Sunday, 23 December 2012

Hebron Souk December 23rd 2012

This afternoon I was having tea with my darling friend Nawal (Founder "Women in Hebron Cooperative") in the Souk.

So we are sitting with her sister Leila in their shop, chatting away: " Min seman ma bashuftkum! Kifkum? Shu achbarkum? "

As usual a soldier patrol was walking past, talking their M14s for a stroll (or is it M16s? Keep mixing the different models up but I think the M16s are too heavy to carry around...).

After a while there is some turmoil to be heard from a little further up towards the mosque. The soldiers are about to arrest two boys around 10 years of age. This is the father of one of the boys trying to prevent that. He is working with B'tselem and not willing to make this easy.
Meanwhile Leila had asked an American tourist, who she had previously involved in a quite entertaining discussion about how the American politics are the worst of all and Obama should be put in jail instead of the thousands of Palestinians, to intervene on the boys behalf.

He headed of in the right direction but seemed somewhat confused what to do, so I grabbed my camera - still in disbelief that this should be happening after a 17year old had been shot from short distance near the mosque only last week. It was his birthday, he was carrying his birthday cake and a small lighter in shape of a pistol, which made the soldier freak as he put his hands above his head just as she asked him to. But that was last week.

Back to current happenings. Leaving the American behind I push myself in the middle and try to make them let go of the kids. In vain of course. The argument that those boys are barely ten and therefore minors under any existing law including the Israeli law doesn't work. I try the put yourself in their shoes line: "How would you feel if you were this age and were arrested by 6 (or was it 5) heavily armed soldiers?" Don't you have any brothers or sisters this age?" Eventually I hear myself yelling at them. One of them seems to be slightly discomforted with the situation, telling me that they are "only taking the boys to the military station down the road and the father of this one boy is allowed to come along. Please stop yelling now." Far from satisfied with that information, I am not inclined to follow that request. " You should be ashamed of yourselves".  Soldier: " So they should be allowed to throw stones at us? We want to find out if they did it or not". Dear reader,  I would like to point out that is is quite hard in many countries to arrest adults on the charge that they "might have done something". First, it was "They threw stones at us." Then "Our comrades told us they did it, we have many posts along this way." Having served as an observer with EAPPI I recall being the target of quite a few pebble stones (by settler kids more or less the same age, never heard of them witnessed to be arrested) - and doubtlessly it could not have been more than that as there was no injured soldier anywhere to be seen. Plus, I think the pictures indicate that the patrol was rather nicely padded all around, so I wonder how much damage that could have done.

The stones, which were thrown at me, my colleagues any random Palestinian passing by, were thrown by settler children. I have not heard or read about a single arrest of a settler child below the age of 12. As a matter of fact I have seen 16 year old settlers being drunk on Purim and carrying machine guns. Coming to think of it I have never heard about an arrest of a settler child above the age of 12. Though not encountering this kind of situation the first time, I am once again amazed at the indignation in the soldiers voice "Does that mean they should be allowed to throw stones at US?". Could I find this half way funny I would have called him a diva. I can see future careers in a more theatrical setting coming up...
I follow the patrol as they are taking the boys with them. An older brother (?) is getting himself in a row with the soldiers, outraged at their omni- and our impotence. His mates and I are trying to calm him down - too serious are the consequences in case he gets himself arrested. This time, we succeed.

I am being told again to "back of or...". There is no law against walking and taking pictures in a public space, so some Palestinians and I follow. The father who is walking with them had been filming with his camera - as he will disappear in the military compound I decided it's safest to take pictures as well.

People in the souk are watching, but not reacting. Some vendors are trying to get me interested in their goods as I hurry along behind the soldiers. They probably wonder why I am making such a fuss. Nothing out of the ordinary is happening.

Both boys are taken behind the gates of the military compound surrounding the settlers' Jeshiva school.

The smaller boy (left) I hear later in the souk was not involved at all. He was just available unlike another boy who had been throwing some pebbles but simply ran faster.

The father follows them behind the gates.

Behind them the rest of the patrol, seemingly content with their capture.

Behind them the gate gets locked immediately. For a second the thought crosses my mind that I could make much better use of the chain - using it on my  bike back in Berlin.
 I return to Nawal and Leila, ring friend Hamed who is with UNHCR, get the number of the DCO (District Commanding Officer) of him and ring the operations room. I am being told that there is no need to worry, father and son had been released already. My inquiry about the other boy is initially answered with: "Oh, he has been throwing stones (pebbles!) at the soldiers." I monotonously repeat that I suggest immediate release as the boy is an unaccompanied minor and an arrest therefore unlawful. Reluctantly, the voice on the other end of the phone informs me that the boy will be released into the care of the Palestinian police in a few minutes.
I look at Nawal, Leila and Akram, Nawal's husband, who shrug their shoulders: " They will probably ask the police to collect a fine from the parents. They are very poor but this happens a few times every day. Let's be happy nobody got shot".

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