Eyes of a Child

In a video seen around the world, 4-year-old Khaled Jaabari tried to stop Border Police from arresting his father. The background: a military operation aimed at dismantling a Palestinian farmer's irrigation pipes.

They are heartrending images to which no parent can remain indifferent. A little boy wails - his father is being arrested; the boy screams as troops shove his father; rifles are at the ready and the child is pushed and swallowed up amid the legs of beefy policemen, trying desperately to cling to his father's pants, until one of the soldiers picks him up and removes him. The child's cries - "Baba! Baba!" - gradually fade away.

The routine of dozens of years of occupation suddenly becomes a worldwide scandal. A camera or a mobile phone, a journalist or a passerby, a news agency or YouTube, and the world watches the events. Over the years, thousands of children have witnessed the brutal arrest of their parents in the territories, watched in tears as they were hit, humiliated and shoved coarsely and violently. But earlier this month, Khaled Jaabari became a global icon; the video of the distraught child was broadcast on international television networks and can be seen on YouTube.

We met the boy at the beginning of the month. Dressed in his best clothes, perhaps in honor of our visit, he is shy, sticks a finger in his mouth, climbs the fig tree in the courtyard of his home as though fleeing in dread of us. The imprints of the shock are still clearly visible: We are unable to get him to say a word after he is told we are Israelis. Well, how else could a small child react after he saw dozens of Israeli soldiers and police raid his grandfather's house at dawn, grab his father by force and take him and his uncle away?

"Cynical use of a child," the Border Police spokesman was quick to respond. It wasn't the arrest that was cynical, not the raid to destroy the grandfather's fields and confiscate his irrigation pipes for water theft; not the discrimination between the settlers, who steal water in illegal outposts, and Palestinians who steal water; not the lengthy incarceration for "assaulting soldiers," while settlers who use greater violence against security forces are rarely arrested; not the pushing, the pummeling and the curses against the boy's mother and father, his grandparents and his uncle, to which he was an uncomprehending witness. No, only the images of the weeping boy are cynical.

Falastin, Khaled's mother, is a teacher. Fadel, his father, sells clothes and curtains. They have three small children. Khaled, 4 years and two months old, is the firstborn. Badran Jaabari, 65, Falastin's father, has 11 dunams (almost three acres ) of land east of Kiryat Arba - a vegetable patch and a vineyard. He was a sociology lecturer and an activist of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who spent 12 years in an Israeli prison - nine without being brought to trial. Israel never allowed him to leave the West Bank.

That Sunday, Falastin, Fadel and their children, who live in north Hebron, went to Badran's farm to spend a few days of the summer holiday. On the first day of their stay, Khaled went with his grandfather to work in the field of squash, tomatoes and cucumbers, along with the stray dog the boy had adopted.

Badran relates what happened in good Hebrew. The next morning, he says, he was awakened around 6 A.M. by the noise of military vehicles approaching the house. It was a convoy of some 20 trucks, jeeps and bulldozers with Border Police, regular police, the Civil Administration and the Israel Defense Forces. A large-scale military incursion into his fields.

He went out to ask what it was all about. The Border Police ordered him to get back inside immediately. He said he wanted to speak to the person in charge, but was told that the infrastructure officer from the Civil Administration hadn't yet arrived. "This is my field, what are you doing here? Rome will burn before Nero arrives," he told the troops. Badran is experienced in raids like this. His efforts to hook up to the water grid that crosses his fields were a long, convoluted affair that included many violent raids by the Civil Administration, which upholds the law - but only against Palestinians.

Khaled's grandmother went outside to see what the noise was and she too was pushed and shoved by the soldiers and police, until she fell to the ground. The troops started to take apart the pipes and load them onto a truck, tearing the plastic covers and trampling the crops in the process. Badran says that whenever he asked to speak to the officer in charge he was pushed back and cursed: "Go home, you old son of a bitch." His daughter Bisam was reviled as a "tramp."

