The Israel Defense Forces and the police detained four Palestinian girls for questioning on Tuesday on suspicion of having eaten cherries off a tree in a settlement.
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The girls, ages 11, 13, 14 and 15, are from the village of Tuba in the South Hebron Hills. One of them is a deaf-mute.
At about 10 A.M. on Tuesday, the girls were on their way home from school. Their route passes by a cherry orchard in the settlement of Havat Maon.
Because Palestinian schoolchildren in the area have been repeatedly harassed by local settlers, soldiers are now supposed to provide an escort in both directions for all students who attend school in the village of a-Tawani, where the girls study. But because the girls left school early on Tuesday after finishing an exam, the soldiers had not yet arrived, and they started home on their own.
When the soldiers finally met up with the girls near Havat Maon, the settlers claimed the girls had eaten cherries from one of the trees and demanded that they be arrested for theft. The soldiers then detained the girls for questioning, even though two of the four girls could not be charged in any case — one because she is too young and the other because of her impairment.
The soldiers waited at the settlement for about three hours until a police car arrived to take the girls to the police station in Kiryat Arba. There, police immediately released the 11 year old and the deaf-mute, but questioned the other two for a few minutes. Both girls denied eating any cherries, and police eventually released them too.
Police said in response that they were required to question the girls, because they had received a complaint about theft.
About six weeks ago, Palestinian girls in that area were attacked and beaten on their way to school, while soldiers in a nearby jeep did nothing to help.
Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On lambasted Tuesday’s incident on her Facebook page. “A settler told a soldier that the girls had eaten a few cherries off his tree,” she wrote. “The soldiers didn’t hesitate: They called the police, and the girls were taken in for questioning. Lest you had any doubts, the hilltop youth who harass these girls on a daily basis have never been arrested. A country whose laws enable four girls who ate cherries from someone else’s tree to be put under arrest is a country that has lost its moral conscience.”