Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat—While many teenage girls around the world are preoccupied with navigating the adolescent dramas of high school, feuding with their parents, and dreaming of Justin Bieber, one Palestinian teenager recently returned home after gaining the dubious distinction of becoming Israel’s youngest female Palestinian prisoner.
Just two days after her release, 14-year-old Malak Al-Khatib took time out of her school day to tell Asharq Al-Awsat that she learned the true meaning of suffering in the Israeli prison.
After serving 45 days of a two-month sentence for stone-throwing, Malak was finally released on Friday, and still maintains she was innocent of the charges leveled against her.
“After 45 days in prison, I am very happy to be back here [in school] and to see my friends and family again,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday.
She was convicted on three counts: “attempting to throw objects at a transportation route, possessing a knife, and throwing objects at a person or property.”
The Palestinian schoolgirl related the story of her capture and trial in her own words. “They [the Israeli soldiers] captured me by force. They beat me and accused me of throwing stones . . . But this is not true.”
“I do not admit to any crime: I was not throwing stones—I had no knife on me,” she said defiantly on her release. Although local and international media have reported she was imprisoned following a plea agreement, Malak says she was forced to sign a document in Hebrew—a language she does not understand—after a grueling two-hour interrogation.
Malak said four Israeli soldiers tackled her to the ground and forcibly held her down, before taking her away.
“I don’t know how to describe the occupation but I will only say: May God punish the unjust,” she said.
She described the very difficult conditions of her almost two-month incarceration, during which she was held in the general population of an Israeli prison, sharing a cell with three young Palestinian women.
“I learned the true meaning of suffering [in jail]. I experienced humiliation, freezing conditions and anxiety . . . but I was not afraid,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“I was very sad and worried about my friends and family. I was afraid I wouldn’t see them again,” she added.
Malak said she also suffered from a lack of adequate food and medical assistance in the Israeli-run prison, adding that the prison authorities did nothing to take her young age into account.
“They treated me like I was big . . . like all the other prisoners. They did not care that I was just a young girl,” she said.
Tel Aviv arrests around 1,000 children every year in the West Bank, with current estimates indicating around 200 Palestinian minors are currently serving sentences in Israeli prisons.
According to the court transcript, Malak’s last words before she was sentenced and taken away were: “I am a school pupil and I will return to school after I am released.”
Catching up with Malak at her school on Sunday, she says she is working hard to catch up with all the schoolwork she missed during her incarnation.
“I say to my friends that education is our weapon to confront darkness,” she tells Asharq Al-Awsat.