A 5-year-old Palestinian boy was arrested this week for throwing a stone at Israelis in the occupied West Bank.
While many children are arrested by the Israeli Defense Forces every year, since the age of criminal responsibility in Israel and the occupied West Bank is 12, this particular incident sparked outrage not only due to the boy’s age but because it was caught on camera by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
According to the group, at the end of May 2013, there were more than 220 Palestinian minors in Israeli prisons as security detainees and prisoners. Another 18 minors were incarcerated for being in Israel illegally.
B’Tselem reported that after the boy, Wadi’ Maswadeh, threw the stone, he was “dragged away” by Israeli soldiers and taken to his home so that the soldiers could get his father, Karam Maswadeh, as well.
Karam Maswadeh said that the soldiers tried to convince his wife to hand over Wadi’ before he came home, but she refused.
“The officer told me that he was going to arrest Wadi’ and hand him over to the Palestinian Coordination,” he said.
“I asked him, ‘Why arrest a 5-year-old boy?’” Karam Maswadeh said, to which the soldier responded by showing Karam Maswadeh a stone and claiming Wadi’ had thrown it at Israeli settlers’ cars. Karam Maswadeh says he “tried to persuade the officer not to take Wadi’ to the District Coordination Office, but [the soldier] said that if I didn’t bring him, I’d be arrested.”
Blindfolded and handcuffed, Karam Maswadeh and his son were marched in public to a police checkpoint, where they were detained and questioned for about 30 minutes.
According to the Daily Mail, a lieutenant colonel from the Israeli Defense Forces came to the checkpoint and began to question Wadi’ about why he threw stones. He also reportedly criticized the IDF for arresting Karam and his young son in the presence of video cameras, saying, “You’re harming our public image.”
Since the cameras were still present and the officer ordered the detainees be “treated nicely,” the soldiers un-tied Karam Maswadeh’s hands, removed his blindfold and gave him some water to drink. The IDF then released them to the Palestinian police, who took them to a Palestinian police station for some brief questioning.
Jessica Montell, the director of B’Tselem, said that the IDF had no legal justification for detaining a child below the age of criminal responsibility, especially one so young, and called attention to the panic and terror “in the eyes of the child.”
“The footage clearly shows that this was not a mistake made by an individual soldier, but rather conduct that, to our alarm, was considered reasonable by all the military personnel involved, including senior officers,” she said. “It is particularly troubling that none of them apparently thought any part of the incident was problematic: not the fact that they scared a 5-year-old boy out of his wits, nor threatening him and his parents to ‘hand him over’ to the Palestinian police, nor threatening to arrest the father on no legal grounds, nor handcuffing and blindfolding the father in front of his son.”
The Israeli army denies any wrongdoing, saying that the detention of the 5-year-old was legal because he was not arrested and was accompanied by his parents at all times. The army released the following statement: “It is critical to bear in mind that even rocks thrown by children can pose a lethal threat to people. Between January and May, 2013, over 2,050 separate rock-throwing incidents occurred throughout Judea and Samaria, injuring well over 150 Israelis.”
The IDF has also accused B’Tselem of editing the video footage in a “biased” manner.
Arresting children — a daily occurrence?
A June 2013 report submitted to the United Nations by the Palestinian section of Defence for Children International found that each year, between 500 and 700 Palestinian children from the occupied West Bank are prosecuted in Israeli military courts.
Most of those children are accused of throwing stones. According to a report by Al-Jazeera, Palestinian and Israeli children often throw rocks at one another, but Palestinians say that it’s the Palestinian children who are taken into custody for doing so.
Defence for Children International is also concerned about the way the Palestinian children are treated. Many Palestinian children taken into custody by the Israeli military are reportedly treated poorly from the moment of the arrest, with threats of physical violence, verbal abuse and torture. They are also denied water and toilet access, strip searched and, in some cases, threatened with sexual assault, according to the group.
While most children are arrested or asked to report to a police station during daytime hours, about 45 percent of the children arrested are taken into custody between midnight and 5 a.m., Defence for Children International says. The children’s hands are bound behind their backs by Israeli soldiers, and they are blindfolded before they are taken into custody, the group says.
The group also says that child detainees are usually interrogated without a parent present and are not able to meet with a lawyer until after the Israeli military has finished questioning them. The children are not typically informed of their right to silence. Those children that do not confess to the crime they are charged with are often held in solitary confinement, the group says.
The report from the Defence for Children International found that in 2012, there were at least 21 instances where children were held in solitary confinement and “subjected to repeated and prolonged interrogations.”
“During these interrogations, children reported being forced to sit in a low metal chair secured to the floor of the room, with their hands and feet cuffed to the chair, often for several hours,” the report says.
While the maltreatment of children is not legal under the U.N. Conventions Against Torture or Israeli civilian law, it is legal under Israeli military law.
Israel imposed military law on the occupied Palestinian territory in June 1967 through a military order that granted the IDF full legislative, executive and judicial authority.
As more and more information regarding the treatment of Palestinian children emerges, many human rights and children’s rights advocacy groups have released reports highlighting where the Israeli military is out of line, and how the IDF can remedy the situation.
In a February 2013 report, UNICEF said, “Ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized,” despite the fact that “international law requires that all children in contact with judicial systems be treated with dignity and respect at all times.”
“It is understood that in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights,” the report said. “All children prosecuted for offenses they allegedly committed should be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards, which provide them with special protection.”
However, some Israelis disregarded the report, accusing UNICEF of an anti-Israeli bias. Since UNICEF often helps Palestinian children, many Israelis said the organization had anti-Israel policies and were intentionally ignoring Israeli children. UNICEF has worked with Israel since 1948, when the organization helped provide aid for children orphaned by the Holocaust.