Israeli forces have detained Palestinian children, who went foraging for wild vegetables in the occupied West Bank, triggering widespread condemnation.
The incident was filmed by Nasr Nawajaa, a field researcher with Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, in the Masafer Yatta area of the southern al-Khalil (Hebron) hills on Wednesday.
The video, which was circulated widely on social media, shows dozens of Israeli soldiers in combat gear grabbing five terrified boys, ages 7 to 11, and pushing them towards military vehicles.
Several Palestinian bystanders can be seen attempting to intervene, but to no avail.
At one point, an older Palestinian boy tries to rescue one of the minors, but he is grabbed by another Israeli soldier and dragged along with the group.
“The children were screaming and crying, pleading with the soldiers to call their parents and wait until their family arrived before taking them away,” Nawajaa told the Middle East Eye (MEE) news portal.
“The soldiers were treating the children like some hardened criminals, as if they had committed some huge crime,” he said, adding that the Israeli forces were “extremely aggressive” and “took the children by force.”
The children were taken to the nearby Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba, where they were held inside the military vehicles and interrogated for several hours, before being released to their families.
“These are just harmless children, what kind of threat could they possibly pose to justify this treatment?” Nawajaa said.
The five children, who are all cousins, were picking akoub, a wild artichoke-like vegetable that is currently in season.
Video footage of the moments preceding the boys’ arrest shows two masked Israeli settlers scaring them away and taking the buckets and plants they left behind.
Video footage of the moments preceding the arrest of the 5 children yesterday: The children gathered Akkoub (a type of wild Artichoke) near the settlement Havat Maon, 2 masked settlers approached them, scared them away and took the buckets and plants they left behind. pic.twitter.com/y0zvtt7AFk— B'Tselem בצלם بتسيلم (@btselem) March 11, 2021
The father of two of the boys said his sons were “terrified,” adding, “They couldn’t sleep all night.”
Jaber Hmeidat also said he spent Thursday trying to reassure his children and to explain that what happened was part of life for Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation.
“I worked so hard to raise their spirits,” he added.
Hmeidat stressed that the incident had made him angry, saying, “I would not have let them take the children, it would have been over my dead body.”
“It shows first and foremost the absolute disregard Israeli authorities have for the well-being of Palestinians,” B'Tselem spokesperson Amit Gilutz said. "Palestinians are constantly being dehumanized.”
The Israeli police claimed in a statement that the military had detained the Palestinian minors for allegedly breaking into private property and stealing parrots and other objects.
Settlers attack Palestinian family
On Saturday, a group of around 10 masked Israeli settlers beat and threw rocks at a Palestinian family in the West Bank in an attack the family captured on video.
According to B’Tselem, the Alyan family — two parents and their eight children — were working on their agricultural land near the Mitzpe Yair settler outpost, south of al-Khalil, when the assault took place.
In the footage, the assailants can be seen throwing rocks and brandishing batons as the children scream in the background.
This morning, about 10 ten settlers, some masked and equipped with batons attacked the Alyan family (parents + 8 children) near the settlment Mitzpe Yair in South Hebron Hills. The parents were injured and evacuated to a hospital in Hebron.— B'Tselem בצלם بتسيلم (@btselem) March 13, 2021
Footage courtesy of Alyan family pic.twitter.com/Eicby67vX8
Also Saturday, the Yesh Din rights group reported an attack the day before by settlers in the northern West Bank.
It said some 20 settlers coming from the direction of the Yitzhar settlement threw rocks at a neighborhood in the town of Huwara, damaging two parked cars.
“Settler violence is a crime meant to terrify Palestinians, take over their land and in this way expel them. The systematic non-enforcement and silence of politicians encourages this violence,” Yesh Din director Lior Amihai said in a statement.
The Tel Aviv regime has been criticized for its extensive use of lethal force and extrajudicial killings against Palestinians who do not pose an immediate threat to the occupation forces or to Israeli settlers.