Israeli soldiers planted at least three explosive devices last week along a road in a Palestinian village that runs near a residential area.
The Nahal Brigade soldiers entered the West Bank village of Qaddum shortly before midnight last Wednesday to plant the explosive devices, which were armed and ready to explode when touched. The explosives were hidden with stones, cloth and weapons crates.
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The military said that stun grenades were left at the scene, without any additional explosives, "in an uninhabited, open area in which violent riots have regularly occurred for years." Military sources said that the boxes were planted for the purpose of creating deterrence, while the military's spokesman said that "after it was discovered that this could lead to injuries, forces worked to remove them from the area."
Thursday afternoon, a seven-year-old boy was walking in the village with his family when he spotted an orange box covered in wires. “I wanted to pick it up and play with it,” he later said.
His mother quickly summoned a relative, Waseem Shtaiwi, to check it out. Shtaiwi and his uncle, Mamoun Shtaiwi, shook it and heard a noise.
After more shaking, it exploded, lightly wounding Waseem in the face and hand. A local paramedic said the wounds were caused by shrapnel. The box that exploded was the type the military uses to store stun grenades.
Around 100 meters down the road, the family found another orange box. This time, they photographed it and then threw stones to neutralize it. The box exploded in fire and smoke.
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Thursday night, after the photos appeared on social media, Israeli soldiers came and neutralized the third explosive.
“People live there, and children wander around,” Waseem Shtaiwi said. “It’s lucky nothing worse happened.”
Officially, the Israel Defense Forces refused to say who prepared the explosives, who placed them along the road or why they were left there with no supervision. But IDF sources said the explosives were planted by soldiers from Nahal’s reconnaissance battalion to create deterrence.
The army said the commander of the Judea and Samaria Division, Brig. Gen. Yaniv Alalouf, has opened an investigation. It hasn’t ruled out the possibility that the explosive devices were planted without the knowledge or permission of senior division officers.
Placing an armed explosive in a civilian area is illegal under international law. Though IDF sources said the explosives were placed there for deterrence purposes, they also said they weren’t aimed at any specific target.
They declined to say which legal authority approved planting the explosive devices or which highest-ranking officer knew about the operation.
Pictures of the explosive devices taken by Qaddum residents show that they were built and concealed amateurishly, so they looked as if they had been planted by Palestinians or right-wing extremists rather than soldiers. Some had what looked like a pipe bomb attached to the stun grenade box. Wires were attached to the outside of the box, and pictures of the exploded ones showed that detonators and other parts were attached with black tape.
The IDF declined to say whether the amateurish construction was meant to make it look like Palestinians planted them.
Qaddum residents said the road where the explosive devices were placed has a lot of pedestrian traffic since it’s often used by people going hiking or visiting their olive orchards. The first explosive was placed near a house under construction, about 150 meters from the nearest inhabited house.
In addition, residents regularly demonstrate on this road, so soldiers come there to disperse the protests.
Two days before the explosives went off, resident Khaled Shtaiwi saw an improvised Hebrew sign on a hill where soldiers sometimes deploy during demonstrations. The sign, in ungrammatical Hebrew, said “Keep away or die; danger of death,” along with another sentence. It was posted just meters from where the explosives were laid.
Residents said soldiers were present at the site on the day the sign was posted, but the IDF refused to say whether the soldiers who posted the sign are the ones who planted the explosive devices.
The following day, Wednesday, residents also noticed that the Palestinian flag they had hung at that spot had been removed.
Since 2011, Qaddum residents have held weekly demonstrations against the closure of the village’s main access road, which leads to Nablus. It was closed due to an expansion of the nearby settlement of Kedumim in 2003.
Qaddum is the only West Bank village still holding weekly protests against the occupation, so friction with the IDF is frequent.
In February, for instance, Haaretz reported that a military bulldozer had shoved stones at residents during the protest. In May, the B’Tselem human rights organization published evidence that soldiers had thrown a gas grenade at the home of Murad Shtaiwi, head of the village’s popular committee, and punctured tires of residents’ cars.
Last year, the Palestinian Health Ministry reported that a 10-year-old boy was severely wounded in the head by a rubber-coated bullet during clashes in the village. And this February, a 15-year-old boy was hit in the head by a live bullet.
“Had a Palestinian laid such a thing, they would have come to arrest him in minutes,” said Murad Shtaiwi, who is also Khaled’s father, explaining that security cameras on the outskirts of Kedumim would have enabled the army to spot a Palestinian placing an explosive there very quickly.
“Even in a place where revenge operations by soldiers have already become routine, soldiers planting improvised explosive devices is exceptional, and it’s pure luck that it didn’t cause far worse injuries,” B’Tselem said in a statement. “This is how armed gangs operate, not a regular army. But the action reflects the spirit of the army’s commanders and the government, both of which send the message that Palestinian lives and limbs are fair game.”
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit said an initial investigation was carried out and will be presented to commanders in the coming days. Conclusions will be drawn, the statement added, in accordance with the findings.