Fully armed soldiers enter the school in occupied Hebron, threaten teachers, and take away a child they likely exceeded their authority to arrest because of his age.
By Meron Rapoport
Fully armed Israeli soldiers forced their way into a Palestinian school in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron and took away a 10-year-old boy this week. The age of criminal culpability is 12 years old under both Israeli civilian and military law.
While the soldiers likely exceeded their authority in this case, it would hardly be the first time that has happened. Israeli soldiers have been documented arresting and detaining far-younger Palestinian children over the years, particularly in Hebron.
The incident this week took place at the Haj Ziad Jaber School in of Hebron, a city in the West Bank where hundreds of Israeli soldiers are permanently stationed alongside hundreds of Jewish settlers and tens of thousands of Palestinians.
While the Jewish settlers living in the same city are subject to Israeli civilian law, Palestinians, even those living on the same street, are subject to military law and can be arrested by Israeli troops — a foreign army — at any time.
According to a report in Ma’an News, which published a video of the incident, the soldiers forced their way into the school and snatched the child from his classroom. On its Facebook page, the school wrote that the boy is a fourth grader.
In the video, an Israeli army officer can be seen grabbing the boy, who appears very young. A few Palestinian adults, including the school’s vice principal, try and stop the soldiers from taking the child.
Another Israeli soldier can be seen pushing an older Palestinian man, who Ma’an identified as the vice principal. When yet another Palestinian educator tries explaining to the soldiers that these were small children, the Israeli officer responds in Hebrew, “they threw stones, I don’t care how old they are,” adding that he would take them to an Israeli police station.
When the vice principal asks the Israeli soldiers to explain what is happening in Arabic, the army officer responds, again in Hebrew: “I don’t give a crap about your Arabic.”
Most Palestinians do not speak Hebrew and the vast majority of Israeli soldiers, even those in roles that require them to interact with the occupied Palestinian population on a daily basis, do not speak Arabic.
At a certain point in the video, the Israeli officer is seen speaking into his radio, ordering more soldiers to enter the school, saying “there are teachers jumping all over me.” Another soldier then threatens to break the arm of another of the Palestinian educators.
When one of the Palestinian educators asks to speak with a higher-ranking Israeli officer, the officer who originally forced his way into the school to detain the small child responds, “talk to whoever you want, I don’t give a crap.”
Eventually, after the Israeli army reinforcements filled the elementary school’s hallways, each clutching an assault rifle, the soldiers take away the 10-year-old Palestinian child and at least one of the adults.
According to Ma’an, “local sources” said that Palestinian authorities attempted to intervene at that point and that the boy was released some time later.
Gaby Lasky, an Israeli attorney who specializes in human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, said that because the age of criminal culpability is 12, “the soldiers did not have the authority to arrest the boy.”
“Every soldier, and definitely every officer, should know that there is no legal authority to arrest or put on trial a child of that age,” Lasky explained. Even entering school grounds during school hours with weapons, without a warrant, and without coordinating with the school’s administration, is something that should be forbidden. Usually, she said, even the army avoids doing so.
Lasky said she planned to file a complaint against the soldiers for entering the school grounds and arresting the young child
An Israeli army spokesperson responded by claiming that a group of students had thrown stones toward Israeli cars in the Jewish settlement in Hebron, and that following that incident, a “[military] force conducted a warning chat with the pupils, but they were not arrested.”
Nevertheless, the spokesperson added, “the incident will be investigated and regulations will be clarified accordingly.”
Meron Rapoport is an editor at Local Call, where a version of this article first appeared in Hebrew. Read it here.