[Pnews] Israel's arrest of Palestinian children picking vegetables sparks outrage

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Mar 11 11:47:04 EST 2021


https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-palestine-children-arrested-sparks-outrage
Israel's
arrest of Palestinian children picking vegetables sparks outrage
By Akram Al-Waara in Occupied West Bank - March 11, 2021
------------------------------

A video of armed Israeli soldiers arresting a group of five Palestinian
children in the occupied West Bank has triggered widespread condemnation
from activists and human rights groups, who viewed the incident as
"extremely aggressive".

The video, filmed by a field researcher with Israeli human rights group
B’Tselem, was recorded in the Masafer Yatta area of the southern Hebron
hills, which is home to dozens of clusters of Palestinian villages and
enclaves, as well as several illegal Israeli settlements and outposts.

“I got a call in the early afternoon saying that there were settlers
chasing a group of young Palestinian boys near the at-Tuwani village, and
that I should go there as fast as I could,” Nasr Nawajaa, a local activist
and B’Tselem field researcher told Middle East Eye.

'The soldiers were treating the children like some hardened criminals, as
if they had committed some huge crime'

*- Nasr Nawajaa, B’Tselem researche*r

“When I arrived, there were dozens of armed and masked Israeli
soldiers pulling the children towards a group of military Jeeps. And I
immediately picked up my camera and started filming,” Nawajaa said.

In the video filmed by Nawajaa and published by B’Tselem, dozens of Israeli
soldiers in combat gear can be seen grabbing the terrified children and
pushing them towards the military vehicles.

Several Palestinian bystanders can be seen attempting to intervene, but to
no avail. At one point, an older Palestinian boy can be seen trying to
rescue one of the minors, at which point he is grabbed by another soldier
and dragged along with the group.

“The children were screaming and crying, pleading with the soldiers to call
their parents and wait until their family arrived before taking them away,”
Nawajaa told MEE.

He said the soldiers were “extremely aggressive” with the children, who
were between eight and 13 years of age.

“The soldiers were treating the children like some hardened criminals, as
if they had committed some huge crime,” Nawajaa said, adding that the
soldiers “took the children by force.”

According to Nawajaa, the children were detained and taken to the nearby
Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba, where they were held inside the military
vehicles and interrogated for several hours, before being released to their
families in the evening.

“These are just harmless children, what kind of threat could they possibly
pose to justify this treatment?” Nawajaa asked.
‘They were just picking vegetables’

The circumstances of the boys’ arrest has drawn widespread condemnation, as
it came to light that the children were out picking wild vegetables and
herbs when they were detained.

According to Nawajaa, the boys were picking a wild vegetable called
"akoub", which blooms in the spring time in Palestine.

“Many of the families in Masafer Yatta live in poor socio-economic
conditions,” Nawajaa told MEE. “‘Akoub can be sold at a good price in the
Palestinian market, so many families and their children go out to pick the
wild vegetable during this time of year in order to make some money to
support themselves.”

Nawajaa noted that while Israel had previously outlawed the picking of
akoub, that law was repealed last year, making it legal to pick 5kgs per
person in the area where the boys were.

“There was no legal justification for their arrest,” Nawajaa said.

The five boys, who are all cousins, were picking and collecting the
akoub on the outskirts of Havat Maon, an Israeli settlement south of
Hebron. Settlers from Havat Maon then allegedly started harassing and
chasing the boys out of the area.

“This is something the settlers do when they see Palestinians close to the
settlement,” Mohammad Abu Hmeid, the father of two of the boys told MEE.
“Sometimes they even fire live ammunition at the Palestinian shepherds
grazing sheep in the area if they get too close to the settlement.”

“I’m just relieved that the boys managed to escape the settlers. God knows
what would have happened to them if they didn’t,” the father said.

