IDF soldiers in the divided West Bank city of Hebron this week detained a 5-year-old boy for throwing stones at Jewish motorists and later handcuffed and blindfolded his father. Videos of the incident, filmed by several activists working with the human rights group B’Tselem, were uploaded to Youtube and quickly went viral, sparking online criticism of the army’s conduct.
B’Tselem called the event a “grave incident” and a violation of Israeli and international law, asserting that “Detaining a child below the age of criminal responsibility, especially one so young, has no legal justification.”
The IDF spokesperson’s office disputed B’Tselem’s accusations, telling The Times of Israel that “the child was not arrested and no charges were filed.” The spokesperson’s office also later said it would investigate the incident, Channel 2 reported, and accused B’Tselem of “biased” editing of the video footage.
According to B’Tselem, the incident began at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday near the ‘Abed checkpoint, and the child’s name is Wadi’ Maswadeh. He is 5 years and 9 months old, the organization said.
The first video, shot by Palestinian B’Tselem field researcher Manal el Ja’bari, shows the aftermath of the alleged rock-throwing, with soldiers from the Givati Brigade’s Rotem Battalion and Border Police gathering near a group of Palestinians, including the child, trying to ascertain who the boy’s father is.
The soldiers asked a Palestinian man who knew where Wadi’s family lives to get into a military jeep with the child, and then drove the crying boy to his house. According to B’Tselem’s account, Wadi’s father, Karam, was not home. The soldiers told the boy’s mother that they intended to take him to the Palestinian police, but she refused to let the boy go until his father returned. Half an hour later, Karam arrived.
“When I got home, I saw several soldiers standing at the entrance to my house,” B’Tselem quoted Karam as saying. “An officer came up to me and ordered me to get my son… The officer told me that he was going to arrest [the boy] and hand him over to the Palestinian Coordination. I asked him, ‘Why arrest a five-year-old boy?’ A soldier standing next to the officer showed me a stone and claimed that my son had thrown it, and that it had hit the car of a settler… I tried to persuade the officer not to take Wadi’ to the DCO [District Coordination Office], but he said that if I didn’t bring him, I’d be arrested.”
Karam said that he then went into the house to fetch Wadi, who was hiding and crying.
Karam and Wadi were then taken by foot to a military post on A-Shuhada Street, where they waited for half an hour. Footage from later in the incident shows that the soldiers had tied the father’s hands and blindfolded him. According to B’Tselem, they were held at the checkpoint for 30 minutes.
At that point, an Arabic-speaking IDF lieutenant colonel from the DCO drove up, and asked the boy why he was throwing rocks. In the video uploaded by B’Tselem, the officer can be heard telling the soldiers to bring the boy into the guard post, away from the cameras, because the film could harm Israel’s hasbara, or public relations, efforts.
Soon afterward, a soldier removed Karam’s blindfold and handcuffs and offered him and his son water, according to B’Tselem’s account.
The final video shows the Palestinian child being handed over to Palestinian police. The Palestinian and Israeli coordinating officers greet each other amiably, and then the Palestinian policemen escort the child to a police station.
B’Tselem said that the boy was interrogated briefly by the Palestinian police and then released.
“On Tuesday afternoon a minor was caught in the act of hurling rocks toward a public street in Hebron and, by doing so, endangering passers-by in the area,” the IDF said in a statement on the incident. “IDF soldiers intervened on the spot and accompanied the minor to his parents. From there he was passed on to the care of the Palestinian Security Forces, all the while accompanied by his parents.
“Between January and May, 2013,” the statement continued, “over 2050 separate rock-throwing incidents occurred throughout Judea and Samaria, injuring well over 150 Israelis.”
B’Tselem said it had written to the IDF’s legal adviser in Judea and Samaria, demanding a response to the incident.
“The footage clearly shows that this was not a mistake made by an individual soldier,” B’Tselem director Jessica Montell wrote, “but rather conduct that, to our alarm, was considered reasonable by all the military personnel involved, including senior officers.
“It is particularly troubling that none of them apparently thought any part of the incident wad [sic] problematic: not the fact that they scared a five-year-old boy out of his wits, nor threatening him and his parents to ‘hand him over’ to the Palestinian Police, nor threatening to arrest the father on no legal grounds, nor handcuffing and blindfolding the father in front of his son.”
An IDF spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the treatment of the boy’s father.