JERUSALEM -- Israeli troops detained five Palestinian children for several hours after they were confronted by Jewish settlers while gathering wild artichokes near a settlement outpost in the occupied West Bank, an Israeli human rights group said Thursday.
B'Tselem released video of the arrest, in which heavily armed Israeli soldiers can be seen pulling the children away by force. Footage shot earlier shows the children gathering plants near the settler outpost of Havat Maon, when two masked settlers emerge from a grove of trees.
“This is another example of the absolute disregard on the part of Israeli authorities and forces on the ground to the well-being and rights of Palestinians, no matter how young or vulnerable,” B'Tselem spokesman Amit Gilutz said.
“The youngest boy from yesterday’s incident is 8 years old,” he added.
The children, whose ages range from 8 to 13, were held for around five hours, according to Gaby Lasky, a human rights lawyer who is representing them. The two oldest, who are 12 and 13, and therefore old enough to face charges, were ordered to return next week for more questioning.
The Israeli military said “a number of suspects” were detained after they “infiltrated into a house's private property.” It said they were transferred to the Israeli police, who released them to their parents.
Havat Maon is one of dozens of settler outposts established without Israeli government authorization, in addition to some 130 officially recognized settlements. The settlements, which range from remote hilltop outposts to full-fledged towns, are home to nearly a half million Israelis.
Lasky said it’s “crazy” to accuse the children of trespassing in an outpost that was built illegally.
The Palestinians view all settlements as illegal and a major obstacle to their goal of bringing about an independent state including the West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 war. The international community also largely views the settlements as illegal and an impediment to peace.
Israel considers the West Bank to be the historical and biblical heartland of the Jewish people and says any partition should be agreed upon in negotiations with the Palestinians. The two sides have not held substantive talks in more than a decade.
Many of the settler outposts have been established by religious nationalists who are hostile to the local Palestinian population. B'Tselem has reported a rise in settler violence in recent months and says the Israeli military often turns a blind eye.