Parents: Police mistreated jailed settler girls

Detained teens' parents say they were forcibly stripped and denied sleep; rabbis plan protest steps.

Parents of seven girls aged 13 to 15 who were arrested three weeks ago for illegal settlement activity said Tuesday that their daughters were forcibly stripped of their clothing and denied sleep by police. "On the first night of their arrest, they were taken to the Binyamin Prison complex for interrogation," said the mother of one of the girls, repeating what her daughter had told her during a short telephone call. "The girls were asked to remove their clothes. They refused to do so, [and] they were handcuffed and forcibly stripped," said the mother. "These girls are devout and chaste. They have never worn a bikini in their lives. For them, the experience is tantamount to rape." She added that her daughter had told her that whenever the girls tried to fall asleep, they were woken up. "The police are trying to break their spirits, but they won't succeed," she said. A Judea and Samaria District Police spokesman said in response that "parents with complaints regarding police treatment or behavior are welcome to file a complaint. All complaints will be thoroughly investigated." In protest against the arrest and the alleged mistreatment, a group of settlement rabbis headed by Kiryat Arba-Hebron Chief Rabbi Dov Lior have called for a fast day and a prayer rally to be held Thursday outside the Neveh Tirza prison in Ramle. The fast coincides with a Kabbala-inspired tradition of fasting on Mondays and Thursdays during the weeks the first half of the Book of Exodus is publicly read in synagogues, a period known as "Shovavim." In a press release, the Council of Rabbis of the Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip (Yesha) said that "the girls do not recognize the powers of the legal system and, as a result, are suffering abuse and harassment, including acts that compromise these modest girls' dignity, heaven forbid. This healthy youth does not waste its time on nonsense and is the hope of this nation and the answer to our government's weaknesses and equivocations. "In protest against the mistreatment and incarceration of these dear daughters of Zion and in protest against the terrible intention, God forbid, to endanger every single soul in Israel and to exile Jews from their homes and to expel them from their rightful inheritance, from Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, we call on all who are able to fast." The incarceration of the girls, who have been in held in police custody for the past three weeks for helping establish an unauthorized outpost called Givat Ha'or outside Beit El, has become a rallying point for settler activists who are convinced that the government is plotting against settlers. "I find it absurd that those girls have been held for so long just because they refuse to identify themselves," said Yesha Director-General Pinchas Wallerstein. "I think it's legitimate for those girls to do what they are doing if they're willing to pay the price and sit in prison," said Wallerstein. "It's a very smart move and they have managed to show how brutal the police are. Just look how much media exposure they've gotten." The state prosecutor said that the seven girls have not been released because neither they nor their parents have agreed to divulge their names. "We're talking about girls who are accused of illegal trespassing in a closed military zone, breaking an IDF directive and disrupting the legal process," said a Justice Ministry spokesman. "The girls' release from prison is impossible until they agree to identify themselves," added the spokesman. "That's because we cannot take legal action against the girls unless they divulge their names. Allowing these minors to leave prison before they identify themselves would establish a negative precedent which would allow criminals to avoid prosecution." Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, director of the National Council for the Child, said that while he did not condone the minors' behavior, he urged the state prosecutor to find a "creative solution" to the plight of the girls that "maintains a strict adherence to the law [and] at the same time prevents an untenable, unjust situation in which minors, who are not labeled as criminal elements, are being held for an indefinite period of time." The girls are all students at the Ma'ale Levona Torah High School for Girls in Samaria where, according to one parent, "the girls learn a lot of love for the land of Israel, a lot of faith and a lot of truth." The father of one of the girls said he was very proud of his daughter, who, he said, shouted out during an appearance before a Jerusalem court, "God is my final authority, and we don't recognize you." "All of the parents got together last week and decided that none of us would divulge names," said the father, who added that he fully supported his daughter's refusal to recognize the authority of the legal system. "I feel like the institutions in my own country are my enemies. They have no problem making demands of me and my family," added the father of 12. "Three of my sons serve in elite combat units. They risk their lives to protect this state. But when my daughter tries to exercise her right to settle the land of our forefathers, they treat her worse than an Arab."