Last Friday, we attended Shadi Farah’s 13th birthday party. Like any other 13th birthday party, friends and family attended, there was music and cake. But this wasn’t any ordinary 13th birthday party because the birthday boy was absent. At the age of 12, Shadi became the youngest Palestinian political prisoner last December and has since been held in a detention centre awaiting his sentence.
Shadi and his friend Ahmad were arrested at a bus stop in Jerusalem after a group of East Jerusalem settlers called the police to investigate the two boys, on suspicion of being Palestinian. In the ensuing process of arrest, interrogation, and abuse, the Israeli police proclaimed that the two boys had gone to Jerusalem with the intent to stab a soldier, and subsequently charged them both with attempted manslaughter. During the interrogation, the boys were shouted at, beaten and given electric shocks. Shadi still maintains his innocence, but in the Israeli courts, no evidence is needed to convict a Palestinian.
Shadi is now imprisoned in al Masra youth detention centre, a facility for teenagers incarcerated for theft, assault and drug possession, where he suffers from abuse and isolation. His family visits him as often as possible, but travelling from the hometown Kufr Akab to the north of Israel is expensive. An international fundraising campaign has been able to raise money to support the family.
On Wednesday we accompanied Shadi’s parents to his court hearing in Jerusalem. Shadi’s parents have had to attend over 20 hearings in less than a year. The hearings are held in Hebrew with interpretation provided for Shadi, but not for his parents. Luckily, Shadi’s father speaks some Hebrew.
Um Shadi hadn’t seen him for two months and was visibally very anxious on the way to the court, desperate to take Shadi home. She was telling me stories about his hobbies, and how well he does at school.
We were all impatiently waiting for the boys, not knowing by which entrance they would arrive. When they finally came, Shadi and Ahmed were embraced by their families and friends. We sang happy birthday to Shadi as his mother had requested. Although it must have been a very scary day for the boys, they both seemed so happy to be reunited with their families.
Once inside the building, a security guard informed us that we internationals would not be able to take any recording devices into the courtroom. Shortly afterwards he clarified that we would not be allowed in to the courtroom as Shadi is a minor. It’s convenient how they remember he is a minor when it suits them, but not when they are holding him in a detention centre indefinitely for no crime committed and no evidence.
The hearing was very short, approximately 30 minutes. They still did not give Shadi an official sentence, but arranged a further court hearing for the 29th of November, which just so happens to be the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Israeli prosecutors have recommended a two-year sentence in addition to the time he has already served.
This sentencing comes as part of a plea agreement which was accepted by Shadi’s family because the family can no longer take the indefinite detention and the Israeli prosecution have threatened to postpone Shadi’s sentencing until after his 14th birthday, in which case he would receive an even longer term like Ahmad Manasrah who turned 14 and received a 12 -year sentence.
Shadi’s mother expressed her dissatisfaction with the Palestinian Authority’s approach to child prisoners, saying that there was more international official attention to Shadi’s case than official attention from PA institutions.
We spoke to Shadi’s parents afterwards:
“I was put in a position where I had to agree. If they allowed me to speak, I would have asked to take him home with me. He has done nothing wrong. My life has been put on hold today. I see my son as a child. He will grow up far away from me. He went in as a child, sucking his thumb, he will leave an adult. He needs his mother’s care. When winter comes, who will put a blanket on him when he shivers? Every time we go to court we expect we might go home with him. His youngest brother wanted to come today but he decided to go to school because he would see Shadi when he got home later. God knows what these two years will bring for our children”
What I found especially difficult about this day was the lack of international presence. IWPS, ISM and an EU representative were there, but where were the children’s rights and human rights organisations? There are approximately 400 children in Israeli prisons. Shadi’s case has received some international attention because he is the youngest prisoner and he is still likely to be sentenced to two years despite no crime being committed. So many families must be going through this injustice alone.