View from Jerusalem by Harriet Sherwood: The Guardian, 28 Sept 2011
Youngsters in West Bank village were forced out of bed for Israeli military ‘mapping’ exercise
I went to Nabi Saleh earlier this week, a West Bank village which has been the scene of weekly protests over a nearby spring for almost two years.
It’s a small village of around 550 residents and the spring is located on land that the Palestinians say is privately owned. But settlers from Halamish, across the valley, began construction work in 2008 to turn the spring into a picnic site and leisure attraction for Jews only.
The villagers’ weekly demonstrations which followed have become an established part of the popular protest movement in the West Bank, which is largely non-violent – or at least starts out that way.
The Israeli army nearly always intervenes in these protests, usually by using crowd-dispersal equipment including tear gas, stun grenades, foul-smelling water canon, rubber bullets and sometimes live bullets.
(I was in Qusra, another village, last Friday shortly before a Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli soldiers. A small group of settlers, maybe 15, had come down the hill with Israeli flags, and scores of men and youths from Qusra rushed to prevent them entering the village following earlier attacks including the vandalising of a mosque. The Israeli military, which was on the scene within minutes, began firing tear gas almost immediately – before any stone-throwing began. I left quite soon after, having been momentarily blinded by the gas, and did not witness subsequent events. An IDF statement later that day spoke of “a violent riot, during which Palestinians hurled rocks at security personnel. During the riot, security personnel used riot dispersal means and eventually, live fire.” But, as I witnessed, the “riot dispersal” began before the “riot”.)
The Nabi Saleh protests have been reported extensively. But a conversation I had with one of the villagers highlighted a practice of which I was previously unaware.
Bilal Tamimi (many of the village residents are part of the extended Tamimi family) said that soldiers often come to arrest villagers – including children – at night, a practice documented by B’Tselem, Defence for Children International – Palestine and other NGOs. But he said that, earlier this year, the army also came at night to photograph and record the identity details of children. He described what happened in his family:
“They came at 12.10am, and woke me up. They asked me how many children I have. They looked at my ID papers [where the children are listed] and asked me to wake up the two older ones, who are above 10 years. I said, they are sleeping. The soldiers said, wake them anyway.
“They wrote down the numbers and took pictures of the boys. Then they said they could go back to sleep.”
According to a report by B’Tselem, No Minor Matter, published in July:
“The photos were taken for what the army calls ‘mapping’: the army did not have any basis for suspecting any particular minor they awoke to photograph, but they wanted to build a reservoir of pictures they could later use for identification purposes, should the minor be involved in stone-throwing or other violent activity. In response to a report on the issue which was broadcast on Channel 10 News, the army said that ‘it uses a variety of means to maintain order and security’.”
It’s hard to see why it’s necessary to get children as young as 10 out of bed in the middle of the night to be photographed, questioned and/or arrested.
According to a report submitted to the UN by DCI on August 1, 52% of Palestinian children arrested by the Israeli military over the previous year had been detained between midnight and 5am.
My colleague from the Independent, Catrina Stewart, recently wrote a shocking account of what happened during one interrogation, which was recorded on video.
Bilal Tamimi has been recording the Nabi Saleh protests on a video camera lent to him by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem since January 2010. “Our demonstrations are non-violent,” he told me. “The camera is our weapon to document what happens.”
He acknowledges that children from the village “sometimes throw stones – but mostly after the soldiers fire [tear] gas.” The villagers “are used to living with this situation”, he says, but as tensions continue to rise in the West Bank, “we fear it will get worse”.