Eid al-Fitr – 30.8.11 - AFP
Israeli Arab scouts parading in the streets of Jaffa during celebrations of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, in Israel, August 30, 2011. Photo by AFP
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Six children from Jaffa, all aged 11 to 13, were arrested at school Wednesday by the Yiftach District police and interrogated for hours, all without their parents being present.

Twelve-year-old N. told Haaretz that he came to school as usual at 8 A.M. About half an hour later, the classroom door opened and a teacher asked him to accompany her to the principal's office. There he found the principal and three men in civilian dress.

"He told me he was a policeman, and that I had broken streetlights in Jaffa's Old City during the holiday," N. related. "After a few minutes, they told me to get into a white car, and there I saw a friend from school. They took us to the police station. I didn't know where they were taking me and I began to cry. I just wanted my mother."

N. and the other five boys were all suspected of vandalism in Jaffa's Old City during the recent Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr. When they arrived at the Yiftach police station on Salameh Street in Tel Aviv, each boy was sent to a different interrogation room along with several detectives.

"At first there were three cops, and later there was one cop who began asking me questions," N. said. "He told me I could get a lawyer if I wanted, but I didn't understand what I needed a lawyer for. I just wanted my mother.

"They took my fingerprints and made me sign all kinds of papers; I had no idea what was written on them. One of the cops pounded the table and said that if I told them the truth, they'd release me quickly. I started to cry in that room and I told them 'yes' to every question, just so they'd get me out of there."

The boys were questioned until 1 P.M. "At a later stage, he told me I'd thrown a stone at a bus," N. said. "I said that isn't true, but he began pounding on the table again and yelling, so then I told him I'd thrown it, just so he wouldn't yell at me."

Another boy told a similar story. "I told them I didn't want to go with them to the station, and that I wanted my father," he said. "The detective took out handcuffs and threatened that if I didn't come with them, he'd handcuff me and take me to the police."

The boys' parents were informed of the arrests only much later. But when they finally got to the police station, they weren't allowed inside, on the grounds that the detectives were busy questioning the children and therefore couldn't be interrupted to okay their entry.

"I didn't see him until 1 P.M., when he left the interrogation," said N.'s mother. "I asked the policemen whether they were allowed to arrest my son, who is 12 years old, and interrogate him. So one of them told me it's allowed, and that's his job.

"I don't understand how you ask a 12-year-old if he wants a lawyer," she added. "What did they think - that he'd say 'yes' and call an attorney? All of us parents stood there outside the station and we didn't know what was happening with our children."

When the interrogation ended, the parents were brought inside, required to post bail of NIS 2,000 per child and told that the boys must remain under full house arrest for five days and stay away from the Old City for 15 days thereafter.

Police responded that the boys "confessed to having thrown stones at cars and caused damage to a shop window, streetlights and benches in Jaffa over an extended period. The six were detained for questioning, three at home and three at school, and their parents were informed. Under the Juvenile Law, police are allowed to question minors without their parents present."

However, that is true only if police believe the suspects could disrupt the investigation, making it vital to arrest them on the spot, without their parents, or if the suspects are afraid of their parents.