'They did everything they could to scare the boys and get them to confess,
but the boys kept insisting that they were innocent and didn’t do anything,'

*- Mohammad Abu Hmeid, father of two of the boys*

Abu Hmeid said his sons Jaber, 13, and Saqer, 10, and their three cousins,
fled from settlers. They abandoned their buckets, barrels, and akoub,
leaving it behind and heading towards their grandfather’s house near
at-Tuwani.

It was there that the group of armed Israeli soldiers caught up with the
boys, and began arresting them.

According to Abu Hmeid’s testimony, which echoed that of Nawajaa’s, it was
the settlers who allegedly called the Israeli soldiers and ordered them to
arrest the boys. “The settlers accused the boys of trying to steal some of
their birds, and destroying some of their property,” Abu Hmeid said, adding
that the settlers were “making up stories just to get the boys arrested and
intimidate them.”

“All they were doing was picking akoub, and that is not a crime,” Abu Hmeid
said, adding that the soldiers confiscated the boys’ buckets and barrels,
and their plant harvest. “They didn’t pose a threat to anyone. They weren't
doing anything wrong.”
Interrogation, threats and coercion

In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians live under Israeli military law,
and when arrested they are charged and tried in military courts that have a
conviction rate of over 99 percent against Palestinians.

In comparison, Israeli settlers living in the West Bank in contravention of
international law are subject to Israeli civilian law, and never come into
contact with the military courts.

While Israeli military and civilian law stipulates the minimum age of
criminal responsibility as 12 years old, rights group Defence for Children
International - Palestine (DCIP) says that Israeli forces routinely detain
Palestinian children younger than this.

According to the group, Israel detains around 700 Palestinian children a
year. There are currently 168 child “security” detainees in Israeli prison,
and as of 2020, there were 27 children being held in solitary confinement.

<https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/us-congresswoman-denounces-disturbing-arrests-palestinian-children>

DCIP has highlighted that Israel ratified the United Nations Convention on
the Rights of the Child (CRC), which stipulates that children “should only
be deprived of their liberty as a measure of last resort, must not be
unlawfully or arbitrarily detained, and must not be subjected to torture
and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

According to DCIP, Israel regularly and arbitrarily detains Palestinian
children, subjects them to long periods of interrogation without the
presence of a parent, legal guardian, or lawyer. Children are often coerced
into signing false confessions, in documents written in Hebrew, a language
most Palestinian children do not understand.

“From the moment of arrest, Palestinian children encounter ill-treatment
and torture at the hands of Israeli forces. Three out of four experience
physical violence during arrest or interrogation,” DCIP said.

The process of arrest and detention described by DCIP is similar to what
happened to the five boys in the Hebron hills, according to testimony from
both Nawajaa and Abu Hmeid, who claim the boys were threatened by the
Israeli soldiers during their interrogation in an attempt to coerce them
into confessing to a crime they did not commit.

'As a Palestinian father, this is one of your worst nightmares. With the
Israeli occupation, we can’t even protect our own children'

*- Mohammad Abu Hmeid, father *

“When the boys were finally released, they were in complete shock,” Abu
Hmeid said. “It was only after we took them home and they calmed down a bit
that they started to tell us what happened.”

“My sons told us that the soldiers kept the five of them crammed up in the
Jeep for the whole time they were detained, and continued to threaten and
harass them,” Abu Hmeid said.

At one point, the soldiers allegedly told the boys that their families had
been arrested, and that if they didn’t confess to trying to steal from the
settlers or to damaging their property, the soldiers would “beat them up.”

“They did everything they could to scare the boys and get them to confess,”
Abu Hmeid said, “but the boys kept insisting that they were innocent and
didn’t do anything.”

He added that the two oldest boys in the group, including his son Jaber,
were summoned for another interrogation with Israeli forces on Sunday.

Abu Hmeid told MEE that while none of the boys were physically tortured
during the interrogation, the mental toll that the ordeal has had on the
children “has done more than enough damage.”

“They are so scared and terrified, and I don’t know what to do to comfort
them,” Abu Hmeid said. “As a Palestinian father, this is one of your worst
nightmares. With the Israeli occupation, we can’t even protect our own
children.”
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