Israeli soldiers detained five Palestinian children in the south Hebron hills on Wednesday after settlers in an illegal outpost reported that they had trespassed on the site.
The incident took place by the Havot Maon outpost. The five children — who range in age from 8 to 13 — were reportedly held for three hours at the Kiryat Arba police station before being released.
Two of the children, aged 12 and 13, have been summoned for additional questioning on Sunday, according to the childrens’ lawyer Gaby Lasky.
The other three children were detained before being released without further charges. According to Israeli law, children below the age of 12 cannot be held criminally liable for their actions, Lasky told The Times of Israel.
In a laconic statement, the Israeli military said “a number of suspects were identified who had penetrated the territory of a house in the south Hebron hills.”
“An army patrol in the area located the suspects and transferred them to Israel Police, who worked to find their parents and release them,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.
חמשת הילדים (בני 8-12) שחיילים עצרו היום בדרום הר חברון – משוחררים כעת בתחנת המשטרה קרית ארבע.
סיבת מעצרם? על פי הצבא הם נחשדו בכך שגנבו *תוכים*.
בין אם היו תוכים או לא היו תוכים, הם מתחת לגיל אחריות פלילית. באיזה קטע הם בכלל מובלים כך לתחנת משטרה? pic.twitter.com/0ZEGdtjx15
— Hagar Shezaf (@HShezaf) March 10, 2021
Police said the children were not placed under arrest and that officers spent hours looking for their parents, Haaretz reported. But the father of one of the children told Haaretz that he was not able to enter the station to see his son for hours.
Witnesses on the scene, however, disputed that the children had entered the boundaries of the outpost.
Hillel Garmi, an Israeli activist who was present at the scene, told The Times of Israel he had seen the children picking edible wild plants close to the area of the Havat Maon outpost, without apparently breaking into the area.
“We watched a number of settlers descend the hill, they got closer to the kids, and the children fled towards al-Rakiz, which is nearby,” said Garmi, who watched the incident from a neighboring hilltop.
According to Garmi, the settlers set off in pursuit in a van. When the children saw them, they fled again, leaving behind buckets full of the edible plants they had gathered. The settlers then took the buckets and drove off.
Later that afternoon, a number of army jeeps entered al-Rakiz, an unrecognized Palestinian town in the area, in search of the children. The soldiers detained the children on the spot.
Video captured by the B’Tselem rights group showed the IDF soldiers forcefully hauling the children away and putting them in a military vehicle.
Some reports in the Israeli media said that the army suspected the children of stealing parrots from Havat Maon. The Israeli military did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the matter from The Times of Israel or mention parrots in its official response.
“They were walking and playing in the area, gathering wild plants. As for this whole parrot business, I’m hearing about it from the media and no one else,” said Lasky.