Yaakov Rav, Henry Vumbaca
Ahmad Manasra has been imprisoned by Israel since he was 13 years old. Critically injured at the time of his arrest, he has been subject to consistent physical and psychological abuse. Over six years later, a global solidarity campaign has pressured the Israeli courts to hold a hearing to review and possibly appeal his case on April 13. This campaign is calling for his immediate release.
In 2015 the gruesome nature of Ahmad’s arrest sparked outrage. He was run over by a settler’s car and, with his skull fractured, denied adequate medical treatment. His case became a symbol of a form of Zionist violence that Charlotte Kates of Samidoun: Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network calls a “special assault on Palestinian childhood.”
‘It’s psychological warfare’ on a child
“The focus has been on Ahmad because of the video of his interrogation,” Linda Mansour, a U.S.-based Palestinian lawyer and member of the Free Ahmad Manasra Campaign, told Liberation News. In a scene reminiscent of the infamous U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Ahmad was shackled to a chair, shocked with an electronic bracelet, and shouted at ceaselessly as he cried out “I do not remember,” and pleaded to see a doctor. That footage sparked worldwide outrage and has been at the center of the Palestine Global Mental Health Network’s Free Ahmad Manasra Campaign.
Ahmad’s interrogators extracted a false confession from him. He was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 12 years for allegedly participating with his cousin in an attack in an illegal Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem. His sentenced was later reduced to 9 years, partly due to lack of evidence that he played a secondary role in the attack.
“It’s psychological warfare,” Mansour says, “Ahmad Manasra was used as an example to intimidate the rest of the population. A Palestinian psychologist came up with the term ‘unchilding’ to describe… the intimidation and terrorization and arrest of Palestinian children. None of them have childhoods; either their houses have been demolished, or on their way to school they are harassed by soldiers in tanks, or their fathers and brothers are in prison, or they are in prison.”
Families are also punished
The demolition of Palestinian homes, explains Jamal Nazzal of Fatah, is intertwined with the issue of child prisoners. “Demolition of houses is a common practice, as part of collective punishment,” he said, “When a child is accused of a crime, their family’s house would be demolished… Collective punishment bans relatives of the imprisoned children from even visiting or seeking work in the same area of the West Bank as their child… This goes completely against the Israeli claims of being a democracy.”
Regarding the Manasra case, and its upcoming review, Nazzal stated: “Regardless of what the Israeli courts say or don’t say, we are calling for him to be released immediately, and for all the 160 children held in Israeli prisons to be released immediately.”
That number, says Samidoun’s Charlotte Kates, is in reality far higher than the official count: “Like Ahmad Manasra, Palestinians that are imprisoned as children often turn 18 while behind bars and then they’re off the rolls” as child prisoners, she told Liberation News, “This isn’t a system where you’re released at 18 because you were arrested as a juvenile. A lot of Palestinians who are being classified as adult prisoners were arrested as juveniles, and after they turn 18 they become less visible.”
This “ongoing and systematic targeting of Palestinian children,” Kates adds, “is not totally separate from what’s going on in the imperialist powers — the U.S., Canada, the UK, the EU — that give Israel political, military, and diplomatic cover. There are far too many similar cases of children and teens from oppressed communities in the U.S. who are targeted for police violence, the extraction of false confessions, and various forms of abuse and torture.”
Fighting for a case review
That campaign was launched to fight for Ahmad’s right to a case review, which Linda Mansour describes as similar to the U.S. system of parole. “If you have served two thirds of your sentence, you are entitled to have it reviewed,” she told Liberation News, “He has served more than two thirds, almost 7 years of his [9 year] sentence.”
The Special Committee of the Prison Authority, the administrative body within the Israeli prison system charged with overseeing these proceedings, outright rejected a review of Ahmad’s case on Feb. 7. His lawyers filed a petition with the Beer Sheva District Court to appeal the Special Committee’s decision, and with the international support of the Free Ahmad Manasra Campaign, a date was set to hear his appeal on April 13.
In their Freedom for Ahmad Manasra Statement, the Palestine Global Mental Health Network calls for the immediate release of Ahmad Manasra, and details how Israeli authorities violated international law and Israel’s own laws: “Ahmad had not reached the legal age of conviction when he was illegally detained, Israeli authorities delayed their judicial procedures for almost a year… before being convicted under the so-called ‘Counter-Terrorism Law’ which legally should not apply to minors.”
Repeatedly held in solitary confinement
During that year of prolonged pretrial detention and in the years since, Ahmad has repeatedly been subjected to solitary confinement. According to the PGMHN, his most recent period of solitary confinement was four months long, a gross violation of international law, which defines solitary confinement of more than 15 days as torture.
This situation has even been brought before the U.S. Congress. Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.) introduced the Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act (H.R. 2590) to stop Israel from using U.S. taxpayer dollars on the military detention, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli jails or to seize and destroy Palestinian property and homes in violation of international law
However, as Jamal Nazzal explains, “Israeli authorities can tailor laws the way they please. Not only can they use the laws in a racist and anti-democratic fashion, they can tailor them to fit their needs at a specific point in time. This is what we have seen across the decades with all the forms of oppression we have faced.”
This is why the solution, as Samidoun’s Charlotte Kates makes clear, is mass organizing in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners: “Palestinian prisoners, as the leaders of the Palestinian resistance, are the legitimate leaders of the Palestinian movement,” she said, “We do need to raise awareness, we do need to pressure Congress, but we also need to build a movement that can bring about the liberation of Palestine, overall. The only way to free Palestinian children is to free all of Palestine, from the river to the sea.”