A 12-year-old Israeli boy has filed a complaint against Border Police officers who he claims filmed him and his friends while they were bathing in a spring outside the northern West Bank settlement of Yitzhar last week.
According to the complainant, he and two 13-year-old friends from Yitzhar had embarked to perform a ritual immersion on Thursday in a spring outside the community when a Border Police jeep honked at them to stop and identify themselves.
Fearing trouble with the authorities, the children ran ahead to the spring, undressed and began dunking.
Border officers arrived at the scene shortly thereafter and demanded that the boys provide them with identification. According to the 12-year-old, officers began filming the incident on their phones from the moment they exited the jeep.
The complaint to the Police Internal Investigations Department asserts that the Yitzhar youth asked the border cops to put their phones away while they dressed, but that the officers continued to film for three more minutes.
It was only after one of the teens, from a well-known family in the community, identified himself that the officers agreed to pull back, the complaint said. No arrests were made.
In a statement responding to the accusations, Border Police said the two officers only filmed the minors when they were clothed.
Moreover, they said that the troops had been operating in the area in connection with a recent spike in so-called “price tag” attacks by extremist settlers against Palestinians.
In recent months, Palestinian towns have been targeted in dozens of incidents that have included the chopping down of olive groves, the torching of a mosque, stones thrown through car windows, the slashing of tires, and graffiti calling for the murder of Arabs.
Israeli settlers in the West Bank also suffered property damage in a number of recent incidents blamed on Palestinians. Last month, 150 grapevines belonging to the Jordan Valley settlement of Tomer were chopped down, and the cherry orchards at the settlement of Kfar Etzion were torched. Residents of both communities said Palestinians in neighboring villages were responsible for the damage.
Shin Bet officials have pegged Yitzhar as a hotbed for the crimes against Palestinian communities and have been patrolling the town regularly over the past month.
Residents of the hilltop community, however, have lamented what they refer to as “gross over-policing,” pointing to ID checks at the entrance to their town, which they say have never been the norm.
A Shin Bet official told The Times of Israel last week that the security establishment is concerned that a “price tag” attack during the month of Ramadan could spark a broader conflict in the West Bank. But Tzvi Succot, a Yitzhar resident who heads the far-right Otzma Yehudit group, warned that heavy-handed police attention to the settlers was what could spark violence.
“The next time someone slashes a tire or God forbid throws a stone at them [Palestinians], remember that there was someone forcefully pushing for that to happen,” Succot said, apparently blaming law enforcement for provoking any attack perpetrated by Jewish extremists against Palestinians.
Regarding Thursday’s incident, Border Police said that the officers simply had been trying to clarify the identities of the children after they had disobeyed orders to halt and bolted toward the spring.
“Every person has the right to complain to anyone, but this does not mean that his complaint is justified, and, as has been proven in the past, most of the complaints against officers are found to be unjustified and end without examination,” the statement concluded.
Menashe Yado, the attorney from the Honenu legal aid organization representing the complainant, said Thursday’s incident was part of a growing pattern of police misconduct in the northern West Bank
“Unfortunately, this is not a standalone event, but rather seems to be the result of hostile relations between police and the residents,” said Yado.