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Proposed Israeli bill could see 12-year-olds sentenced to jail

If passed, Israel would be one of a handful of Western countries that imposes jail sentences on children under the age of 14
Children walk holding umbrellas to protect themselves from the heavy rainfall as they walk near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City on 5 November 2015 (AFP)

The Israeli Justice Ministry has reportedly drafted a bill that would allow prison sentences to be handed down to children as young as 12 if they are convicted of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter. 

The bill applies to Israeli citizens and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, as Israeli law also applies to them despite the fact that they are not citizens of the state. 

Work on the bill started last month after the stabbing of two Israelis in in the Jewish settlement of Pisgat Zeev in East Jerusalem allegedly involving two Palestinian youth, ages 15 and 13, Haaretz reported. 

Hassan Manasra, 15, was shot dead at the scene. His 13-year-old cousin, Ahmad, was hit by a car as he attempted to run away, according to Israeli media. A video was shot of him lying on the ground bleeding, as a crowd of Israeli onlookers spat on him and yelled for him to die. He was later arrested.  

His case - which made headlines when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas inaccurately said he had been executed by Israeli security forces - came to the fore again this week when a video of an Israeli security official interrogating him was leaked. 

In the video, the interrogator yells at Manasra and repeatedly accuses him of attempted murder. Early on in the video, which could not be independently verified by Middle East Eye, Manasra denies his involvement in the attack, saying it was his cousin who stabbed the two victims. Later on, after hitting himself and saying he doesn't remember the incident, he says he will admit to the crime.

"Everything you have said is true,” he says. “According to the video you’ve shown me, it’s true. But I don’t remember. That’s it. I’ll admit that I’ve done it, what more do you want from me?” 

Under current Israeli law, children under 12 cannot be subjected to any criminal proceeding. Children aged 12 or 13 - like Manasra who is subject to Israeli law as a Palestinian citizen of Israel - can be arrested and tried, but cannot be imprisoned until a sentence is handed down and they turn 14. Until then, they can be held in a closed treatment facility and kept there until they are 20, according to Haaretz.

Ahmad has since been held in a closed facility in the Galilee, charged with attempted murder twice. He turns 14 in January at which point he faces the possibility of spending years behind bars.

Under the draft law being pushed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a convicted child would serve out their sentence in such a facility until they reach the age of 14. Then, a judge would decide through a formal hearing whether to transfer the teenager on to a jail, Haaretz reported.

The Israel National Council for the Child (NCC) has expressed its opposition to the bill.

“Hard cases don’t make good law,” Dr Yitzhak Kadman, the executive direction of the NCC, told Haaretz. “As a result of the situation and the terrible incidents that have occurred, there’s pressure to find quick solutions. But restraint in legislation is strength, not weakness. We need to consider the ultimate ramifications of this.”

The bill does not reportedly distinguish between which crimes – terror related or otherwise – would meet qualificaton to put a child in jail.

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