A Month Later, Israeli Military Admits Detention of Palestinian Children Was Improper

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
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The detention of the children in the West Bank, last month.
The detention of the children in the West Bank, last month.Credit: Nasser Nawaj'ah/B'Tselem
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

A military inquiry into the detention last month of five Palestinian children has found that it was improper to detain the three who were under the age of 12, the age of criminal responsibility according to the law.

The five boys, aged between eight and 13, were detained in the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank. According to a letter signed by the military's legal adviser in the 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" and detaining them was therefore inappropriate.

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The military said Thursday that the troops involved were unaware of the children's ages and could not determine them because of "a lack of cooperation" by those present, but that soldiers should have refrained from detaining "some of the minors" who appeared as though they may be under the age of 12.

After being detained, the five boys said they had been foraging for akkoub, a wild vegetable used in Palestinian cuisine, without the knowledge that they were near the unauthorized settler outpost of Havat Ma'on.

In video footage shot by Israeli activists who were at the scene, the children can be seen carrying pails before being approached by two masked men that came from the direction of the outpost. The children are then seen leaving the area, leaving the pails behind. Three people are seen exiting a car and collecting the pails that were left behind. Activists who were at the scene said the children had nothing but the pails in their possession.

The five boys who were detained last month.Credit: Emil Salman

The military initially claimed that the boys were suspected of stealing parrots from the outpost and that troops chased them following a report by residents that they had run into a house's yard. The soldiers brought the children to the main police station in Kiryat Arba, where they spent several hours before being released.

However, the claim about an attempted theft was not mentioned in subsequent army statements. In the letter sent by the military on Wednesday to attorney Gaby Lasky, who is representing the children and their parents, made no mention of this allegation, and acknowledged that a number of "mistakes" had been made regarding the incident, without specifying what these were.

According to the inquiry findings, troops were called to the scene after receiving a report of a home being broken into in the outpost, raising concerns of a security incident. The military said soldiers detained the boys and called the police to the scene, while unaware of their exact ages. It further said that during the initial questioning of the children, "a riot aimed at the military force developed" and that the children were therefore removed from the scene and taken to the police station. It concluded that the military "regrets the incident and has drawn conclusions from it."

Lasky said that the military's acknowledgement that it had erred was welcome but insufficient. "In this case, there were no grounds for detention in the first place," she said.  "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."

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