I meet Muhaned Za’aqiq in his front room: a friendly teenager, comfortable talking to strangers, and foreign ones at that. His interests were the same as those held by boys his age all over the world. He likes football, in particular, supporting Manchester United and Real Madrid. He clearly knows his sport, too, and as we chat, he tells me Ronaldo is the world’s best player.
Then he takes me through his “criminal” history.
He was first arrested at age 13. The Israeli police broke into his house at 3:00am in May last year to pull him out of bed. They drove him to Etzion Police Station – a place regularly used to detain and question Palestinian boys and adults, located in a Jewish settlement about 15 minutes drive from his home.
Muhaned was told he had been arrested for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. Palestinians who want to attend funerals in his town of Beit Ummar in the occupied West Bank have to cross through settlements. It causes antagonism, they say, and regularly results in clashes.
Muhaned says he doesn’t throw stones. His father, Mohammed, who has himself been imprisoned for being a member of Palestinian group Fatah believes Muhaned may have been singled out for simply being his son.
I push Muhaned: “You’ve never thrown stones?” I ask him.
“No, never,” he says, instantly.
“Did your imprisonment make you want to hit back?” I ask.
“What would be the point? They would just lock me up again,” he says, simply.
This 15-year-old has been in prison three times. But it was that first arrest and interrogation that he says was the worst.
He recounts being beaten by two policemen. Both were in civilian clothes he says. Both questioned him without a lawyer or guardian present.
He describes being hit with fists and sticks. He talks of being thrown against chairs and against a wall. Each time because he refused to admit to throwing stones. He says it was very painful, but he didn’t show it to his interrogators. In the end he signed a confession and was transferred from Etzion to prison.
He was released from his last imprisonment two months ago.
I have no way of knowing if Muhaned has actually thrown stones at Israelis. But it is clear that this is a bright boy growing up in a very difficult environment. He thinks he wants to be a teacher when he leaves school.
But that’s only if he can stay out of jail long enough to finish his exams.