By DIAA HADID
JERUSALEM — Israeli forces have been holding a Palestinian-American teenager in a military lockup for nearly a week after bursting into his family home and arresting him in an overnight raid for allegedly hurling rocks at Israeli motorists in the West Bank, his father said on Thursday.
The case highlights Israel’s system of military detention for Palestinian minors, which has been frequently criticized, most recently by the U.N. which said in March that an in-depth study showed it systematically and gravely violated their rights.
The Palestinian-American boy’s father, Abdelwahab Khalek, said his 14-year-old son Mohammad was taken into custody early last Friday morning by eight assault-rifle wielding soldiers. They shackled and blindfolded his son as his five siblings watched, he said.
The military said Mohammad hurled rocks at Israeli vehicles that were speeding down a nearby highway and at military jeeps on several occasions. The military said there has been a spike in rock-throwing attacks on drivers, including an incident in early April, when rocks thrown at a civilian car next to a Jewish settlement injured seven, including an infant who was critically wounded.
The military confirmed the arrest and said his detention was extended until Sunday.
Khalek, a car dealer who splits his time between the West Bank and New Orleans, hasn’t been allowed to visit his son in jail. But he has spoken to him at three court hearings, most recently when Mohammad was officially charged on Thursday.
Mohammad’s lawyer, Randa Wahbe, said he told her in court that he was interrogated for hours and at one stage, was pushed so hard that his dental braces were broken. She says he was told by interrogators that if he confessed to rock throwing quickly, he would be released. A military spokesman said no complaints of abuse were filed.
“He appears okay, he’s a strong kid,” said his 46-year-old father. “But there is no law in the world that justifies the way (Israeli forces) acted.”
American consular officials declined comment.
“Unfortunately this case is symptomatic of the Israeli military’s abusive treatment of Palestinian children in detention,” said Bill Van Esveld of the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch.
Rights group Defense of Children International says there were 236 minors in Israel military detention in February, 39 of them between the ages of 12 to 15. The group said it receives its numbers from Israel’s prison authority.
Also Thursday, a Palestinian prisoner who has been refusing food for the past eight months to protest his detention dictated a letter urging Israelis to try to visit him in hospital — a rare plea from a man who was initially jailed for his militant activities.
Samer Issawi, a frail 33-year-old hunger-striker monitored under guard, pleaded with Israelis for the visits as a way to promote reconciliation.
Parts of the letter were published in liberal daily Haaretz, in a column written by an Israeli considered sympathetic to Palestinians. The columnist, Gideon Levy, said Issawi dictated the letter to his lawyer, who then gave it to Israeli women sympathetic to Issawi’s cause who were trying to visit him.
“I invite you to visit me in hospital and see me, a skeleton cuffed and bound to the bed,” the letter said. “My spirit that refuses to give in … maybe now you’ll understand that a sense of freedom is stronger than a sense of death … History is not measured only in battles, massacres and prisons, but in stretching out a hand in peace, to yourselves and to the other,” the letter said, according to published excerpts.
Issawi’s sister Shireen confirmed the letter’s contents.
Issawi was sentenced to 26 years prison for his involvement in a series of shooting attacks at Israeli police cars and students at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
He was released from prison as part of a 2011 exchange that released hundreds of Palestinians, many of them militants involved in deadly attacks, in exchange for an Israeli soldier held by Hamas-backed militants.
But the Jerusalem resident was rearrested for violating his release conditions by entering the nearby West Bank, and is expected to carry out his entire sentence as a result.
Issawi receives infusions from time to time and drinks water, which has kept him alive despite his dramatically weakened state. His sister said some Israelis had contacted the family since the letter was published.
“It shows there is humanity out there. He wants Israelis to understand why he is a hunger strike,” she said. “He doesn’t want to die, he is on a hunger strike to he can be released and live in dignity.”