Israel has admitted that the detention of five Palestinian children last month was a mistake and that it was improper to detain the three who were under the age of 12, the age of criminal responsibility according to the law. Some of the underage children in question may have been as young as eight.
The boys were arrested in the Masafer Yatta area of the southern Hebron hills, which is home to dozens of clusters of Palestinian villages and enclaves, as well as several illegal Israeli settlements and outposts.
According to the details of a letter published by Haaretz signed by the Israel Defence Forces’ legal adviser in the occupied West Bank and provided to the children’s families on Wednesday, “It was possible to see that the age of some of the minors could be below the age of criminal responsibility.” Detaining them was, therefore, inappropriate.
Although the boys had been foraging for akkoub, a wild vegetable used in Palestinian cuisine, without the knowledge that they were near the unauthorised settler outpost of Havat Ma’on, they were accused of theft. Occupation troops chased them following a report by residents that they had run into the yard of house.
Their arrest was captured on video, which showed Israeli soldiers manhandling the children aggressively. This triggered widespread condemnation from activists and human rights groups. “When I arrived, there were dozens of armed and masked Israeli soldiers pulling the children towards a group of military Jeeps. And I immediately picked up my camera and started filming,” explained Nasr Nawajaa, a local activist and B’Tselem field researcher.
In the video filmed by Nawajaa and published by the Israeli human rights group, dozens of Israeli soldiers in combat gear can be seen grabbing the terrified children and pushing them towards the military vehicles. “The children were screaming and crying, pleading with the soldiers to call their parents and wait until their family arrived before taking them away,” he reported.
In the letter admitting that the soldiers had made a mistake, no explanation for why the children were arrested was provided, nor was an apology offered. Gaby Lasky, who is representing the children and their parents, said that the military’s acknowledgement that it had erred was welcome, but not enough.
“In this case, there were no grounds for detention in the first place,” said Lasky. “The fact that the military thinks its role is to protect illegal outposts and avoids protecting the local population shows that acknowledging a mistake is not enough, and that they should compensate the minors and dismantle the outposts, which are a source of violence, fear and violation of the rights of the minors and their families.”