This article is published in Mondoweiss.
Lina Khattab, an 18-year-old Birzeit University student and dancer in the prominent El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe, was arrested by Israeli troops on 13 December 2014. She, along with an array of other students, had been participating in a protest on behalf of Palestinian political prisoners, in celebration of the 47th anniversary of the founding of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Israeli authorities charged her with “throwing stones” and “participating in an unlawful demonstration.”
On 16 February, Khattab was sentenced to six months in prison, three years on probation, and a 6,000 NIS ($1,500 USD) fine. The only evidence used against her in court were the testimonies of the three Israeli police who arrested her. No independent proof was provided.
El-Funoun created a video juxtaposing footage of her dancing against footage of her arrest.
In the two months following her arrest, Khattab was refused bail, and languished in Israel’s Ofer prison. Her mother recalls that, when she visited her daughter, the young woman had lost a lot of weight and was enduring harsh conditions and interrogation methods. The teen told her mother that she had been subject to “extreme beatings” by Israeli soldiers—and yet, in spite of the torture, she explained that she had refused to cry, angering the soldiers who assaulted her.
In Ofer prison, Khattab was forced to stand against a wall in the rainy and wintry weather. When she was moved to Israel’s HaSharon prison, she was subjected to further torture. From 13 December to 16 February, Khattab was taken before Israeli military court 10 times, sometimes in closed-door sessions. Her cases were typically held in late afternoon, yet, on days in which she was to appear before the Ofer military court, soldiers would wake her up in the middle of the night, in order to keep her sleep deprived. They would then, in the middle of a frigid winter, proceed to turn on cold air in the vehicles that transported her, and place her in a cold room with the air conditioning blasting when she arrived.
The Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network indicates that allegations of stone-throwing are “frequent and arbitrary charges leveled at Palestinians who participate in or are near popular demonstrations against the Israeli occupation.”
In late 2014, Israeli ministers passed legislation that calls for sentencing those who throw stones to up to 20 years in prison, even if the court could not prove that the stone-throwers intended to damage property or harm others. Many see this as a law explicitly targeting Palestinian youths, some of whom throw rocks at Israeli military vehicles as a symbolic act of resistance against what every leading international legal institution, including the United Nations and the International Court of Justice, has consistently said, for decades, is an illegal occupation.
Few were surprised at the sentencing of Lina Khattab. 99.74% of cases in Israel’s military courts in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories end in a conviction, according to the courts’ own data.
Khattab is not the only teenager in HaSharon prison; 20 more Palestinian women and girls are detained with her. 14-year-old Malak al-Khatib was also sentenced to two months in prison, a $1,500 fine, and three years of probation for alleged stone-throwing and possession of a knife. Al-Khatib was released on 13 February, mere days before the sentencing of Khattab.
Sahar Francis, Director of Addameer, the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, told The Electronic Intifada that, for Israel, it is “not so common to arrest women for throwing stones, but we believe this case is part of increasing attacks on peaceful resistance activities.” Francis said he believes Israel is severely punishing Khattab and “using her case in order to frighten students from being involved in activism.”
Systematic Torture of Palestinian Youth
Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, has detailed Israel’s systematic torture of detained Palestinian children. It notes that interrogators have regularly “threatened children with beatings, isolation, torturing their fathers and raping their mothers and sisters; children were denied food for dozens of hours unless they confessed to the charges against them.”
In its 2013 review of Israel’s child rights record, the UN Committee on the Rights of Children (CRC) expressed “its deepest concern about the reported practice of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children arrested, prosecuted and detained by the military and the police, and about the State party’s failure to end these practices in spite of repeated concerns expressed by treaty bodies.”
The CRC corroborated testimonies recalling Israel’s systematic use of
- physical and verbal violence,
- painful restraints,
- hooding of the head and face in a sack,
- death threats,
- physical violence,
- sexual assault against them or members of their family, and
- restricted access to toilet, food and water.
The CRC report also explained that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has used Palestinian children as human shields multiple times. An independent investigation into Israel’s summer 2014 attack on Gaza, Operation “Protective Edge,” found the same.
A report by the Palestinian Prisoners Club furthermore found that 40% of Palestinian children arrested in Jerusalem had also been sexually abused.
Campaign to Free Lina
Activists worldwide have called on Israel to free Khattab. A Facebook page was created on behalf of the teenage student; as of February 2015, it had over 3,000 likes.
Samidoun, which has organized a Free Lina Khattab campaign, created a video demanding her release.
Khattab’s family remain hopeful, and see the young woman as representative of the Palestinian people’s steadfast resistance against illegal occupation and oppression. Her mother told The Electronic Intifada
Lina represents an entire people uprooted from their land by force of arms. Every day the occupation strikes and kills and demolishes, arrests, desecrates holy places, takes away farmers’ land and builds settlements. It forces Palestinians out while seeking to bring Jews from around the world to support its claims to a fake democracy.
The truth is that the Palestinian people want to recover their homeland and achieve freedom for their people, and Lina is a part of this truth, rejecting steadfastly all of this violence against our people.