It’s a few hours before yom tov in the States and I’m trying to cram in some last minute fun with my grandchildren. But a news story out of Israel caught my eye and, since the subject of the story is about the same age of one of my granddaughters, I had to read it twice to be sure what I was reading and then not put off writing about what I am thinking.
The story was about Israeli authorities releasing a few days ago a 12-year-old Palestinian girl who had been briefly imprisoned after she tried to murder an Israeli man.
Dima al-Wawi wasn’t released because she is innocent. On the contrary, she freely and proudly asserts that she was armed with a knife and intended to commit murder. She was released because the Israeli government was intimidated by international criticism of her imprisonment.
The danger, of course, is that her release could be a harmful precedent. Knowing that the Israelis will not have the stomach to imprison young terrorists, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas may make an extra effort to use young teenagers to carry out attacks. According to the New York Times, there are about 100 Palestinian terrorists now in prison in Israel who are 13- or 14-years-old. We must expect that there will be many more.
Dima al-Wawi was not born a terrorist. She was raised to be that way. She was educated in PA schools where the children are taught to believe that Jews are evil and that murdering them is not only justified but obligatory. She attended mosques where imams preached hatred. She watched PA television and radio, where terrorists are hailed as “martyrs” and “heroes.”
No wonder she told reporters that her “dream” is “to be martyred.” Dima did not claim that she had been “provoked” by Israeli policies, or that Israel is “occupying” her hometown. That would have been absurd, of course, since her home town is Halhoul, which is occupied by the PA, not Israel. According to the Times, Dima “said she had been influenced by other young Palestinians who stabbed or tried to stab Israeli soldiers and civilians.”
In other words, Dima grew up immersed in a culture of anti-Semitism and violence, and her actions accurately reflected those influences.
That culture was on full display when Dima returned to her home in Halhoul (which, by the way, is “occupied” by the PA, not by Israel). The New York Times described the scene: “Dima was given a hero’s welcome…Large banners welcoming her were draped in front of her home, music blared from loudspeakers, and drivers in a convoy honked.”
I agree that it would be inappropriate to imprison 12- or 13-year-olds alongside adult criminals. And, of course, Israel does not do that. Dima, in fact, told the New York Times that the two months she spent behind bars were “fine because she was allowed to play with other incarcerated girls.”
On the other hand, it also strikes me as inappropriate to let young would-be murderers get away with it, just because they’re young.
Certainly, the American judicial system has long recognized that juveniles who commit serious crimes must be held responsible. According to CNN legal analyst, Philip Holloway, “approximately 200,000 American children are charged and incarcerated every year as adults.” In many states, there is no minimum age for trying a juvenile as an adult.
Which means that if Dima al-Wawi had done in America what she did in Israel, there’s a pretty good chance she would be facing serious criminal charges in an adult court, not eating ice cream and chatting with fawning reporters in her family’s living room.
I admit that there is no easy answer to the problem of what to do with a 12-year-old Palestinian who tries to murder Jews. But I can think of a few steps that would be helpful:
- The US government could make future aid to the PA conditional on an end to incitement in PA schools and media.
- US officials could announce that they will not visit any PA city — such as Halhoul, in this case — where celebrations are held in honor of terrorists.
- American Jewish leaders could refuse to have any further contacts with PA officials until the incitement stops.
There are just some initial suggestions. Undoubtedly there are other steps that could be taken. Of one thing, I am certain: letting attempted murderers go free is not the answer.