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The Israeli Soldiers Vs. the Seven Year Old

The arrest of a seven year old and his father in Deheishe, West Bank, July 13, 2002, as experienced by Italian internationals. A rough translation by Sophia.

The story, always the same one, of children who are arrested or killed by Israeli soldiers, by now is a fact of life here in the Occupied Territories. This story is one of those many young boys that play in the roads of the refugees camps and the Palestinian towns. Even under the curfews that keep shops shuttered and roads empty of cars, they cluster, playing football and yelling with each other.

When the tanks pass, the boys hide in the alleys of the roads or run out into the street in groups. They launch rocks and bottles towards the tanks, knowing the effect is nothing against those enormous steel beasts. The effort is partly a game, and partly protest—often the most visible sign of dissent in the curfew-silenced streets. The soldiers fire their guns sporadically, hitting the air, the road, sometimes thin brown arms and legs and chests.

Yesterday soldiers arrested a refugee child, aged seven, from Deheishe. The accusation is the usual: the boy threw rocks at a tank.

An American informs us of the boy and says to us that we should go to speak with the soldiers in their tanks on the road to see if it’s possible to convince them to let the boy go. We go, and the accusation is this: "He has launched rocks at us… it's damaged our tank."

We answer that that's not true, that the tank has no visible damage.

But they insist it's true, and it’s a ransom sort of situation: now they want the father or brother to come out, or they won't let the boy go.

"But the brother is also a child," we protest.

Answer: "Not, that’s not true. Mohammed’s brother is 16 years old, he’s not a child. Don’t tell lies…"

"He is 16 and he’s not a child?" we ask, surprised at this definition of youth.

"No,” the soldiers say, probably failing to see the youth of a teenaged boy because they may themselves be teenaged still.

We're useless, chatting with the soldiers. They give ten minutes of time for the father to come to them. The mother says to us that the father of the seven-year-old is sick. He's had a heart attack and he shouldn't be put under stress. The cynical answer of the soldiers: "They are all sick. If you want the child we must speak with the father."

We ask the mother of the child to go call her husband, and between tears she walks quickly along the narrow lanes of the camp to her home. The man comes as soon as he hears the story. With effort he walks to the tanks that are 300 meters from where we stand. All our hands are raised, lights in our face, guns to our heads.

They ask for our IDs and passports and keep the father's card. After a few moments, the tanks is opened and three men in military uniforms exit to handcuff the father with plastic straps that they attach to the inside wall of the wagon.

Our protests, our demands to see the child freed again fall on deaf ears. The military men explain to us coldly: "We cannot allow that the boys continue to do this... this is the only way to make them to understand it." We hear soon after that the father and son are taken to Gilo, an Israeli settlement near Bethlehem.

Nothing to do, the only thing that we can make is to try of console the woman to which a son and a husband are lost. (We don't know then that the child and father will be returned by morning to their home, although they are and we hear later that they are okay.) It's a difficult task, impossible.



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