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The Hares Boys: Israeli Justice in Palestine

On November 26 five Palestinian teenagers were sentenced to fifteen years in prison and fined roughly $40,000 each. This is not an unusual occurrence. Examples of Palestinians being punished for crimes they did not commit abound, but in this case the Israeli authorities have taken their injustice to a new level. Not only were “The Hares Boys”, so named because of the West Bank town from which they hail, not involved in any crime, but there was never any crime to begin with. This did not concern the Israelis in the least. Palestinians must be punished, and even if they are not guilty in this particular case, then surely they are guilty of something. So goes the thinking of the occupying force. The case has garnered international attention, but this did not worry the always image-conscious Israelis, and they have proceeded to mete out their own particular brand of justice.

I first heard of the Hares boys in June of 2014. Their names were written in black magic marker in large letters on the whiteboard in the living room of our apartment in Nablus. I was volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), an organization devoted to standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and it was the evening of my first day in the northern West Bank city.

Charlie, the coordinator of the Nablus team, liked to write the names of all the projects ISM was involved in on the whiteboard, and the Hares boys were second from the top, squeezed between the name of a contact in a local refugee camp and a village that had recently been the subject of a settler attack.
Earlier that afternoon I had watched the limp body of yet another victim of Israeli aggression being carried through the streets of Nablus. Ahmed’s head was uncovered, with only a black and white keffiyah wrapped around his forehead. As his body was carried by the stretcher bearers, it was jostled quite a bit, and the head lolled back and forth with regularity. His father, an old bent man, walked behind, fingering his prayer beads, a vacant stare in his eyes. Ahmed had been murdered the previous night. Coming out of a mosque, the young mentally handicapped man had been screamed at by Israeli soldiers. They ordered him to stop, and when he did not heed their instructions, presumably because he did not understand them, they shot him four times – once in the stomach and three times in the chest.

With his close-shorn hair, Charlie looked younger than his twenty-three years, and as he explained the events surrounding the boys, I thought about the fact that he could not have been much older than the teenagers of Hares.

There were five Hares boys. At that point they had been in Israeli prison for over a year. Whenever there was a court date, ISMers would try to travel to the court, located in the town of Salem, which is north of Jenin and on the border with Israel, in order to provide moral support to the boys and their families.

In the evening of March 14, 2013, Adva Biton, a female settler, and her three daughters were involved in a traffic accident on their way to the settlement of Yakir, which lies southwest of Nablus. Biton and her three daughters were injured, and the injuries to one of the daughters were serious.
She died two years later of her injuries, compounded by pneumoniai. The accident, which occurred near the Palestinian village of Hares, took place when Biton crashed her car into the back of a truck that was parked along the side of the road. The driver of the truck told police that he had pulled over to repair a flat tire. The trouble began when Biton later claimed that the accident had been caused not by the truck but by Palestinian youths who had been throwing stones. In fact, “in an Australian TV interview, Biton stated that she had a building block thrown at her vehicle which hit her daughter in the head and caused her to hit the back of the truck.”ii There were no witnesses to the accident, and nobody had seen anybody throwing stones, but the truck driver did add afterwards that he had noticed stones lying by the side of the road.iii

There are many problems with the story. In neither the initial accounts by the involved parties, nor in the original police investigation, was there a mention of stones. This changed a few days later, when Biton and the truck driver modified their original versions, and, in addition, when a subsequent police investigation uncovered a stone in Biton’s car. No building blocks were found anywhere near the scene. The fact that building blocks are exceedingly difficult to throw casts yet further doubt on Biton’s version of events.iv The truck driver’s statement about having seen stones on the side of the road should be seen as meaningless, since that part of the road is full of stones.v

Charlie’s face during his telling of the Hares boys’ story did not betray any emotion, but I imagined he must have been incensed, as he had been following these events for the past three months. He had even been to the court and later described the treatment that the boys’ families and other visitors received at the hands of the authorities.vi I wondered if this is what happened to activists after they had been in country for a while. Did they just become accustomed to the violence and suffering, and especially, the injustice?

In the days following the accident the Israeli army went into action. They entered the villages of Hares and nearby Kifl Hares three times, arresting a total of nineteen boys between the ages of 16 and 17 years. The nighttime raids were violent and the soldiers behaved aggressively. Accompanied by attack dogs and Israeli secret service (Shabak) agents, they broke down the doors of villagers’ houses and demanded to know the whereabouts of all the teenage sons. They handcuffed and blindfolded the boys without telling their families why or where they were taking them.
““Kiss and hug your mother goodbye,” a Shabak agent told one boy. “You may never see her again.””vii

All of the boys endured violent interrogations. They were also kept in solitary confinement. “One boy, since released, described his cell: a windowless hole 1m wide and 2m long; there was no mattress or blanket to sleep on; toilet facilities were dirty; the six lights were kept on continuously, leading to the boy losing track of the time of the day; the food made him feel ill. The boy was denied a lawyer; he was interrogated violently three times during three days.”viii After this ill-treatment, 14 of the 19 boys were released, while five boys confessed to the crimes. They are Ammar Souf, Mohammed Suleman, Ali Shamlawi, Tamer Souf and Mohammed Kleib.ix These are the Hares boys.

