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'Hares boys' sentenced to 15 years after families pay fines

Jan. 29, 2016 10:16 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 30, 2016 10:17 A.M.)
Photo Credit: Free the Hares Boys Facebook page
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- After a nearly three-year long battle in Israeli military courts, five Palestinian teens from the occupied West Bank village of Hares accused of manslaughter after reportedly throwing stones were on Thursday issued sentences of 15 years, a prisoners’ rights group said.

The case has been disputed in the past by relatives and rights groups, who say that insufficient evidence was provided to prove that the five had any involvement in the death of an Israeli toddler who passed away two years after the teens were accused of throwing stones at her mother's vehicle, causing it to crash.

A lawyer from the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society, Iyad Mahamid, told Ma’an that the military court issued the sentences to Muhammad Suleiman, Tamer Souf, Ammar Souf, Ali Shamlawi, and Muhammad Kleib.

Relatives of the detainees told Ma’an following a court hearing in December 2015 that the teens would be sentenced to prison terms of 15 years on the grounds that their families pay fines of 30,000 shekels ($7,700) by Jan. 28.

"Hares Boys," an activist blog dedicated to raising awareness of the teens’ case, posted on their Facebook page “Free the Hares Boys” on Thursday that the families were able to pay the fines in full with the assistance of outside donations.

Failure to pay the fines could have resulted in prolonged sentencing to at least 25 years in prison, according to the Hares Boys blog.

Thursday sentencing marks a poor end to a drawn-out court battle that began after the five were detained by Israeli forces on March 15, 2013. All were 16 and 17 years old at the time of their detention.

Their arrest followed the hospitalization of a three-year-old Israeli girl, Adele Biton, who suffered severe head injuries when her mother's car collided with a truck near the Israeli mega-settlement of Ariel. The toddler died two years later after suffering complications from pneumonia.

The family believes that while the child died of pneumonia, the severity of her complications was due to injuries sustained after the vehicle accident, according to Israeli media.

The Israeli vehicle had reportedly lost control after being hit by a stone, and the five teens were later accused of throwing stones that day at vehicles driving on Route 5, a highway leading to several nearby Israeli settlements.

Twenty Israeli drivers afterwards filed insurance claims stating that stones hit their cars, but the incidents lacked eyewitness testimony and the police received no calls at the time the teens were throwing stones.

All five denied the allegations, but later signed confessions "after being repeatedly abused in prison and during interrogations," according to the Hares Boys blog.

The mother of the toddler told Israeli media following Thursday's sentencing: "It is not much consolation, we would have preferred [the] death [penalty] or life-sentencing. The state did not properly tend to the matter and it didn't fully enforce the punishment to the fullest."

The British Parliament on Thursday in response to an online public forum inquiry said an official from the British Embassy in Tel Aviv had met with Chief Military Prosecutor Maurice Hirsch in November to express its concern over the case of the Hares boys, adding that the government would continue to raise the case to Israeli authorities.

The teens’ families as well as rights groups have repeatedly argued over the past three years that the youth were being held without evidence and unjustly prosecuted in a military court system that convicts over 99 percent of Palestinians.

The Hares Boys blog wrote in their defense in 2013: "If the boys are convicted, this case would set a legal precedent which would allow the Israeli military to convict any Palestinian child or youngster for attempted murder in cases of stone-throwing."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September declared a “war on stone throwing,” establishing a minimum prison sentence for adults who throw stones as well as allowing Israeli forces to use sniper fire against stone throwers in circumstances that pose mortal danger.

The PM said at the time that there would be "significant fines" for minors who commit such offences, as well as for their parents.

The Knesset had already passed a law in July making penalties for stone-throwing more severe. The new law allowed for stone-throwers to receive a 20-year prison sentence where intent to harm could be proven, and 10 years where it could not.

At the time the bill was passed, Palestinian MK Jamal Zahalka said: "Who will the judge send to prison? He who demolished the home, seized the land, killed the brother, or the boy who threw a stone?"
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