At behest of settlers, Israeli forces arrest Palestinian children picking wild flowers

Israeli forces arrested five Palestinian children, ranging between the ages of eight and 13, in the South Hebron Hills of the southern occupied West Bank on Wednesday, sparking outrage among local and international human rights advocates. 

Videos of the arrest went viral on social media, showing a large group of masked and armed Israeli soldiers forcibly arresting the children, who were visibly alarmed and frightened as they were dragged into an Israeli military jeep. 

“The kids were caught off guard and had no idea what was happening to them and why,” Basel Adrah, a local activist from the Masafer Yatta area told Mondoweiss

According to Adrah, who was an eyewitness to the arrest and filmed one of the videos that was circulated on social media, the soldiers, who he described as “unnecessarily aggressive,” prevented any bystanders from approaching the boys and helping them.

In one video of the event, published by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, an older boy can be seen trying to free one of the children from the grasp of the soldiers, at which point he is grabbed by another soldier and dragged along with the boys towards the jeeps. 

An adult male in the background can be heard yelling at the soldiers, “aren’t you embarrassed to arrest children? This is criminal work.”

“I felt so helpless in that moment,” Adrah told Mondoweiss, as he recounted the desperate cries coming from the children as they pleaded with the soldiers to let them go. 

“You want to do something and try to help the children, but because we are dealing with the occupation and the settlers, all we can do is film what happens,” he said. 

According to Adrah, the boys were transferred to the Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron, where Israeli soldiers interrogated them for hours before eventually releasing them into the custody of their families. 

Two of the boys, aged 12 and 13, were given summons to appear before Israeli interrogators again on Sunday March 14th. 

Following the settlers’ orders

On Wednesday morning the five boys were wandering through the hills of Masafer Yatta, a cluster of Palestinian villages and hamlets south of Hebron, and picking the seasonal wild flower akoub to bring back home to their families, a practice previously banned by Israeli authorities. 

Prized among Palestinians for its medicinal properties and culinary versatility, akoub is a treasured delicacy that blooms only one season of the year, and is widely sought out by Palestinians in the springtime. 

“The boys were picking akoub on some land close to the Havat Maon settler outpost, and that’s when the settlers started harassing them,” Adrah told Mondoweiss. 

“Even though the settlers had a problem with the kids being there, the boys were not breaking any laws,” Adrah said. 

In a video published to Twitter by Israeli journalist Roy Sharon, security footage of the Havat Maon outpost seemed to show the boys approaching what is purported to be a parrot cage, within the built up area of the outpost. 

In another tweet, Sharon claimed that the footage proved that the children were not picking akoub when they were chased out by the settlers. 

Another vantage point of the moments leading up to the incident published by B’Tselem, however, show clearly the group of boys picking akoub and putting it into buckets when two masked settlers approach them. 

According to testimony from Adrah and other eyewitnesses to Wednesday’s events, the settlers began chasing the boys out of the area, forcing them to abandon their buckets, barrels, and the akoub they had harvested, which were then confiscated by the settlers. 

“The settlers in this area are notoriously violent, and routinely harass the children from Masafer Yatta on their way to school, during which time they have to pass by the settlement,” Adrah said, adding that the settlers have a history of physical violence towards Palestinian shepherds to graze their sheep in the area. 

In their escape from the settlers, the boys reportedly fled towards the at-Tuwani village in Masafer Yatta, at which point they were caught up with by the group of Israeli soldiers, and the same settlers who had chased them outside Havat Maon. 

“Myself and other activists in the area were shocked to see the settlers essentially giving orders to the soldiers,” Adrah said. “They [settlers] were telling them [soldiers] ‘do this’, ‘do that’, arrest that boy there’.”

The soldiers were “clearly taking orders from the settlers,” Adrah said, adding that the settlers allegedly accused the boys of damaging their property and attempting to steal birds from the settlement. 

“This was obviously an attempt by the settlers to intimidate the boys by using the soldiers, which are at their disposal, to arrest them for nothing,” Adrah said. “They didn’t steal or damage anything. All they were doing was picking akoub. Is this a crime?”

A history of violence

The detention of the five boys on Wednesday was widely condemned by human rights advocates 

Defense for Children International — Palestine (DCIP) estimates that around 700 Palestinian children are detained by Israeli forces every year, many of them under the age of 12 — the minimum age of criminal responsibility according to Israeli military and civilian law.  

Locals in Masafer Yatta said that the detention of the boys is part of a long history of violence against their communities, which they say has spiked in recent months. 

The cluster of Palestinian towns and villages in Masafer Yatta are located in Area C, the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli civilian and security control. Much of the area is designated as a military firing zone, leaving the residents subject to live military training,  routine home demolitions, and the constant threat of expulsion from their homes. 

Today, there are currently 1,000 Palestinians in Masafer Yatta who are under threat of expulsion by the Israeli military. Additionally, ongoing settlement expansion in the area has further restricted Palestinians’ access to the land in the area, and has subjected them to violent attacks from the Israeli settlers. 

Between 2006 and 2013, B’Tselem documented the demolition of 64 residential structures in Masafer Yatta’s communities, which were home to 346 people, 155 of them minors. 

In recent months, Israeli forces have been documented as destroying Palestinian water networks in Masafer Yatta, demolishing homes, and in a case that caught global attention, soldiers shot and paralyzed a Palestinian man from the area as he tried to prevent the soldiers from confiscating his family’s generator. 

Nasr Nawajaa, a field researcher with B’Tselem and resident of Masafer Yatta told Mondoweiss that the situation in Masafer Yatta is “getting worse every single day.”

“The military firing zone and settlement expansion in Masafer Yatta has taken a big toll on the Palestinians here and our lives,” Nawajaa said. “They continue to confiscate our land and give it to the settlers.”

Nawajaa said that while the settlers, like the ones in Havat Maon, are permitted to illegally expand their boundaries and use the land for agriculture and farming, Palestinians in Masafer Yatta are deprived of the most basic resources, like water and electricity. 

“Israel refuses to connect us to the water and electricity network. If we try to connect ourselves to the water network, or international aid organizations try to, Israel comes and destroys our pipes,” he said, adding that on Thursday morning Israeli forces destroyed a water network in the area that serviced 50-60 Palestinian families. 

“As we saw yesterday with the violent arrest of the children, the Israeli occupation continues to violate every international and humanitarian law against Palestinians in Masafer Yatta and the rest of the West Bank,” Nawajaa said. 

“The international community needs to stand up and uphold the law. The demolitions, attacks on our children, constant arrests — these are all crimes that Israel needs to be held accountable for.”


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