For a time, Badran was handcuffed, as the military operation proceeded apace. In the meantime, his youngest son, Wadia, woke up. He told his son to go back inside but one of the Border Police officers leaped at the opportunity: "This old son of a bitch has sons - arrest the son."

Wadia went back in and then out the back door, the troops hot on his heels. "We were afraid for the boy," Badran says. Wadia was caught and his father tried to pry him loose from the Border Police. According to Badran, his son was beaten. Then the eldest son, Fadel, the father of little Khaled, awoke. He went out in his pajamas and the soldiers immediately began to beat him, too.

Badran says his son was knocked to the ground three or four times. "We tried to talk to the officer, but it didn't help. All he said was, 'Arrest everyone who delays you, including the old man.'" Badran tried to calm his sons. In the previous raid on his fields, on July 6, the soldiers threw stun grenades and fired rubber bullets, he says.

"After that they took my boy, Fadel, and then Khaled woke up and tried to pull his father away," Badran continues. "The boy was barefoot. He cried and screamed and fell a few times between the legs of the soldiers and the police. Khaled tried to defend his father and his uncle, Wadia. 'I want Baba,' he shouted. When Fadel was put into the jeep I told the soldiers, 'Arrest me, too. What will we live from? You have taken everything.' I couldn't stand it anymore. I sat down and cried and I told the Border Police officer, 'You are harder than the stones of this region. You have no heart, you have no sense, look what you are doing. You have seized everything.'" Wadia and Fadel were taken to the Kiryat Arba police station. Their father immediately sent a lawyer to the station, but he was not allowed to meet with them. The police told Badran that the two had been taken to the Etzion detention facility, where he was told that Fadel was still there, but that Wadia had been taken to the Ofer facility near Ramallah. They were remanded in custody for six days until an indictment could be filed against them for assaulting five soldiers.

A Border Police spokesman said in response to a query by Haaretz: "In the course of enforcement activity against water thieves in the southern Hebron hills the force was attacked with stones and two people who were involved in disturbances and in attacking the force were arrested. During the arrest, as the pictures show, the family chose to make cynical use of a boy who was briefed and stage-directed. Instead of demonstrating family responsibility and removing the boy from the situation, they chose to engage in cheap anti-Israeli propaganda whose whole purpose is to portray us in a negative light internationally."

Watershed. In 1995 a pipeline was laid in Badran's fields from the Palestinian town of Bani Na'im to the settlement of Tekoa. Badran says he asked the Mekorot water company to connect him to the pipeline that ran across his land. "We have a proverb in Arabic: Water does not pass by a thirsty person. If there is water that passes through your field, you have the right to drink from it."

Mekorot referred him to the Bani Na'im municipality, from which, he says, he received a permit to hook up to the water line legally. A few days later a military force arrived and confiscated his pipeline. He went to the Palestinian Water Authority in Ramallah and received, he says, a permit to hook up to the water together with his neighbors, at three different points.

A month later, the Civil Administration showed up again, declared the connection points illegal and again confiscated the pipes. "We are the sheep of Abraham and they are taking our water," Badran says. The pipes were confiscated at least five times. On one occasion, he recalls, a Civil Administration officer told him, "I don't want to see anything green in your fields. I want to see it all yellow."

A Civil Administration spokesman said in response, "This is an offender who stole water by means of a pirate hookup to a Mekorot waterline and exploited it for agricultural purposes, thereby harming the regular and legal water supply to the area's residents, Palestinians and Jews alike. Water theft is dealt with professionally and on an egalitarian basis, irrespective of the offender's identity.

"It should also be noted that responsibility for the supply of water to the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria lies with the Palestinian Authority and that in light of the growing phenomenon of water theft the Palestinian Authority asked the Civil Administration to assist and take steps to eradicate the phenomenon."

Badran: "They say that 'Badran is the leader of a gang of water thieves.' I am not a water thief. I am a farmer and a man of the people who is against the occupation. I am not a thief."