Two border policemen who were filmed late last month in Hebron throwing an 8-year-old Palestinian girl’s bicycle into some bushes told investigators Wednesday that they did it to protect her and to prevent her from crossing through the Jewish Quarter in the West Bank city of Hebron, where Jews and Palestinians live in uneasy coexistence.
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The border policemen were questioned under caution by the Justice Ministry, meaning that they were being interrogated as potential suspects rather than as witnesses, after the incident last month was filmed by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. One of the two policemen was suspended from the force on Tuesday.
Lawyers for the two said the border policemen were trying to protect the girl rather than harming her, explaining that what appeared in the video as cruel behavior on the policemen’s part was actually an effort to protect her by preventing her from crossing through an area that was off limits. Unable to communicate with her in Arabic, they took away her bicycle to prevent her from risking crossing into the Jewish neighborhood, lawyers Oron Schwartz and Yogev Narkis said.
When it became clear that she understood that she shouldn’t cross through the Jewish Quarter, they allowed her to come back and retrieve her bicycle, the lawyers added. The lesson from the incident is that police conduct cannot be judged solely based on video footage without considering the policemen’s own account, Schwartz and Narkis insisted.
The video shows one policeman running towards the girl, Anwar Burqan, demanding that she stop at the side of the street. He steps on the bicycle, which was left in the street and asks the girl several questions, after which she runs away crying. Another policeman is then seen approaching the scene, picking up the bicycle and throwing it into the bushes. It was this second border policeman who was suspended from duty Wednesday, although the first policeman’s conduct is also being investigated.
Extensive sections of the street on which the incident occurred, Al-Ibrahimi Street, are off limits to Palestinian traffic, including, apparently, the area where the girl was found.
The girl’s mother, Rania Barkan, told Haaretz on Tuesday that since the incident, her daughter is fearful, refusing to leave home. “It was the trauma of her life. I don’t know why this soldier set upon her, even if she had gone into a place that was off limits. What danger or threat does she represent? When all is said and done, this involves an 8-year old girl,” the mother said, adding that she does not expect the policeman to be punished or put on trial.