Threats, innuendo in Israeli questioning of Palestinian teen
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The family of prominent Palestinian protester Ahed Tamimi on Monday released excerpts from a video in which an Israeli interrogator threatens the then-16-year-old with the arrest of her relatives if she refuses to cooperate.
The interrogator also comments on her body, fair skin and “eyes of an angel.”
The interrogator, identified as an agent of the Israeli military intelligence branch, at times moves within centimeters (inches) of the teenager, who doesn’t respond and repeatedly asserts her right to remain silent.
The Israeli military said a complaint of improper conduct on the part of the investigator, filed by Tamimi’s lawyer, has been handed to the Justice Ministry and is being “thoroughly examined.”
Ahed’s father, Bassem, told reporters that the video is evidence of Israel’s failure to break his daughter. He portrayed Tamimi, who has become an icon to Palestinians, as a symbol of resistance to Israel’s 51-year-old military occupation. Her silence under pressure shows that “we are not victims, we are fighters for the cause of freedom of our people,” he said.
A West Bank-based rights group said a majority of minors have reported being verbally abused, intimidated or humiliated in Israeli custody.
Tamimi is serving an eight-month prison term — the result of a plea deal — for slapping and kicking two Israeli soldiers outside her West Bank home in mid-December.
The teen’s arrest and full-throttle prosecution by Israel has garnered international attention. It has also touched on broader issues, such as Israel’s detention of Palestinian minors — currently 356, according to Israeli figures — and the debate on what constitutes legitimate resistance to Israel’s rule over millions of Palestinians.
Her supporters see a brave girl who struck the soldiers in anger after having just learned that Israeli troops seriously wounded a 15-year-old cousin. In Israel, she is seen either as a naive youth manipulated by her elders or a threat to Israel’s military deterrence.
The interrogation video was part of the case file handed to the defense after Tamimi was indicted, said Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak, who helps coordinate her legal strategy.
Tamimi’s lawyer filed a complaint with the military’s judge advocate general over the interrogation tactics, including apparent threats, coercion and sexual innuendo, said Pollak.
The interrogation took place Dec. 26, a week after Tamimi’s arrest, at an Israeli police station in the West Bank, said Pollak. In the video, one of the interrogators is identified as a police officer and the second as a member of Israel’s military intelligence.
At the beginning, Tamimi is asked whether she had spoken to a lawyer, and she nods her head. From then on, she refuses to answer questions.
The military intelligence agent, who sits in a chair close to her, attempts to get her to speak, at times threatening her, then telling her that with her blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin she reminds him of his younger sister.
“When I think of my little sister, her eyes look like your eyes,” he tells here. “She is white like you. In the sun, she looks like the hamburger. And what about you? What do you look like in the sun? Red, red, red? When I see your eyes, I say, it’s a shame (haram), you are here (in detention),” he says.
At another time, he tells her she has the “eyes of an angel.”
He also threatens her, mentioning names of family members, and telling her that “we will take everyone if you don’t cooperate.”
Rights groups say Tamimi’s experience is typical of what Palestinian minors experience in Israeli custody.
“The majority of Palestinian minors experience a wide range of serious rights violations from the moment of arrest through the conclusion of their trial proceedings,” said Ivan Karakashian of Defense for Children International Palestine, a group based in the West Bank.
He said the assessment is based on affidavits collected in 2017 from 137 minors who had been in detention. Karakashian said between 500 and 700 minors are prosecuted and convicted in military courts each year.
Under Israeli military law applied in the West Bank, minors can consult with a lawyer before an interrogation, but don’t have the right to legal representation during questioning, defense lawyers said.
Even the right to prior consultation is often not honored, said Yael Stein of the Israeli rights group B’Tselem and Farah Bayadsi of Defense for Children International Palestine.
If the minors don’t have the phone number of attorneys, or the attorneys can’t get to the location in time, interrogators can start questioning without them.
The Israeli military said Palestinian minors have been involved in violence, including deadly attacks on Israelis.
“In such cases, it is necessary to take appropriate steps to enforce the law, including investigation, arrest and prosecution,” it said. “When the law is enforced against minors, it is done taking their age into account,” adding that they stand trial in special youth military courts.
Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.