13-year-old Palestinian American was shot by Israeli soldiers and detained, his family says

ABU DIS, occupied West Bank — A 13-year-old American Palestinian boy was released from an Israeli prison Wednesday night after he was strip-searched, interrogated and falsely arrested without access to his family or a lawyer, his family said.

Malik Jaffal says he spent a week in Ofer military prison stuck in a small room with 12 other boys with no soap and no showers after he refused to falsely confess to throwing rocks at soldiers.

Israeli soldiers shot him in the arm on Nov. 1 as he was on his way home from playing soccer with friends, he said in an interview translated by his U.S.-born mother, Dunia Mustafa.

He said that he is accustomed to shootings in his neighborhood but that he never imagined he would end up a victim.

On Dec. 13, weeks after Malik was released from a Bethlehem hospital where he had been treated for the gunshot wound, his father, Mohammed, woke him up in the middle of the night and told him Israeli soldiers wanted to speak with him.

“They made him take off all his clothes, and he just stayed in his briefs and they checked his whole body,” Mustafa said. “And he told them that I’m cold, that I want to get dressed. They said, you know, you’re not allowed to get dressed till we finish with you.”

The soldiers asked to see Malik’s arm because they did not believe he had been shot, his mother said, and they yelled at him to tell them the truth as they interrogated him about other injuries, like a bruise on his knee, and another injury he received when he fell off a motorbike.

Malik was afraid the soldiers were trying to trick him, but he was comforted knowing his father was with him, Mustafa said. At one point, Mohammed suggested the soldiers speak with the doctors if they did not believe the boy.

Instead, Malik and his father were taken to a police station, where Malik was interrogated for two hours without a parent present, Mustafa said.

“They were showing him videos of people throwing rocks and saying that ‘that’s you’ and saying, ‘It’s you, and confess to us that’s you,’” Mustafa said. “Yelling at him, calling him a liar, and he kept saying that that’s not me.”

Asked for comment, the military referred questions to the Israel Prison Service, which has not responded to a request for comment.

‘Your son doesn’t have rights in Israel’

Mustafa said that on the night of her son’s arrest, she told an Israeli official that both she and her son were U.S. citizens.

“I looked him in the eye, and I said: ‘What about my child’s rights? He’s a minor, an underage minor that holds an American citizen passport,’” Mustafa said. “He just looked at me and he said, ‘Your son doesn’t have rights in Israel.’”

Mustafa, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, sent a message to their family group chat the next day, said her older cousin Suhair Najjar. What was shocking to Najjar was how Mustafa resigned herself to Malik’s imprisonment because she feared the family would become a target.

“We’ve seen it happen with many relatives where it’s like they’ll do one sibling, then they’ll come back for the father, then, you know, so she’s just worried about retaliation,” Najjar said.

At first, the family was told Malik would be released Sunday after a court appearance that relatives would not be allowed to attend.

But he was not released Sunday, prompting Najjar to start making phone calls, first to the United Nations, which referred her to the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, then to lawyers and politicians.

She sent a letter to the U.N. and kept calling the embassy until people there eventually knew her by name. U.N. representatives said they were aware of the situation and were working on the case. Another relative created a Change.org petition and urged people to demand Malik’s release.

An outpouring of support came from the community as strangers reached out and offered to help, including people who wanted to donate money for legal support, Najjar said.

Many Palestinians and Palestinian Americans are “fed up” with the normalization of injustice, and “now our voices are getting louder,” Najjar said. 

“It should never be OK for someone, for a family, to live in fear of them being a target and then accept that their son is in prison,” Najjar said. “It’s not OK, and I don’t want us to be desensitized because it’s Palestine and that’s what happens in Palestine.”  

When Malik’s release was finally set for Wednesday night, his family was given the wrong information about where to pick him up, and he did not get home until more than 12 hours later, Najjar said.

Mustafa said that when the family went to pick him up, officials told her that her son had received a rare exception: His record was wiped clean.

“It makes me wonder, like, did they give him a clean file because it went viral and I was talking to these lawyers? Or is it because … he’s American?” Mustafa said.

A spokesperson said the U.S. Embassy could not comment on specific cases because of privacy concerns. 

Although he is grateful to be home, Malik remains fearful that it could happen again, his mother said, adding that just before the family arrived to pick him up, one of Malik’s friends was taken into custody.

“It breaks you knowing that your son is in constant fear, and you have to be that support system to make him think that or know that it’s going to be OK,” Mustafa said.

“But you kind of have it in the back of your mind that this is life here,” she said. “You can’t really change it.”

Jay Gray and Kayla McCormick reported from Abu Dis in the occupied West Bank. Doha Madani reported from New York.


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