Five Year Old Arrested

In the early afternoon of 17 April, 33-year old Samer Qabha was sitting with his five-year old son, Motaz, in his lap, talking to his neighbour in front of his house in the northern West Bank village of Tura al-Gharbiya. As the men chatted, they noticed an Israeli military Hummer jeep passing several times up and down along the street in front of them. Samer and his neighbour paid little attention to the vehicle - the sight of the Israeli army in town is nothing new. Israeli forces often enter Tura al-Gharbiya and surrounding villages ostensibly to patrol the Separation Wall which snakes along the western edge of Tura al-Gharbiya, cutting the village off from its land and from the 9,000 residents of neighbouring hamlets in the Barta'a Ash Sharqiya enclave.

On around the fifth time of passing, the Hummer stopped and three soldiers got down and started walking towards Samer. Pointing at Motaz, the soldiers asked if the boy was Samer's son and said he'd been throwing stones at the jeep. As Samer started to protest, pointing out that his son was only five years old, other soldiers appeared from an olive grove beside the house. As they walked up to Samer and Motaz, one soldier told the others standing there "That boy was throwing stones".

To the horror of Samer and his neighbour, the soldiers announced that they were going to arrest Motaz. Samer implored them to leave his child alone, but one of the soldiers bent down and tried to pull the by now terrified child out of his father's arms. For almost half an hour, Samer argued with the soldiers that Motaz was only a child and that they couldn't arrest him. However, when it became clear to him that the soldiers were not going to yield, Samer told them that if they were going to detain his child, they would have to take him too.

The soldier in charge made a call in which, Samer assumes, he sought permission to bring the father along with the son. The soldiers then dragged Motaz from his father, shouting at the boy who started screaming and begging his father to help him. Samer tried to hold onto and protect Motaz, but his efforts only angered the soldiers further. They turned and beat Samer, separating him from Motaz whom they slapped and yelled at. The soldiers bound Samer's hands and blindfolded him before pushing him into the jeep, shoving Motaz in after him.

Father and son were transferred to the nearby "Shakeed" military base and placed in a downstairs room to await the arrival of an officer. After about half an hour, Motaz, who was shaking with fear, told his father that he wanted a drink. Samer asked a soldier to bring a glass of water, but when it came, almost an hour later, the water was so hot they had to leave it to cool before the boy was able to drink. A while later, Motaz said he needed to go to the bathroom. The soldiers initially refused to let Motaz out of the cell, but after a long and heated argument they finally relented and let Samer, with his hands tied, walk out of the room to the toilet, with Motaz clutching his leg.

Around 8.30pm, an officer came and told Samer that Motaz had been throwing stones at soldiers. Samer demanded that the officer show some proof, so the officer called another soldier over who, indicating at Motaz, promptly told Samer and the officer, "This boy throws stones". The officer made a phone call and told Samer that he would be taken with his son to Salem detention centre north of Jenin, where Samer would be made to pay a fine of NIS 2,000 ($445). Again, Samer protested, arguing that he should not be made to pay and that his son was merely a child. "Israel does not separate between children and adults," the officer told Samer. "All Palestinians are terrorists!"

The officer left the room and, on returning told Samer that he and Motaz could leave now. He told Samer to tell all the people of his village that they were to stop throwing stones at the Israeli forces as they patrolled the streets. "This is the last time we'll warn you,", he said.

At around 9.30pm, six and a half hours after the soldiers had first approached them outside the house, Samer and Motaz were released from military custody. They were let out of the gates of Shakeed camp onto an empty road, and told to go home. However, it was not until 10.30pm, after a terrifying hour's walk along a pitch-black road at risk of attack from Jewish settlers or from being apprehended again by Israeli forces, that Samer and Motaz finally reached the relative safety of their home back in Tura al-Gharbiya.

Based on the testimony of Samer Saleh Qabha See Defence for Children International Palestine Section