Daily Israel Report

Teenage Girls Released From Jail

Girls were held for trying to establish Jewish community; parents praise girls, say child welfare groups failed to do enough for the group
By Avi Tuchmayer
First Publish: 1/21/2008, 3:26 PM

The Jerusalem District Court ordered the release Monday of three teenage girls who refused to identify themselves to court officials for nearly a month. The girls were released without condition.

The girls, aged 13 to 15, were arrested in late December at Givat Ha'Or, a nascent hilltop community near the Samaria town of Beit El, and charged with entering a closed military zone. Since then, they have refused to identify themselves and refused to sign release documents banning them from re-entering Givat Ha'Or. They also say they reject the jurisdiction of the Israeli court system because it does not operate according to the rules of halakha (Jewish law).

The trio were imprisoned in the Neve Tirza womens' prison in Ramle and refused parental visits and phone calls. According to some news reports, prison authorities consistently failed to inform the girls' parents of remand extension hearings at the Jerusalem Magistrates Court, and the prisoners were brought to court through a side door in order to prevent contact with their parents.

Michael Ben-Chorin, father of 15-year-old Ayala, told Israel National News he was "overjoyed" to learn of the girls' release, and said the past month has increased his admiration for daughter many times over.

"The girls have paid a very steep price for their beliefs," he said, "but they remained strong throughout. I wouldn't necessarily have sent her out to do what she did, but once she made her decision, we supported her completely. We've raised her to believe in Eretz Yisrael and she's totally committed to continuing in our footsteps. I couldn't be any prouder."

Ben Chorin said the girls were denied many basic rights granted to prisoners in all democratic societies, including phone and visitation privileges. He said his first substantive phone conversation with Ayala was on January 16 – more than two weeks after her arrest. Before that, he said, contact was limited to 10-to-15 second phone calls. He also singled out the mainstream media, saying the girls' plight was roundly ignored, and the National Council for the Child, saying the Council failed to meet his expectations.

"It wouldn't be fair to say the National Council for the Child didn't do anything to help us," he said, "but at least in public, their support was lukewarm at best. I would have expected (NCC head Dr.) Yitzhak Kadman to raise hell in the media – not to get them out of jail, but to make sure they received the minimum rights that all prisoners in Israel are entitled to."

 

Kadman rejected Ben Chorin's criticism, and told Arutz Sheva he has been criticized by left-wing groups for acting in support of the girls. "The moment we found out (about the arrests), we were the first group to get in touch. We formally asked prosecutors to release them, we have been in constant touch with state and local prosecutors and with the police to try and get the girls out of jail. I've published open letters in (left-wing Hebrew-language daily) Haaretz calling for the girls' release, as well as on Arutz Sheva. I've been occupied with the issue non-stop for the past 10 days, and the media has covered it. So I think it's a bit unfair to be attacked by one side for trying to help, and the other side for failing to do anything."