A Government That Rationalizes the Detention of Children

When public officials condemn B'Tselem but are silent about the detaining of a 5-year-old child by Israeli soldiers, it is indicative of a systematic campaign of delegitimization against human rights groups.

A video clip shot last week by a volunteer for the human rights group B’Tselem showed Israel Defense Force soldiers from the Givati Brigade and the Border Police arresting a 5-year-old boy suspected of throwing stones at cars. The film shows the soldiers interrogating the boy, Wa’adi Maswada, on a main street and then taking him to a side street, all the while the boy is crying and screaming in fear. When the soldiers order the boy to get into the IDF jeep, he jumps around wildly until he is placed in the jeep by an adult, a Palestinian.

Another clip shows the boy and his father sitting in an army camp; the father’s hands are bound and his eyes covered with a flannel blindfold. All during the incident, not one soldier showed any compassion for the frightened boy. What worried one of them was the B’Tselem researcher documenting the incident, so he pulled out a camera and took a picture of her.

The army spokesman’s response to the incident focused on a condemnation of B’Tselem, “which chooses intentionally to release films like this before clarifying the matter with the IDF.” Another military official added: “Even a stone thrown by a minor can cause injury.” No senior figure in the military, not to mention in the government, saw the need to criticize or condemn the behavior of the soldiers, which goes against the law mandating that criminal responsibility in the military justice system in the territories begins at age 12.

The attack on B’Tselem, which does vital work in documenting the injustices that take place beyond the walls of the Israeli public’s indifference, is not a matter of chance. It is part of the systematic campaign of delegitimization against human rights groups, a campaign whose goal is to blur and erase the ugly and violent side of the occupation.

The response of Economy Minister Naftali Bennett to the case is a good example of how the denial works. “We live in the Middle East,” he said. “Around us are hundreds of millions of Muslims who don’t want us here, so you think that we’re going to dance ballet with them on the hills? ... I didn’t see the film, I’m sure it’s unpleasant. So there are problems sometimes.”

If a senior government minister does not bother to watch the wrenching video clip that is at his fingertips and yet responds so hardheartedly, what can we expect from the soldiers, who are no more than emissaries of that government? It is a government that continues to nurture the occupation and refuses to end the destructive process that benumbs this country’s citizens.