The Israel Defense Forces said that the detention of five Palestinian children in the South Hebron Hills last month was a mistake.
Last month Israeli soldiers detained five children between the ages of 8 and 13 after settlers in an illegal outpost reported that they had trespassed.
They were reportedly held for three hours at the Kiryat Arba police station before being released.
An IDF investigation found that there was no reason to detain the children due to their young age.
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
In a letter sent Wednesday to the children’s lawyer, Gaby Lasky, the army expressed regret over the incident, saying that “it was apparent that some of the children were under the age of criminal responsibility.”
Under Israeli law, children below the age of 12 cannot be held criminally liable for their actions, Lasky told The Times of Israel after the incident last month.
The letter, signed by the IDF’s legal adviser in the West Bank, acknowledged that “there was no cause to detain these minors by the military force.”
Responding to the letter, Lasky told Haaretz that “it is good that the IDF admits its mistake, but it seems that the acknowledgment of its mistake is not enough.
“This is not the first time that the army has detained minors under the age of criminal liability in violation of the law,” she added.
The children, three of whom are under the age of 12, said they came to the area of the Havat Maon outpost to pick edible wild plants.
Hillel Garmi, an Israeli activist who was present at the scene, told The Times of Israel at the time that he had seen the children picking the plants close to the 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 toward 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 soldiers forcefully hauling the children away and putting them in a military vehicle.
According to IDF’s initial response, the children were detained on suspicion of stealing parrots from Havat Maon. However, allegations of parrot theft were later dropped from the IDF’s official response, and the claim was not mentioned in the letter sent to Lasky.
According to the IDF investigation into the incident, soldiers were called to the scene to respond to a suspected break-in in the outpost, which Havat Maon residents feared might be a security threat.
The IDF searched for the children, detained them, and summoned the Israel Police to the scene, after settlers claimed the children trespassed on their property.
The IDF stated that the soldiers did not know the “the exact age of the minors before transferring them to the Israel Police.”
In the letter, the IDF added that it “regretted the incident and learned lessons from it.”
Lasky told Haaretz that “in this case, there were no grounds for detention in the first place,” adding that “the fact that the army thinks its role is to protect illegal outposts, and refrains from protecting the local population, indicates that it is not enough for the IDF to acknowledge its mistake.
“Rather, it must compensate the minors and dismantle the outposts that are sources of violence and fear, and which violate the rights of minors and their families,” she concluded.
Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.