Muhammad al-Za’tari: Innocent, Accused of Stabbing Settler, and Tortured for Five Months

03.03.11 – 11:27 PNN – Palestine News Network

Maysa Abu Ghazala – Jerusalem –PNN/Exclusive – At 14, Muhammad Imad al-Za’tari is not old enough, according to international law, to be treated as an adult. But in the eyes of the Israeli authorities, he is responsible for his actions and eligible for long and cruel imprisonment.

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Muhammad al-Za’tari (PNN Images).

Muhammad was arrested on September 24, 2010 and accused of stabbing an Israeli settler in the al-Tur neighborhood of East Jerusalem on September 22, the day that a Palestinian man named Samer Sirhan was shot dead by an Israeli security guard in Silwan. At the time of his arrest, he was 14 years old.

Israeli troops raided his home at dawn on the 24th, inspected it thoroughly, and destroyed furniture. He was interrogated over a period of at least one week, in which no charge was formally leveled against him. Nothing was heard of him through the media. The Israeli interrogators, Muhammad recounts, insisted on him saying the word “yes” before they closed the assault file.

Muhammad was arrested once before, on February 8, 2010, during a wedding party for released prisoner Ahmed Abu al-Hawa. He was charged with assaulting an Israeli secret policeman and put under house arrest until his file expired. Then as now, the methods of the interrogators were to hear the word “yes.”

Muhammad explained the interrogation methods in an interview with PNN:

“In the beginning the interrogators tried to scare me and said they had captured seven of my friends and that they said I stabbed [the settler],” he said. The police also presented Muhammad with pictures of his father and brother and said they had arrested them, as well.

Muhammad continued, “I stood there and the interrogator stood in front of me and he grabbed my wrist and threatened to take me to Ofer Military Prison to wash shoes and underwear.”

Another interrogator put Muhammad’s head against the wall of the room and a third said, “We ran a DNA test on the knife and it says it was you who did the stabbing.”

There was no defined time for the interrogation, explained Muhammad, but sometimes they lasted for hours.

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Al-Za’tari and his mother and brother (PNN Images).

“There was no break, no sleep, and long hours of standing, with no family and no visits,” recounted Muhammad. “One day they took me to Ofek prison, where I was in a room with two others.”

After several military court sessions, a judge decided to release Muhammad into house arrest. At first, Muhammad was taken to a “hostel in Haifa,” where Muhammad said there were “all sorts of fun, a sports center, pool, and computers, but also there was marijuana, thieves and drug peddlers. They took be directly back to Ofek.”

Muhammad moved from one court to another without result, once being awoken at 2:30 a.m. only to be returned to his cell at 10 at night. There were hours of waiting and ill-treatment. During his first two court dates, he was not informed of his family and told they did not want to see him.

“[In Haifa], I was painting houses and cleaning for the animals,” said Muhammad. “I would be punished if I didn’t do the chores. I would be forbidden from family visits or going to get my own food.”

The taste of freedom was sweet and unexpected for both Muhammad and his family when a court date was set for March 2, 2011—after being postponed from February 21—and a judge exonerated him based on a discrepancy in eyewitness testimony as to the color and type of the knife allegedly involved in the stabbing.

“We are trying to educate the new generation,” explained Muhammad’s mother, who said she was afraid during Muhammad’s imprisonment, especially when he was in jail. “Israel wants to bring it down.”

PNN – Palestine News Network – Muhammad al-Za’tari: Innocent, Accused of Stabbing Settler, and Tortured for Five Months.

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