IDF Soldiers Detain Five-year-olds; What Have We Become?

The prophet Yeshayahu Leibowitz was right: Military occupation and controlling another people has turned us into Judeo-Nazis.

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

I’ve got a son who’s four-years-and-eight-months-old, soon to be five. Since the day he was born, he’s become very close to me. His name is Liri and he is the love of my life. If I believed in God, I’d say that he’s been touched by the divine presence, or at least by some angel. The perfect child, even if lately he’s had some tantrums when his sister annoys him. Not long ago he threw a remote at her. Today, while traveling with him and his sister on the train, I took the plunge and watched the B’Tselem video of IDF soldiers detaining a 5-year-old. When it was over, I shed tears. It’s a good thing my kids were busy with something else, and didn’t see.

The clip shows a combined force of six infantry soldiers from the Givati Brigade, and Border Patrol officers arresting a five-year-old Palestinian child in Hebron, and ordering him to board their IDF jeep with them. The terrified child, Wa’adi Maswada, begins crying and refuses to get in the jeep. His crime was being suspected of throwing stones at the tires of a vehicle owned by Jewish settlers in Hebron. As the clip continues, it shows one of the soldiers pulling out a camera, to document the extent to which the B’Tselem cameraman films the events. As the ordeal goes on, writes Gili Cohen, the child went to hide in his house, and was arrested there with his father. Another clip shows how he was held for an hour by the IDF, while his father sat next to him, tied and blindfolded. The whole time, our boys seem totally relaxed – even cheerful.

I had planned to write my next blog post about the revolution being planned within the IDF, as the top-brass have realized that the army is in need of fundamental restructuring. As far as I’m concerned, it was an historic announcement, that I like many had waited for, and couldn’t understand why it hadn’t already come. As an officer during both my regular and reserve military service, I couldn’t understand the fixation on the past. Years went by, and my amazement grew. About a year ago, during one of the talks I had with Moshe Ya’alon, now defense minister, I asked him again and again why the changes hadn’t come. Pitched battles between tanks and infantry do not occur anymore, not to mention the fact that all of the armies around us have fallen apart. It’s a shame that these changes are happening only now, and only because of budget problems. That is additional proof of the fact that the system doesn’t change of its own volition, and the fact that Israel’s defense budget is not based on security needs (if it was, they would first define the security needs and then make the budget, not the other way around). But it is better it be done this way than not at all, and better late than never. I had intended to salute Defense Minister Ya’alon, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz – I thought they deserved it.

But a dark cloud shrouded this day of welcome changes in the IDF. On the fringe of our smart, cutting edge army lays the police force of Givati in Hebron. You see these soldiers but you don’t believe what you see. With their ironed berets, their compact rifles with telescopic sights, their vests bursting with ammunition, their endless protective gear (even kneepads!) – They look as if they’re ready to charge on Osama bin Laden’s secret hiding place. They even have a camera to pull out. They’re only lacking in brains, basic common sense and simple humanity. Any sense of morality, universal or Jewish. It seems reasonable to them to detain a five-year-old child and put him in an army jeep, crying all along. I’m sure they were taught that some orders are illegal in some seminar. But arresting this child and his father, (who did nothing aside from being a good parent!), and that represents, did not constitute an illegal order in the eyes of those soldiers.

Of course we can’t blame the soldiers. We can never blame them. Why not? Surely some of them have little brothers at home. I blame the soldiers. Each and every one of them – and of course not just them – they’re just the last link in a long chain of folly. Above them on the chain of command are their commanders, and of course Mr. Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, IDF spokesperson, whose unit published the following response:

“We regret that B'Tselem has chosen – on a regular basis – to distribute videos of this kind to the media before clarifying the issue with the army first. The incident involved a minor who threw stones at a road in Hebron. IDF soldiers detained the minor, transferred him to his parents and then to Palestinian police for further handling… at no point in time were the youths handcuffed or arrested… and the incident will be investigated by the relative IDF authorities.”

Another IDF official added “it is unnecessary to point out that a stone thrown by a minor can harm a person. The military prosecutor is not yet familiar with the incident. It will be investigated by the relevant authorities.”

Meaning that the soldiers and their commanders, as well as the IDF spokesperson will continue dealing with this ongoing incident, in which a crying five-year-old child was arrested. No one stopped it while it was happening, and no one is taking responsibility for their sins now. The problem actually lies with the nature of B’Tselem, and besides, the military prosecutor is not yet familiar with the incident. What an obnoxious kid. Not only did he throw stones, he hasn’t even bothered filing an official complaint with the relevant military prosecutor officials. And he’s not even a kid, but, a “minor.” By the way, at what age does a kid stop being a kid, and become a “minor?” Age 4? Maybe 1? Is a Palestinian fetus considered a minor?

During my officer training course, I was assigned to operational duty in Hebron. I will never forgot how one of my fellow soldiers, who had served for slightly longer than I, suddenly stopped a young Palestinian kid in the street, and began thoroughly checking his documents, just for show. All at once, I saw how the look in his eyes changed. I saw how he became someone else, how he lost all humanity. I was reminded of that today while watching this terrible video. You all should too. The devil did not create little boy’s tears. If someone were to frighten my Liri that way, and then humiliate me, tied and blindfolded in front of him, I believe that I would devote the rest of my life trying to redeem myself in his eyes. Perhaps I would even educate him and train him to one day get his revenge. This clip is the Israeli version of the picture of the frightened child raising his hand at the Wehrmacht soldiers in the Warsaw ghetto. Former Shin Bet chief Avraham Shalom said in “The Gatekeepers,” and he was right. The prophet Yeshayahu Leibowitz also said it before him, years ago: military occupation and controlling another people has turned us into Judeo-Nazis.

Screenshot of the B'Tselem video.
Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz. Credit: Courtesy

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