Why Is the Israeli Army Scared of a 14-year-old Boy?

12:00 Dec 19 2016 Ramle Prison

Why Is the Israeli Army Scared of a 14-year-old Boy?
Illustrative: DF soldiers arresting a Palestinian boy in Hebron in 2014 (illustrative). Credit: AFP Published by Haaretz

by Amira Hass for Haaretz

The first image circulating on WhatsApp and Facebook showed the face of a boy lying on a rock, his panicked look combined with some curiosity, with a bloodstain on the rock.
Even before that, when the soldiers stood in front of him and he held a knife in his hand, they noticed that he was scared. The first soldier who encountered him – as the boy hid in the bushes between a vineyard and a parking lot at the entrance to the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba – saw him raise the knife, say “Allahu Akbar” and, facing the loaded rifle, lower the knife and burst into tears.
This is A.Z. His name is known to consumers of Palestinian media, but we are not allowed to write it in full or reveal his face. He was seriously wounded on September 23, underwent surgery and was charged with attempted manslaughter. And no, the Israeli soldiers sustained no injuries. Not even a scratch.
The first soldier who encountered the child was immediately joined by another soldier and an officer. In other words, at one stage three armed men stood facing a scared boy aged 14 years and 4 months – and yet one of them shot and seriously injured him.
It was in self-defense, said the soldier who fired, because the child raised his little arm that held the kitchen knife and threw it from a distance toward him, all while turning his upper body like a professional discus thrower.
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“Is this our son,” wondered his parents, imagining him facing three armed men, his head reaching to their belly button or, at most, the middle of their chest.

The parents saw the situation differently: Their child stood close to the three soldiers, scared, with a knife in his hand. Out of panic he shouted “Allahu Akhbar” and when he was ordered to, threw the knife away, as if to say: “I’m sick of this game; it’s scary as hell and I want to go home.”

About two and a half months passed until lawyers Nery Ramati and Akram Samara managed to track down the medical information from Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem. (It took time to discover that the injured boy was registered in the hospital under a fictitious identity number, and to find out the number.)

The medical file confirms the lawyers’ original assertions, based on the small wound in the boy’s back (the bullet’s entry point) and large wound in the chest (the bullet’s exit point) and also based on what the boy said: He fled toward the vineyard, and then was shot.

So far, the judges have accepted the soldier and military prosecutor’s version: That the soldier shot at the boy from the front. That’s why military Judge Yitzhak Ozodin and the president of the appeals court, Col. Netanel Benishu, rejected the requests to release the boy on bail. The president of the military youth court, Menachem Lieberman, is now meditating how to rule on the second request to release him on bail – based on the contradiction between the version of the soldier who fired and the medical file.

The parents saw the boy’s frightened face on WhatsApp, and later heard that he was evacuated to Shaare Zedek, where he was operated on (for injuries to his torso and leg). That same day, his detention began. The first opportunity to see him was only when the military court sessions began at the Ofer military base.

Sometimes the father attends court. He’s a computer teacher in a town south of Hebron, where the family live, who dreamed of working in Israel as a manual laborer – because who can live on a monthly salary of 1,200 shekels ($312)? Sometimes he and his wife come. The military court has met at least 10 times to extend the boy’s detention, read the indictment and hold hearings on requests for bail, and their denial.

Samara, from the Palestinian Prisoners Society, and Ramati, from the Gaby Lasky law firm, already find it hard to count them all.

At least 10 Israeli military judges have seen the boy: Each time, he is transferred to Ofer in a hospital bed from the Israel Prison Service infirmary in Ramle, where he was moved after Shaare Zedek.

At first he remained in his bed outside the trailer that serves as a courtroom, with a too-thin blanket protecting him from the cold. The bed is big and it wasn’t until last week that the military court finally found the right screwdriver to open the closed half of the door to the trailer so they could bring the bed and injured kid inside.

A.Z. cried during his first appearances in court, his father said; he was allowed to talk to his son from a distance but not to touch him.

Now, at least, he is on the road to recovery: His leg is in a steel-encased cast, and his chest wounds are healing. Because of his alleged dangerousness, the military prosecution is demanding that he be detained until the end of legal proceedings against him.

Are three armed soldiers really incapable of apprehending a small child with a knife, without one of them shooting him in the back and seriously wounding him? This is not the question being examined in the military court.

Let’s hope that at least IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot is examining what kind of training is being given to soldiers – armed and protected, of course – who feel such fear when facing a child with a knife, or after he throws a knife, that they shoot him. In his back.

And we are left to guess: If a soldier hadn’t shot the boy in the back, the military prosecution would not have filed such a serious indictment, charging the child with attempted manslaughter.
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