimidation and threats to apparently inflict mental suffering for the purpose of obtaining a confession.”
Parker stated that the video provides evidence of a violation of international juvenile standards as dictated by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Israel signed in 1991. According to Parker, “[the Convention] prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This prohibition is absolute, yet, ill treatment and torture of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli military and police is widespread and systematic.”
Alongside these fundamental rights which appear to have been neglected, international law states that a child cannot be interrogated without the presence of his parents or guardian. Tareq Barghouth, one of Manasra’s lawyers, claims that the boy has not been allowed contact with his family since the attack, and has been subjected to psychological abuse from the security forces. “They threatened that they will kill him, demolish his house, and imprison him,” Barghouth said. “They spit on him. One of the officials opened his Skype with his girlfriend, and she also began swearing at him over Skype.”
Another contentious aspect of Manasra’s treatment since arrest was the decision by the Israeli government to publicly release his photograph. The Israeli NGO Physicians for Human Rights denounced the move as inherently political saying, “the fact that it is a photo of a minor in custody who was photographed without his parents’ permission” is a violation of juvenile law and privacy laws… Even more disturbing, is that reportedly the instructions [to publish the photo] came directly from the office of the Health Minister [Yaakov Litzman] and that the picture itself was distributed by the Prime Minister’s Office.”
“What is happening to me?”
In the video of the interrogation, an officer sits behind a desk shouting at the boy in Arabic, “Why did you stab him? Why did you stab him?”
An anguished Manasra pleads and repeatedly hits his head with his hands, saying that he cannot remember and begs with the interrogator to believe him, saying “I don’t remember, not one thing. For God’s sake believe me! I woke up the next day at four. There was a blow to my head. I don’t remember! What is happening to me?”
Between the barrage of shouting and curses, Manasra can be heard saying “maybe I am going crazy”, and asks the officer to “take me to the doctor to check me”, all the while screaming and hitting his face with his hands.
The officer continuously yells “liar!”, and tells Manasra to “shut up”, saying that he is accused of killing “two Jews” and that he supported “the enemy in time of war”. The boy is clearly confused by the statement, and asks “what war? What do I have to do with a war”?
The interrogator proceeds to violently yell at Manasra, who eventually says, “everything you say is true, according to the video it is true. But I don’t remember… I only believe that it happened when I saw the footage.”
Despite admitting to the crime, Parker told Mondoweiss that the context of coercion negates the validity of the confession. “International law demands that any statement made as a result of torture or ill-treatment must be excluded as evidence in any proceeding” he explained; “ any confession or incriminating statements made by Ahmad as a result of torture must not be used as evidence against him.”
Before the release of the interrogation footage the case made headlines when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas mistakenly stated that Israeli security forces had executed Ahmad Manasra after the stabbing attack. During the incident, which occurred on October 12th, two Israel’s aged 13 and 21 were seriously injured and Manasra’s 15-year old cousin, Hassan, was shot dead by Israeli forces. A car knocked Mansara down as he tried to flee the scene.
A disturbing film shot by a passer by of the immediate aftermath of the attack also went viral, showing Mansara’s small body splayed on the sidewalk in a pool of blood, as onlookers yell at him “Die, son of a b***h die!”
According to local news source Ma’an, the court rejected the family’s pleas that Manasra be placed under house arrest. Instead, he will be detained in a closed facility in Galilee until his prosecution, with his next court date set for December 6th.
Under current Israeli legislation, Manasra cannot serve a prison sentence until he turns 14 in January, after which he could face years of incarceration. However this particular case has prompted the Israeli Justice Ministry to draft a bill a few days ago, in which children as young as 12 could be given prison sentences if convicted of manslaughter, murder or attempted murder. The bill will apply to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, despite the fact they are not citizens of the state of Israel.
Sadly, it doesn’t seem as if Manasra will be the last of such cases involving Palestinian minors. 12-year old Ali Ihab Hassab Ali was shot three times after stabbing an Israeli guard in Jerusalem yesterday, and is currently being held under Israeli police custody in Hadassah hospital.
Children detained by the Israeli military
Arresting and detaining Palestinian children without a trial in the Israeli military courts is a common method employed by Israeli forces in an attempt to deter involvement in resistance or violence. According to the human rights association Addameer, approximately 700 Palestinian children under the age of 18 are arrested, interrogated and detained by the Israeli army every year. Indeed, the Israeli military raided a home in Hebron last month, seeking to arrest a Palestinian boy accused of throwing stones only to discover he was 3-years old.
In a report released in July 2015, Human Rights Watch stated that “Israeli security forces have used unnecessary force to arrest or detain Palestinian children as young as 11”, including choking them, throwing stun grenades at them, beating them in custody and interrogating them without the presence of parents or lawyers.
When speaking of Israel’s systematic abuse of children, Parker stated that “ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention is widespread with around 75 percent of kids arrested from the West Bank suffering some form of physical violence during arrest, transfer or interrogation. Despite repeated calls to end ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children in Israeli detention, Israel has persistently failed to implement practical changes to stop violence against child detainees.”
To date 77 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of last month, 13 of whom are children killed by Israeli forces in what are being condemned by rights groups such as Amnesty International as “unlawful” killings which resemble “extra judicial execution”. The increased use of extreme methods harnessed by the Israeli military in reaction to the current spate of violence raises grave concerns over how Palestinian minors are treated, under a judicial apparatus notorious for the systematic ill-treatment of children.