HEBRON, West Bank – A 12-year-old Palestinian girl, imprisoned by Israel after she confessed to planning a stabbing attack on Israelis in a West Bank settlement, returned home Sunday after she was freed early following an appeal.
Dima al-Wawi is believed to be the youngest female Palestinian ever imprisoned.
Al-Wawi was greeted by about 80 relatives at her family's house in Halhoul, a village near Hebron, a West Bank city that has been a focal point of violence. Relatives decorated the house with balloons and posters. Banners by the Islamic militant group Hamas along with the Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas adorned the walls.
"I am happy to be out. Prison is bad," al-Wawi told The Associated Press. "During my time in prison I missed my classmates and my friends and family."
According to court documents provided by the military, al-Wawi approached the West Bank settlement of Carmei Tsur on Feb. 9 with a knife hidden under a shirt.
A security guard ordered her to halt, and a resident instructed her to lie on the ground and told her to give up the knife, which she did. An amateur video clip shown on Israeli TV showed the resident asking the girl, who was wearing her school uniform, whether she had come to kill Jews, and she said yes. She later pleaded guilty to attempted manslaughter in a plea bargain and was sentenced to 4 1/2 months in prison. She was freed early after an appeal.
Her case put Israel's military justice system in a tough spot because of her young age. Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war, and Palestinian residents there are subject to a system of military law that can sentence suspects as young as 12 to prison.
By contrast, Israeli settlers in the West Bank, as well as Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, are subject to Israeli civil law, which does not allow anyone under 14 to go to jail.
The incident came amid seven months of violence in which Palestinians have killed 28 Israelis and two Americans in stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks in Israel and the West Bank. At least 190 Palestinians have died from Israeli fire. Israel says most were attackers, and the rest died in clashes with Israeli security forces.
Many of the Palestinian attackers have been teenagers or in their early 20s.
Israel blames the attacks on incitement by Palestinian religious and political leaders that is compounded on social media sites that glorify and encourage attacks. Palestinian officials say it is the result of despair living under Israeli occupation and frustration over the prospect of ever reaching statehood.