Soldiers gather children in Hebron neighborhood, photograph them and release them
On Tuesday, 24 May 2016, at around 7:30 P.M., several dozen soldiers came to the Jaber neighborhood in Hebron. The neighborhood lies along the road settlers call “Worshipers’ Route” as they use it to reach the Tomb of the Patriarchs from the settlement of Kiryat Arba. This area has known many confrontations between settlers and army forces, on one hand, and Palestinian residents, on the other. Testimonies given to B’Tselem and footage filmed by B’Tselem volunteer Suzan Zraqo, who lives in the neighborhood, indicate that the soldiers passed through the neighborhood, gathering, seemingly at random, some twenty children and teens from the streets. The soldiers had them stand against a wall and began questioning them about an incident that occurred in the area earlier that day, in which stones were thrown at an Israeli bus. They then took a photo of every child and teen using a mobile phone and released them. B’Tselem obtained the details of fourteen of these minors, seven of whom are under the age of twelve – the cutoff age for criminal liability.
Fourteen-year-old neighborhood resident M.G. gave his account of the events to B’Tselem field researcher Manal Ja’bri on 29 May 2016:
It was after dark. I was playing cards outside with two friends, who are seven and ten years old, and my brother, who is eleven. Suddenly, we were surrounded by Israeli jeeps and lots of soldiers got out of them. Ten of them came over and detained us, and the others spread out along the roads that lead off towards Kiryat Arba. The soldiers told us to stand against the wall. We were frightened by the number of soldiers and because they’d detained us.
After about ten minutes, the soldiers who had gone off along the other roads came back. Every group of soldiers was leading several children. I also saw soldiers grab N., who is seven years old, by the neck and lead him toward us. He was crying. They kept us there by the wall for about fifteen minutes. Then they asked us who had thrown stones at an Israeli bus that had passed by in the area. The soldiers took photos of us, one after the other. Then they told us to go home.
On Thursday, 26 May 2016, in the late afternoon, I went to do some shopping with a friend of mine, who is thirteen. On the way back we passed through Checkpoint 160 (a checkpoint erected on the “Worshipers’ Route”). At the checkpoint, Border Police officers put us into a room and we heard the door lock behind us. An officer spoke with us through a glass partition and told us he had pictures of us throwing stones. I saw him looking through an album with photos of a lot of children. We told him we hadn’t thrown stones and that we wanted to go home. He opened the door and let us out. He warned us that they have our pictures, in case we throw stones in future.
Ten-year-old neighborhood resident A. R. gave his account to al-Ja’bri on 30 May 2016:
In the evening of 24 May 2016, I was playing outside with five friends when suddenly, we saw military jeeps and a lot of soldiers running towards us. There were about thirty soldiers there. Some of them spread out along the streets in the neighborhood. Others stayed near us and ordered us to stand against a wall. I started crying because I was so scared and so did a friend of mine, who is eight. We tried to get away but one of the soldiers grabbed me by the shirt and another grabbed my friend by the neck. They led us to the wall. There were other children there, some our age and some older. I saw people from the neighborhood talking with the soldiers in English and in Hebrew. Some more soldiers came from the alleyways bringing more kids. I understood they were accusing us of throwing stones at settlers. One soldier ordered us to sit, so we sat down on the ground. Then the soldiers told us to get up and took photos of us, one by one. Then they threatened to arrest us if we ever threw stones again.
This is not the first instance that B’Tselem has documented soldiers photographing minors in Hebron. To date, however, these incidents have occurred within homes, with the children’s parents present, and without the minors themselves being questioned or accused of a specific offense. B’Tselem is also aware that soldiers often detain Palestinian children on the streets of Hebron, but the scope of this latest incident and the fact that every minor was photographed are unusual. As of 1 June 2016, none of the fourteen minors whose details B’Tselem obtained were arrested or questioned. This indicates that they were detained and photographed despite being suspected of nothing.
Given the soldiers’ conduct in this incident, it appears that their goal was primarily to intimidate the children in order to deter them from throwing stones, and to make it easier for the military to identify them in case they do. This demonstrates blatant disregard for the military’s duty to protect the rights of minors. The legality of this course of action is doubtful: the military is prohibited from treating civilians – certainly minors, and especially those under the age of criminal liability – as potential criminals and using soldiers to deter them.