The Settlers’ Servants

Haaretz Editorial
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Israeli troops detaining Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank, this week.
Haaretz Editorial

Some 15 Israel Defense Forces soldiers and officers, accompanied by several settlers, chased five Palestinian children aged 8, 10, 12 and 13, and detained them for more than five hours. Their parents were not told where they were, and they were subjected to unauthorized questioning without being told their rights. If anyone needs any more proof of the degree to which West Bank settlers control the IDF and its agenda, they got it last Wednesday.

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Jaber, Zeid, Omar, Yassin and Saqr, cousins from the village of Umm Lasafa in the South Hebron Hills, went out that day to forage for akoub, a wild plant used in Palestinian cuisine. During their wanderings they reached the area of A-Tuwani, where the Havat Ma’on outpost was established in the forest on the facing hill. Two settlers, their faces covered, came out of the forest toward the children; soon they were approached by other settlers. At a certain point the children felt threatened and started to leave. They saw military vehicles coming toward them and concluded, correctly, that the soldiers were looking for them.

The children fled, and the soldiers chased them in the jeep and found them near a home in the village of Al-Rakiz. The soldiers dragged the frightened children to the jeeps, drove them to the outpost, and after questioning that scared them, drove them to the police station outside Kiryat Arba. The police did not question them at that time.

According to the settlers, the children had entered the ungated outpost. In preliminary reports to the media there was mention of “parrots” that the children ostensibly planned to steal.

Soldiers are permitted to detain any person (including a child, even if he’s under 12) who is suspected of an act that endangers public safety and security for up to three hours. A lieutenant colonel is permitted to extend the detention for another three hours. It isn’t clear if that was done in this case. But this detention is meant to allow time to identify the detainee, not to extract information from him. If necessary, the detainee is transferred to the agency with the authority to question him – the police, or the Shin Bet security service.

In a normal reality, the soldiers involved in this event would have been investigated on suspicion of operating without authority and against the law. But reality isn’t normal. There’s no point in wondering how settlers’ parrots can become grounds for chasing Palestinian children and detaining them for more than five hours. It makes sense in a reality where the Israeli security forces deployed throughout the West Bank don’t stop settlers from committing daily attacks against Palestinians and their property. It makes sense in a reality where law enforcement consistently fails to locate Israelis who attack Palestinians, and don’t prosecute them even if they do.

The police – who questioned Jaber and Zeid on Sunday – must reconsider, close the case, and stop responding like parrots to settlers’ orders.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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