Malak al-Khatib: 14-year-old Palestinian girl jailed by Israel for stone-throwing released

Her family denied that Malak (left) threw rocks at cars on a West Bank road

A 14-year-old Palestinian schoolgirl jailed by Israel for allegedly throwing stones has been freed after her case sparked international outrage.

Malak al-Khatib was arrested by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) as she walked home from school on 31 December in the village of Beitin, near Ramallah.

She became a symbol of the hundreds of imprisoned children from the West Bank and her sentence unleashed a wave of protests by Palestinians and supporters.

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A Palestinian protester from the West Bank village of Bilin shouts in front of Israeli soldiers showing a portrait of Malak al-Khatib on 30 January

After more than six weeks in prison, Malak was released on Friday, her family told Ma’an news agency. Pictures showed her family greeting her in emotional scenes at the Jubara checkpoint in the West Bank.

Malak had been sentenced to two months in jail after being convicted of “attempting to throw objects at a transportation route, possessing a knife and throwing objects at a person or at property”, Haaretz reported.

Israeli prosecutors claimed she intended to stab soldiers with the knife but her family deny all the charges. In addition to the prison term, she was fined 6,000 shekels (£1,000).

“My heart broke when I saw her in court, cuffed and shackled,” her mother, Khawla al-Khatib, recently told AFP from her home.

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Palestinian 14-year-old schoolgirl Malak al-Khatib is greeted by her father after her release from an Israeli jail on February 13

“I brought in a coat for her to wear because it was cold, but the judge refused to let her have it.”

Palestinian authorities claimed Malak was handcuffed and blindfolded upon arrest, interrogated without a family member or lawyer present and detained for three weeks before her trial.

An Israeli military spokesperson told AFP that the girl was convicted after a plea bargain over an alleged incident on the Route 60 motorway, which is used by both Israeli settlers and Palestinians.

An indictment served at a military court said Malak had “picked up a stone” to throw at cars.

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A Palestinian protester throws a stone at Israeli troops during clashes in the West Bank town of Abu Dis near Jerusalem

“Rock-throwing is an extremely dangerous crime, which has maimed and killed Israeli civilians in the past,” the spokesperson added.

Malak’s imprisonment ignited anger about the detention of children by Israeli security forces.

A letter from the Palestinian government to the UN in January said around 300 Palestinian children are currently being held in Israeli jails and a total of at least 1,266 were detained in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during 2014.

The majority were between the ages of 12 and 15 but some were much younger, the letter said.

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A poster calling for the release of Malak al-Khatib

“The occupying forces continue to harass and attack Palestinian children in violent raids on towns, villages and refugee camps, at checkpoints and in peaceful demonstrations and continue to carry out pre-dawn raids on the homes of families, seizing children in the dead of night, intensifying the trauma for both child and parents,” it continued.

“It is also a routine practice of Israel to detain Palestinian children for extended periods of time without access to parents or lawyers and to subject children to forced interrogations, leading to confessions made under duress, and to beatings, solitary confinement and other forms of psychological and physical torture, as well as to military court trials.”

The vast majority of arrested children are boys, drawing Malak’s case to public attention.

In a report released in February 2013, Unicef criticized Israel for its treatment of arrested Palestinian children, saying their interrogation combines “intimidation, threats and physical violence, with the clear purpose of forcing the child to confess.”

“Children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member,” it claimed.

The Israeli embassy has not responded to The Independent’s request for a comment.

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