The Israeli media has played a significant role in this case. A few days after the accident, rumors began to surface that it had been a terrorist attack, and the subsequent media storm caused 61 witnesses to come forward, claiming that their cars had also been damaged by stones thrown on the same road that day. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself got involved, announcing proudly that “he had caught the terrorists that did it”x.

The boys were originally charged with twenty counts of murder and five counts of stone throwing each.

Unlike in most cases of Israeli injustice, the story of the Hares boys has garnered a great deal of attention, both international and domestic, and there have been several campaigns calling for the boys’ release.

A report by the Israeli NGO B’Tselemxi indicates that the Hares boys never had a chance. Between 2005 and 2010, 835 children were arrested in the West Bank on charges of stone throwing. Of the 835 only one was acquitted, an absurdly low number. Of the children, 34 were aged 12-13, 255 were aged 14-15, and 546 were aged 16-17.

The B’Tselem report also confirms that in a large majority of the cases, the judge does not allow bail and instead orders the defendant to be remanded in custody until the end of the proceedings. Because of the absurd conviction rate, the length of the pre-trial period and the inhumane conditions in the prisons, defendants often make plea bargains in exchange for shorter sentences.

The Hares boys awaited their fate in the notorious Meggido prison in Israel, where the conditions are reportedly atrocious, especially for minors.
“Conditions in Megiddo are severe. All prisoners, including children, are deliberately denied essential items such as food, clothing, bedding and hygiene products which have to be provided by their families, when families are permitted to deliver them, or purchased at inflated prices from the Israeli prison canteen. This means that inmates are required to fund their own incarceration. The children are almost entirely disconnected from the outside world. They are rarely allowed to exit their cells. Reports suggest that they are permitted to spend a couple of hours a week in the fresh air.

Their schooling has been discontinued. They are allowed infrequent family visits and no direct physical contact is permitted. They must communicate with relatives through a glass screen and speak through phones that do not always work. Families from the Occupied Territories do not usually receive permission to travel to what is now the State of Israel. When permitted, these journeys are expensive, lengthy and dangerous. Inmates are rarely treated for medical conditions.”xii

The great majority of the population of the West Bank has lived under military occupation for over 48 years. Only the settlers are exempt. The lives of the Palestinians are ruled by the military, and they are subject to military law, which is enforced by military courts. The system is based on military orders, which are issued by army commanders without approval from any civilian branch of government. They rule all aspects of Palestinian life in the West Bank, including freedom of movement, agriculture, access to water, ability to protest and land transactions.

Some of these orders are patently absurd (Military Order 107 prohibits the publication of treatises on Arabic grammar), while others have far-reaching consequences. Military Order 1651, for example, allows for the incarceration of children as young as twelve years old. It also allows for the administrative detention of individuals without charge for up to six months.

It is this military system that has destroyed the lives of the Hares boys and their families, as it has so many others. They face fifteen years in prison, and it is believed that unless the families can produce $7,750 for each of the boys by January 28, 2016, their sentences will be extended by an additional ten years.xiii

The troubling aspects of this particular case are many. There was little evidence that a crime had been committed and even less that pointed to the Hares boys as the offenders. There were no witnesses. The statements of the victims were contradictory and subject to change. The boys were tortured and coerced into giving false confessions. As children they awaited their fate in an Israeli adult prison in horrific conditions for over two years. This is what passes for justice in the territories occupied illegally by Israel, the self-proclaimed only democracy in the Middle East.

Notes
[1]  “Hares Boys” Retrieved at https://haresboys.wordpress.com/.
[2] Fludd, Elischia. “Hares Boys Anniversary Still Worries Global Activists.” The Huffington Post. March 18, 2014. Retrieved at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elischia-fludd/hares-boys-anniversary_b_4971764.html.
[3] “Hares Boys.”
[4] “Hares Boys Anniversary Still Worries Global Activists.”
[5] “Hares Boys Anniversary Still Worries Global Activists.”
[6] Donnelly, Charlie. “El Sistema Judicial Israelí: De Pseudo-democracia a Proto-fascismo (Parte II).” September 23, 2014. Retrieved at http://palestinalibre.org/articulo.php?a=52637.
[7] “Hares Boys.”
[8] “Hares Boys.”
[9] “Hares Boys Anniversary Still Worries Global Activists.”
[10] “Hares Boys.”
[11] “No Minor Matter: Violation of the Rights of Palestinian Minors Arrested by Israel on Suspicion of Stone-Throwing, July 2011.” July, 2011. Retrieved at http://www.btselem.org/publications/summaries/2011-no-minor-matter.
[12] Paul, Chandra. “For the Hares Boys.” June 19, 2014. Retrieved at http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/6520/19/For-the-Hares-boys.aspx.
[13] Edmonton, Amanda. “Hares Boys Sentenced to 15 Years.” International Middle East Media Center RSS. December 14, 2015. Retrieved at http://www.imemc.org/article/74219.

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Richard Hardigan is a university professor based in California. He is the author of  The Other Side of the Wall. His website is richardhardigan.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @RichardHardigan.

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