In the West Bank, Israeli and Palestinian kids who throw stones face unequal justice

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. We've all thrown a stone into a lake or skipped rocks at the beach. It's a harmless activity. But a stone can also become a weapon if it's thrown at a person or a moving vehicle. That's something Israelis and Palestinians are very familiar with and it's young people who often do the throwing. Reporter Daniel Estrin spent months investigating the prosecution of young stone throwers in the West Bank for an article who co-wrote for the Associated Press. He focused on two cases, both 15-year-olds accused of throwing stones at vehicles, and he found they were treated differently under Israel's justice system in the West Bank. Daniel Estrin: Israeli and Palestinian youths who live in the same area, the West Bank, are accused of similar crimes. A very common crime is throwing stones at each other, but they're subject to two different sets of laws. Israeli settlers are prosecuted under Israeli civilian law but Palestinians who live just a few minutes away from those Israeli settlers are subject to a completely different set of laws - the military laws and the military justice system. Werman: Just sum up for us the different stories, the different outcomes of these two stone throwers and how they were treated differently when it came to prosecution, one Palestinian, the other Israeli. Estrin: On February 20th, the Israeli boy who I met was arrested and accused of throwing stones at a bus because its driver was Arab. He was brought into the police station with his father, he invoked his right to remain silent, he spent a night at the police station, four days under house arrest and then he was freed without charge. Only a few months later when he was picked up for another crime, he was indicted for the rock throwing and he was put under house arrest for 9 months. Then he was released, free to go and it took nearly two years for his trial to begin and that trial is still ongoing. Compare that to the story of the Palestinian boy who, the day after the Israeli boy was arrested for throwing stones, the Palestinian boy was accused of throwing rocks at Israeli cars going down the highway. He was arrested at 3:30 in the morning by Israeli soldiers, blindfolded, handcuffed, taken to the police station and he was thrown in the military detention center for 9 and a half months while his trial was ongoing. After 9 and a half months, he was sent to house arrest for 7 months and only then did his trial end. He was found guilty and he was freed. When you look at the two boys, they were accused of the same crime, throwing stones, one day after the other. They live just a couple minutes away from each other. But one was in jail for a very long time and under house arrest, and the other kid was under house arrest and then freed and his trial is still ongoing. Werman: Those experiences are born out with the numbers. You find that 53 Israeli kids were arrested for stone throwing over a 6 year period. Over the same time, over 1100 Palestinian kids and with vastly different conviction rates. This is a story of the street, Daniel. How big an issue is this for the public? Estrin: Well, stone throwing in Israel is a major issue. There are reports on the news all the time of Palestinians throwing stones at Israeli cars zipping down the highway and stones have killed and injured Israeli motorists. But also, this tactic of stone throwing has been adopted by particularly extremist Israeli settlers who also throw stones at Palestinians. Stone throwing has become almost a symbolic act. In the West Bank, rocks are aplenty. It's a very rocky terrain. All you have to do to fight someone is to bend down and pick up a rock. It's something that happens very frequently. Rock throwing may seem like kids play but Israeli security officials say these rocks can kill and rock throwing is considered a very severe crime here. Werman: Daniel, as you said, there is no shortage of rocks in the Mideast and I have to say, that alone, there's something cruelly symbolic about that, and visceral, just picking up a rock and throwing it. Is the peace process dealing with issues like this? They seem to be always so deep in the minutiae and not dealing with these basic issues like throwing a rock at your neighbor. Estrin: The peace process is dealing with the big issues, the status of Jerusalem, what will happen to Palestinian refugees. Day-to-day issues like stone throwing, they happen very, very frequently and this is really the sort of day-to-day battle going on between Palestinians and Israelis. I think it's something that gets buried in the headlines of the peace process but this is the day-to-day friction and tension happening in the West Bank and the way that the justice system deals with kids who pick up a stone and throw a stone, it affects where these kids go and what they become and I think it's something that we have to pay a lot more attention to. Werman: Daniel Estrin, who's authored a story for the Associated Press on prosecution rates for Israeli and Palestinian stone throwers. Thanks very much, Daniel. We appreciate it. Estrin: Thanks Marco.