Twenty-seven Palestinian children were ambushed and arrested by Israel Defense Forces soldiers in Hebron on March 20. Eighteen of them were less than 12 years old, the minimum age at which they can legally be held responsible for a crime.
This large-scale roundup was arbitrary. Soldiers arrested every child they saw on the street − including first- and second-graders no older than 7 or 8 − on suspicion of throwing stones at roadblock 160, which separates Palestinians from settlers.
Among them was 8-year-old Ahmed Abu Remeila, who was quoted by Gideon Levy in Haaretz on Friday as saying he was abducted by soldiers on his way to school from the grocery store, where he had bought himself a biscuit, and that he was held at the police station for almost two hours.
All 18 children under the age of 12 were eventually released, but their arrest was nevertheless utterly reprehensible. Under Israeli law, they should not have been arrested at all. In fact, the law forbid authorities from interrogating the older children as well, unless their parents and attorneys were present. This was not the case.
The arrests in Hebron were carried out some two weeks after the United Nations Children’s Fund released a report severely castigating Israel for the ways it arrests and detains Palestinian children.
UNICEF, which cannot in any way be accused of being anti-Israel, determined that the mistreatment of Palestinian minors detained by Israel is “widespread, systematic and institutionalized.”
“In no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights,” it declared.
According to UNICEF’s report, Israel has, in the past decade, arrested no fewer than 7,000 Palestinian children − some 700 a year. They are usually arrested in the middle of the night, after their homes are violently broken into, taken from their beds, torn from their families and thrown into prison in extremely harsh conditions, in violation of international treaties signed by Israel.
The unbearable ease with which the IDF, police and Border Police arrest small children shows that Israel is blatantly flouting both UNICEF’s report and its own laws.
Even if the problem of stone-throwing in the West Bank is getting worse, the IDF’s chief of staff must put an immediate stop to this illegal, ignominious procedure.