Update: On 5 December 2013 the IDF Spokesperson informed B’Tselem that inquiries were underway with the relevant military bodies. Once their account in the matter is received, the MAG Corps would decide on the next step in the matter. On 30 March 2014 the Office of the Military Advocate for Operational Matters informed B’Tselem that the case had been closed following an examination of the account given by the military officials. The letter further stated: “Even had the minors been handcuffed for several minutes while detained, the incident would not meet the conditions necessary for terming it criminal action. With regard to the matter at hand, reiteration of directives with regard to the handling of minors by IDF troops is sufficient, and this is done regularly by Central Command and the Legal Adviser in Judea and Samaria”.
On Friday, November 15, 2013, at 9:30 AM, about two and a half hours before the weekly demonstration in the village was set to begin, four children from Kafr Qadum: Malek (8) a third grade student, his brother Tareq (9) a fourth grade student; Hussam Abu Khaled (8), a third grade student and Ahmad Shteiwi (6) a first grader, got together. They were planning to go to the place where the weekly demonstration takes place, as they had heard that some tires had been set on fire and they wanted to see what was going on. In a testimony given to B’Tselem field researcher 'Abd al-Karim Sa'adi, Tareq Shteiwi, age nine, gave the following account:
Me and my brother Malek, and a relative of ours, Ahmad, decided to go to the area where there are clashes between people from Kafr Qadum and the army every Friday afternoon, because we heard some young guys from the village had burnt some tires on the road and we wanted to go check it out. On our way there, we ran into Hussam, a friend and classmate of Malek’s. . Hussam joined us. We walked to where the guys from the village had set tires on fire on the road. We didn’t see anyone in the area. No soldiers either. We started playing with the tires, throwing pieces of asbestos at them. When the asbestos touches the fire, it sends out sparks.
We decided to leave a few minutes later, but just then, some soldiers arrived. They started yelling at us. We stopped right away, because we were afraid of them. The soldiers caught us. One of them tied my hands behind my back with plastic wires. They tied my brother Malek’s hands and Hussam’s too. They used wires to tie Hussam’s hands at first, but then they released them and tied them again with the elastic band from his slingshot. They didn’t tie Ahamad Shteiwi’s hands. He’s in first grade. Ahmad started crying. I think he was afraid of the soldiers and their weapons. I could see him wet his pants from the fear.
In his testimony, Malek Shteiwi, age 8, described what followed:
A few minutes after the soldiers arrived, a military jeep arrived at the scene. One soldier got out and asked us in Arabic: “Why are you burning tires?”. We said it wasn't us who had done it. He asked us: “Who sent you here?”. We said we had come because we wanted to see the burning tires. The soldier threatened us that if we came back there, he would arrest us and put us in jail. Then he told us to get out of there and go home. He remembered our hands were tied, so he went back to the jeep, got a knife, and released our handcuffs. We went home.
Being detained by security forces is likely a traumatic experience for children. The age of criminal responsibility in the military justice system in the Occupied Territories is 12, as it is in Israel. Therefore, security forces may not detain or arrest minors who are under this age, even if they are suspected of criminal offenses. In Israel, the justice system also restricts the interrogation of minors under this age, even as witnesses, allowing it only in particularly egregious offenses. Soldiers stationed in the West Bank, who are entrusted with law enforcement, have no authority when it comes to children under the age of criminal responsibility.
The soldiers’ conduct in this incident was entirely unacceptable and fundamentally flawed. There was no justification for detaining the children, and certainly not for handcuffing them. The soldiers also should not have threatened them with arrest or intimidated them. The fact that this was an empty threat as the children were too young to be arrested does nothing to change the way the children experienced this intimidation, while handcuffed.
Since March 2013, B’Tselem has documented nine cases in which security forces in the West Bank detained a total of about 30 minors under the age of criminal responsibility. The soldiers’ conduct in the current incident, and in others, raises concerns that soldiers on the ground are not aware of the explicit restrictions, stipulated in law, with respect to conduct toward minors under the age of criminal responsibility.
Following the incident, B’Tselem contacted the Judea and Samaria Area Division Legal Advisor. In its communication, B’Tselem emphasized that Israeli law explicitly states that no measures may be taken against a child under the age of criminal responsibility, unless a member of the security force sees a child who is about to commit an offense that poses a clear and present danger and takes action to prevent the child from committing the offense in real time.
B’Tselem repeated its demand that forces on the ground be clearly informed of the prohibition to handcuff, detain or arrest minors under the age of criminal responsibility.