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From the field

The first of its kind - B'Tselem spokesperson responds to claims by Ma'ariv columnist Ben Dror Yamini

Soldiers taking Karam Maswadeh and his son Wadi' (5 years, 9 months old) through the streets of Hebron, 9 July 2013, Photo: ISM.
Soldiers taking Karam Maswadeh and his son Wadi' (5 years, 9 months old) through the streets of Hebron, 9 July 2013, Photo: ISM.

B'Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli published an article in the Hebrew daily, Ma'ariv. The article responds to claims by Ma'ariv columnist Ben Dror Yamini that the detention of a 5 year-old Palestinian boy in Hebron was an exceptional incident. 

"Had B'Tselem been fair, they ought to have distributed the clip with background information… the detained child is an exception". Ben Dror Yemini, Ma'ariv, 12.7.2013

Sarit MichaeliYemini is right: this incident is the first of its kind. Soldiers armed to the teeth detaining a terrified, hysterical five year-old, after he threw a stone. The soldiers march the child and his father, cuffed and blindfolded, through the streets of central Hebron that are normally off-limits to Palestinians like them. Following the detention, the child was transferred to the Palestinian police. This, apparently, under a procedure for dealing with stone throwers under the age of criminal responsibility, which is 12, for both Israeli and Palestinian minors.

True, this incident is the first of its kind. But here are some examples of other incidents which took place and were videotaped over the past year. All incidents took place in Hebron city center, in the same spot or a short walk away from the site where five year old Wadi' and his father Karam Maswadeh were detained.

In March. Soldiers detained a group of 27 children near the area known as route 160 in Hebron, about a two minute walk from the location of Wadi's detention. They too were suspected of stone throwing. This detention was documented and though it didn't include five year olds, the IDF spokesperson for the West Bank confirmed that at least 14 of the kids were under the age of criminal responsibility, the youngest aged 8. Later, the military released 20 of the minors to the custody of the Palestinian Authority. The other seven minors were questioned by the Israeli police.

Israeli security forces built a fence dividing a road that runs through the neighborhood of a-Salaimeh and leads to the Tomb of the Patriarchs (about half a minute's walk from Wadi's initial detention), separating it into a side for Jews and another for Arabs. It's not hard to guess which side is paved and which is narrow and unpaved. Since the video footage was aired, Border Police officers at the checkpoint allow Palestinian pedestrians to walk on either side of the road.

Soldiers arrested a Palestinian youth, claiming he spoke insolently to one of them. The youth was held in jail for almost a month, before a military court judge watched two videos of the arrest, and ruled that the allegations were completely baseless. The arrest took place around twenty meters from the checkpoint in which the Maswadehs were detained until transferred to the Palestinian police.

A few months ago, we were informed by the Department for the Investigation of Police, in the Ministry of Justice (DIP) that it decided to initiate disciplinary proceedings against a border police officer who was filmed kicking a nine year old Palestinian boy last year, after other boys from the neighborhood taunted and cursed him. The site of this incident was the same poverty stricken area, around the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. A different border police officer who was convicted of assaulting a 13 year old boy in Hebron, was sentenced to a 75-day prison sentence to be fulfilled through community service.

In December, soldiers assaulted cameramen belonging to the Reuters news agency, forced them to strip and threw teargas grenades at them. Their offence? The soldiers accused the journalists of belonging to B'Tselem. That same night, soldiers beat a B'Tselem camera volunteer. All this happened the same day a border police officer shot to death a Palestinian youth who confronted her at a checkpoint holding a pistol-shaped cigarette lighter.

These, it should be stressed, are only the incidents documented by B'Tselem video cameras over the past year. The chances of the media publicizing events that weren't filmed are minute. The possibility that Palestinian testimonies not backed up by video will be believed by the Israeli public are just as slim. Even the most well-documented cases are invariably met with attempts to discredit the messenger or blame the victim, as we saw in this case as well.

So true, this is the first of its kind. But there were countless other cases where Palestinians suffered violence, midnight searches and arrests, wrongful detention, lack of protection from settler violence (including stone throwers), and a long list of restrictions justified as necessary to protect the Israeli settlement points in Hebron. This is the reality of Palestinian life in Hebron's city center, which is under complete Israeli control and where official Israeli government policy enforced by the military explicitly sacrifices basic rights of Palestinians in order to maintain the Israeli settlements in the city.

This is the relevant background information to the clip we released last week. This is the context. This is the cost of the intensive Israeli military presence in the H2 area of Hebron, intended to perpetuate the Israeli settlement inside the city. This is the cost of Israel maintaining a military occupation over a civilian population for 46 years, a cost we all pay. And we should acknowledge the real price paid for this policy by Palestinians, including five year old Wadi'.