After filming arrest of five boys, B’Tselem field researcher says Israeli Shin Bet ‘threatened’ him

Earlier this month Palestinians in the occupied West Bank’s South Hebron Hills made headlines, after a video was published of Israeli soldiers arresting five young Palestinian children, all between the ages of 8 and 13.

The video, which showed a large group of armed soldiers detaining the frightened young boys, was filmed by a field researcher with Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, and went viral on social media.

Human rights organizations and activists from around the world condemned the Israeli military’s handling of the boys, claiming that they were wrongfully detained while picking wild herbs and vegetables in a mountainous area close to an illegal Israeli settlement.

The Palestinian man who filmed the incident, Nasr Nawaja’a, along with other field researchers and B’Tselem staffers were accused by some Israeli officials of “staging” the whole incident, going so far as to say that B’Tselem “sent [the] kids to commit a crime” in order to “entrap unsuspecting journalists to spread lies about [Israel].”

Nawaja’a told Mondoweiss that through his work as a field researcher and documenter of Israeli violations, he has become accustomed to accusations like the ones he faced after the detention of the five boys, saying that “it comes with the work.”

In addition to the accusations he often faces of lying and fabricating Israeli attacks on Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills — despite having video evidence of such incidents more often than not — Nawaja’a says he often faces routine harassment from Israeli soldiers and security officials because of his work.

In fact, just a few days after the video of the boys’ detention was published by B’Tselem, Nawaja’a says he was summoned for interrogation by the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence agency, and was warned to “not make any more trouble for the army.”

“I was passing through one of the military checkpoints near my home in the Susiya village, when the soldiers checked my ID and stopped me for around 40 minutes, refusing to let me pass,” Nawaja’a recounted to Mondoweiss.

Nawaja’a said that one of the soldiers then handed him a phone, on the other line of which was a Shin Bet officer, who introduced himself as “Captain Eid,” the officer in charge of the South Hebron Hills area.

“He told me I had two options, to have the soldiers detain me and take me to his office immediately for interrogation, or submit myself the following day. So I chose the second option,” Nawaja’a said.

When Nawaja’a appeared for interrogation at the Israeli Civil Administration’s office at a junction between the Bethlehem and Hebron districts, he said he was body searched and all of his belongings were scanned before he was led into an interrogation room and left alone for what he says was around 15-20 minutes. After that, Nawaja’a was taken to another interrogation room, where he met Captain Eid.

“He told me that I was ‘interfering’ with the soldiers’ ‘work’ and their ‘jobs’ in the Masafer Yatta area,” Nawaja’a recalled, adding that the captain asked him why he was always “creating chaos and threatening the soldiers.”

Nawaja’a said that Captain Eid then began to threaten him “in an indirect way,” by asking if he recalled what happened to Harun Abu Aram — a 26-year-old Palestinian man from the Masafer Yatta area who was shot and paralyzed by Israeli soldiers in January, as he attempted to save his family’s generator from being confiscated by the army.

“He said that soldiers shot him [Abu Aram] by accident, and that maybe that kind of accident could happen again, so ‘you should be careful’,” Nawaja’a said. “I felt like he was threatening me and trying to send me a message.”

“I told the captain that everything I do is legal and I’m just doing my job with a human rights organization,” Nawaja’a said. “I told him when I film and document these incidents, I am not affecting the soldiers ‘work’ in any way.”

Captain Eid then told Nawaja’a that he was “being watched,” and that the Shin bet was keeping tabs on “everything he was doing.”

According to a report from Haaretz on the interrogation with Captain Eid, the Shin Bet said in a statement that “at no stage did the Shin Bet representative threaten Mr. Nawaja’a – neither explicitly nor as a hint.”

“From start to finish, the whole thing was threatening and intimidating,” Nawaja’a told Mondoweiss. “Why else would they be detaining me at checkpoints, summoning me for interrogation, and telling me they are watching me?” he asked, adding that “these are clear tactics of intimidation.”

Nawaja’a told Mondoweiss that since he was interrogated by the Shin Bet, his name has continued to be flagged at Israeli military checkpoints, resulting in hours long delays that often need to be resolved by his lawyer.

“The soldiers will keep me for hours without any reason, and will usually only let me go if my lawyer steps in and gets them to release me,” Nawaja’a said.

He said that the stops have had a significant impact on his day to day life, due to the fact that he often has to pass several military checkpoints a day in order to travel from his home in Susiya to other areas in the Hebron district.

Nawaja’a said the fact that he is being targeted by Israeli authorities is “evident that my work is a threat to them.”

“We know that our work bothers them because we are the ones who document and witness all the violations that they are committing in Masafer Yatta and all of Palestine on a daily basis, and we are the ones who show all their crimes to the world,” he said.

In addition to intimidation tactics from Israeli security officials, Nawaja’a says he has grown increasingly concerned with threats against his life made by Israeli settlers in the Masafer Yatta area.

“In the past few weeks, any time I am filming an incident involving the settlers, many of them start to harass me and even call me out by my name,” Nawaja’a said, adding that he thought it to be strange and “concerning” that the settlers knew him by name — something that had never happened before.

“It very much feels like a coordinated effort between the settlers and the soldiers to continue intimidating activists, human rights defenders, and the Palestinians in Masafer Yatta,” Nawaja’a said.

Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills, like Nawaja’a are no strangers to the Israeli occupation and all the hardships that come with living under military control.

Located in the southern occupied West Bank, the South Hebron Hills are a vast rural area encompassing over a dozen Palestinian villages and enclaves, and is known by its residents as Masafer Yatta, or “Greater Yatta”, referring to the area surrounding the large Palestinian city of Yatta.

Under the complete control of the Israeli military, Masafer Yatta was designated as ‘Area C’ under the Oslo Accords, thus making all forms of Palestinian construction illegal and subject to Israeli home demolitions.

While systematically blocking Palestinian construction and development, the Israeli government has over the years allocated hundreds of acres of land for illegal Israeli settlements and outposts.

Additionally, more than 7,000 acres of land in Masafer Yatta, which is home to around 13,000 Palestinians, was declared a military firing zone in the 1980s and has since been used routinely by the Israeli army for operations and training in the area.

Being located in Area C, a firing zone, and surrounded by settlements and outposts has made the Palestinians in Masafer Yatta susceptible to routine attacks from both Israeli security forces and armed settlers in the area.

“In Masafer Yatta there are constant attacks from the settlers on the farmers and their livestock, and attacks from soldiers in the form of arrests and home demolitions,” Nawaja’a told Mondoweiss.

“This is all part of Israel’s goal to scare us into abandoning our land,” he said. “The international community needs to look at our documentation and take it seriously, and use it to act, and stop the crimes against Palestinians in Masafer Yatta and across the rest of Palestine.”


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