Monday, August 20, 2018

Time behind bars for Palestinian children: an account from 15-year-old Malak Galeth


By Martin Leeper - February 05, 2018
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [prisoner release] [prisoners] [Nabi Saleh] [Human rights]

After slapping an Israeli soldier and her subsequent arrest, images and stories of Ahed al-Tamimi, 16, have flooded the international airwaves. For those less familiar with the situation in Palestine this may feel like an isolated event. It’s not.
 
According to the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Addameer, as of December 2017, there are 350 children detained in Israeli military prisons. This number has risen in recent years, from just 156 children in 2014.
 
In fact, al-Tamimi’s story is sadly all too familiar for Palestinians who are subject to the Israeli Military court system that boasts a conviction rate of nearly 100%.
 
Malak Galeth, once the youngest Palestinian prisoner, spent her 15th birthday in HaSharon prison, north of Tel Aviv. Local media reported Malak was arrested for attempting to stab or assault an officer at the Qalandia checkpoint north of Jerusalem. At the time of her arrest she was 14.
 
Malak waited five months to receive her conviction, which was nearly two thirds of her eight month sentence. She was released on December 29th after serving seven out of the eight months in a cell with five other girls, and just four beds. In her final weeks she shared that cell with Ahed al-Tamimi.
 
Malak is from Jalazone, a refugee camp north of Ramallah. Her and her mother, Inshirah, agreed to sit down with the Palestine Monitor at their home to discuss what life has been like since she was released from HaSharon.
 
 Malak and her Mother, Inshirah, sit in their living room after Malak is release from Israeli jail.
 
In a living room full of 'Free Malak’ posters and supportive plaques from all possible organizations, the tone was solemn when asked what it feels like to be back. “She got scared a lot,” Inshirah said. “She would have nightmares and could only sleep being held by me or her father.” Malak then described how two girls would sleep on ground in their cell, leaving one bed open, so that no one had to sleep on the ground alone.
 
When asked about December 29th, the day she returned home, a smile came to both Malak and Inshirah. “All my classmates came, all my friends, with a cake for my birthday (the month before).” It was a day of celebration filled with all the things she liked the most about being back, “family, friends, the streets, food (maqluba specifically).”
 
In Palestine, the transition between ninth grade and tenth is a particularly important one. Before her arrest, Malak had graduated ninth grade, but had not made the transition to the public high school where she would start brand new subjects like chemistry, physics and upper level math. The second semester of the school year has only just begun, but Malak already feels the difficulties of missing such an important introduction to these new subjects. She knows she is behind her classmates but said she feels very supported, “from the principle and school leaders [who made it clear that] if she needs any help or is having any trouble to come to them first.”
 
In HaSharon, she said, the older women, some there for 16 years, would hold lessons from “math to Hebrew.” In the roughly four hours of free time, 10:30am to 1pm and 3:30pm to 5pm, the prison “leaders” would “hold classes, [as well as] try to recreate Arab Idol and even publish a monthly newspaper [covering prison news and life] called Zahrat (Flowers of) Palestine.”
 
“Even if they are in prison, they can’t take away certain things, their rights or certain dreams,” her mother added.
 
For Malak, these woman were mentors, encouraging her to make her “education her resistance.”
 
Malak is still visibly shaken when she describes being shackled and transported from the prison north of Tel Aviv to the military courts of Ofer in the West Bank. Her hands and feet shackled at 2am, put on a bus that spent hours going from prison to prison, picking up all types of convicts, adults and children, forbidden to eat or use the bathroom for up to “18 hours.” A process particularly difficult while fasting during Ramadan, leaving her fasting for "two days straight without food or water.”
 
She described the room she waited in before court, sometimes up to five hours as; “whether it was hot or cold outside, the room was kept like a freezer.” Her worst memories by far, however, were the mandatory strip searches whenever she entered the courts or the first time entering the prison. Malak explained how she “refused the first one for 10 hours before an older prisoner persuaded her to comply.”
 
The humiliation and interrogations took the greatest toll, “We’re not given or read or told about our rights, but [brought in and] immediately interrogated.” Ahed al-Tamimi she said, got it the worst though, “she got interrogated every day.”
 
When asked, about the hardest part of being back, Malak said unequivocally that it was knowing that the other girls “are still in that cell.” Malak’s dream, today, is to become a lawyer. Why? So she can “represent her friend [cell mate] Malak Salman.” Salman, 17, was arrested back in April for possession of a knife and has been sentenced to 10 years.
 
Malak is excited to be home, but will spend the next five years on probation. She is forbidden to “be near soldiers or checkpoints” essentially meaning she can’t leave or travel much outside Jalazone. If she does get caught near a checkpoint, “travels to Nablus for example” or posts anything controversial on Facebook, she would be sent “directly back to jail.” Her parents would also be fined 20,000 NIS and she wouldn’t be given a trial for a year and a half.
 
Malak still has the young face of a 15 year old, but speaks with notable confidence and wisdom. “No one comes out of prison unchanged,” she said. “I came out much wiser and more aware of things I was not aware of before hand. It was a learning experience, like going through school, I learned a lot even though it was only 7.5 months.” Right now, however, Malak “looks forward to continuing her studies.”
 
On the heels of the international publicity surrounding al-Tamimi’s case, the Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki filed an official complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) against violations to Palestinian children. The International Middle East Media Center reported, al-Malki called on ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to “exercise her legal authority without delay, to prevent the continuation of crimes being committed against the Palestinian people.” Time will tell, however, if this complaint will have any impact on the ground.

 

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