By Asil Ibrahim, Communications Officer, Palestine
Ali* is 15 years old. On March 20, 2020, he woke up in a detention center in Palestine where he was being held on charges of theft. He’d had a dream that he was being released.
Until recently, he was living in the United States with his family but after his father died, Ali’s mother moved their household back to Palestine. Ali missed his school and his friends in the States. He was caught stealing money in order to buy a plane ticket to the U.S. and was arrested.
At the ILF, we represent kids like Ali all the time—children who are trying to cope with loss, major life changes, and other serious challenges like violence or abuse. These children often lack the resources and support they need and end up in conflict with the law. When that happens, they need a strong advocate who is willing to fight for their best interests. This is exactly who ILF lawyer Jihad Aburmilih was for Ali.
After the juvenile prosecutor requested that he represent Ali, Jihad immediately contacted the child’s mother and uncle. They were angry with Ali and refused to appear in court. Seeing that no parent or guardian was prepared to support Ali, the judge refused to release the teen on bail and sent him to detention to await trial.
A negative response from family members is understandable. It is difficult to hear that your child has been charged with a crime. However, detention negatively impacts the emotional and cognitive development of children and should always be a last resort. Jihad and Ali’s Child Protection Advisor, an employee of the Ministry of Social Affairs assigned to children in contact with the law, worked together to bring Ali’s family into the process. The pair counseled Ali’s mother and uncle and connected them with various resources for support. Eventually, they agreed to visit Ali in detention and showed up for his final court session.
At trial, Ali was found guilty. Jihad and the child protection advisor advocated against incarceration, instead suggesting that Ali be connected with vocational training to set him on a better path. In their time together, Jihad had encouraged Ali to think about the future, and Ali had decided he wanted to learn more about auto mechanics. Still, the teen was sentenced to three months in detention.
Jihad continued to advocate for Ali’s release and followed up with the court. Twenty days into Ali’s sentence, Jihad requested a sentence reduction for good behavior. At last, after several months in detention, Ali was going home.
On March 20, 2020 Ali was released to the care of his family and is, fortunately, safe at home in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which poses great risks to people in detention centers. Now that pandemic restrictions are lifting, Jihad will be working with Ali to find an automobile mechanic course as a rehabilitative program.
Now Ali has a new dream: moving back to the U.S. to open a mechanic shop.
“ I feel like Ali’s big brother and I have seen his potential. When in detention, he was very concerned about being able to provide for his mother now that his father is gone. I pray for Ali to achieve his dream. If we can help him get the support he needs, he will be able to stay out of the criminal justice system for good.”
- ILF lawyer Jihad Aburmilih.
*Name has been changed for privacy