Israeli authorities just released a 12-year-old Palestinian girl after keeping her imprisoned for nearly two-and-a-half months.
Dima al-Wawi was accused of plotting a stabbing attack on Israelis. According to court documents, she approached a Jewish settlement in the West Bank settlement in February with a knife hidden under her school uniform. The documents also cited an amateur video clip that showed the girl lying on the ground after a security guard told her to give up the knife.
Dima was tried in a military court, where she pleaded guilty to attempted manslaughter and was sentenced to four-and-a-half months in prison. But she was freed early on parole following an appeal.
The case has attracted a lot of attention since Dima is believed to be the youngest female Palestinian ever imprisoned.
However, imprisonment of Palestinian minors isn’t a new phenomenon.
Just two weeks prior to Dima's release, Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP), a group monitoring Israeli violations of Palestinian children's rights, released a report titled “No Way To Treat A Child,” documenting a sharp rise in Palestinian children held by Israel.
There are currently 440 children in military detention, according to DCIP, which is the highest figure since the Israel Prison Service started releasing data in 2008. It is more than double the number recorded around this time last year.
Moreover, in a separate 2014 report by the nonprofit, children between the ages of 12 and 17 were put in solitary confinement for interrogation in nearly 22 percent of recorded cases. The average length of solitary confinement could range from 10 days up to 65 in some cases.
The investigation also found that more than 76.5 percent of minors detained in Israeli prisons were subjected to some kind of physical violence while 74.5 experienced verbal abuse. Approximately 98 percent were not even informed of the reason for their arrest.
Not only do these arrests violate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child — to which Israel is a signatory — cases like Dima's also expose the double standards of the Israeli justice system.
While residents of the Israeli-occupied West Bank are subject to a system of military law that can imprison suspects as young as 12 to prison, Israeli settlers in the same region, as well as Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, are subject to Israeli civil law, which does not allow the imprisonment of anyone under 14.
Often the alleged violence by Palestinians against Israelis is cited as reason for the difference in the lower age of criminal culpability. And while the violence, like the alleged stabbings in Dima's case, cannot be justified, Israeli authorities need to understand there’s a deeper underlying problem causing 12-year-olds to throw rocks at or stab soldiers physically much stronger than them who also carry military-grade weapons.
Although hostilities are an inevitable part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation has escalated to disturbing levels over the past few months.
Since October, a series of stabbings by purported Palestinian assailants has killed 28 Israelis. During the same time, Israeli forces killed 200 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 50 minors, according to DCIP’s count in March. An additional 2,177 children were injured during the same period, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.