Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem published a video on Thursday showing Israeli forces earlier this week in the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron dragging an eight-year-old Palestinian boy, wearing only socks on his feet, through a neighborhood in the city in order to identify other children who allegedly threw stones and a Molotov cocktail at a nearby illegal Israeli settlement.
The incident took place on March 19 around midday, according to a statement from B’Tselem, who identified the boy as Sufiyan Abu Hitah. “Hitah was wandering barefoot outside his house in Hebron looking for a toy he had lost, when a group of at least 15 soldiers seized him,” the statement said.
The soldiers then grabbed the boy, who remained visibly distressed throughout nearly three-minute-long video, “and dragged him to the al-Harika neighborhood, where they demanded that he point out children who had allegedly thrown stones and a Molotov cocktail at the Kiryat Arba settlement earlier on,” according to B’Tselem.
In a detailed account of the events that day, B’Tselem wrote that Hitah had just arrived to his grandparents’ home upon realizing that he lost a toy that he had bought on the way. Despite his mother forbidding him from going outside, as she knew that soldiers were patrolling the area — a near-daily occurrence in Hebron — Hitah snuck outside to find his toy.
Minutes later, neighborhood children were rushing to Hitah’s grandparent’s home to tell his mother, Amani, that soldiers had her son and were leading him towards the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba.
“I saw more than fifteen soldiers surrounding Sufiyan. Two of them were holding him by both arms and dragging him towards the gate of Kiryat Arba. A few neighbors had already gathered in the street and were trying to rescue Sufiyan from the soldiers,” Amani told B’Tselem.
When Amani pleaded with soldiers to return her son to her, soldiers refused, saying “if you want to get him back, convince him to tell us the names of the children who were throwing stones.” Despite her efforts to explain to soldiers that her and her son did not even live in the neighborhood, but were just visiting her parents, and that Sufiyan did not know the names of the neighborhood children, the soldiers ignored her and continued to drag her son by the arms.
“Sufiyan was shaking with fear. I saw him talk to the soldiers and tell them that he doesn’t know anything, but it didn’t help,” Amani said, adding that soldiers dragged her son into the home of Muhammad al-Nahnush.
“When they came out, about five minutes later, Sufiyan was crying. They didn’t arrest anyone in that house. I didn’t know whether they beat Sufiyan while they were in there, or what happened inside. I was really scared and worried about Sufiyan. I started crying and ran after the soldiers as they moved from house to house, to try and get them to let him go,” Amani said.
B’Tselem noted that after soldiers dragged the boy to Jabal Juhar street, a local woman tried to pull him from their hands. “Meanwhile, more women gathered around the soldiers. Eventually, more than an hour after the incident began, they managed to extricate Sufian and return him to his mother,” the statement said.
In response to a request for a comment on the incident, an Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that “following initial review of the incident, it was concluded that a Molotov cocktail was thrown towards the community of Kiryat Arba. Forces who were called to the scene caught a suspect. Due to the fact the suspect was a minor, he was taken to his parent’s home. It was noted in the initial review that the forces did not ask the minor to direct them to any other suspects.”
The spokesperson did not clarify when the Molotov cocktail was thrown at Kiryat Arba, or comment on the fact that Hitah was detained moments after leaving his grandparent’s home in search of his toy.
Additionally, the spokesperson did not comment on the fact that video and witness testimony shows Israeli soldiers dragging the Hitah around the neighborhood to different homes in order to identify possible “suspects” for over an hour, refuting the army’s claims that “forces did not ask the minor to direct them to any other suspects.”
The spokesperson also did not comment on the fact that witness and video testimony shows Israeli soldiers attempting to re-seize Hitah after a group of local women extricated him, again refuting the Israeli army’s claim that Israeli soldiers took the boy home upon realizing that the eight-year-old was a minor.