By Gideon Levy
He’s a fifth-grader, 10 years old, with a speech impediment that constantly hampers him. He is the eldest of the four siblings in his family. Their home is small and cramped, located deep within the town of Beit Ummar, between Bethlehem and Hebron. It’s a town that evokes a feeling of despair, just upon entering it: There is a fortified guard tower, an iron barrier that is sometimes manned and sometimes not, a narrow road, neglect, commotion and filth. Merging onto Highway 60 is dangerous, almost impossible. But who needs a proper intersection with traffic lights? This is a Palestinian town, after all.
Wearing a black shirt, Qusay al-Jaar has a child’s captivating smile. His mother, Hitam, sits next to us in the small living room. The father, Ibrahim, works in construction in Israel.
On Friday, October 18, Qusay, together with a cousin, 17-year-old Rami, helped Ibrahim clear rocks from the roof of their one-story house, in order to put in flooring. The work involved filling pails with the rocks and taking them downstairs. Qusay would took the pails by bike to a place behind the house, where other construction debris was dumped. They began work in the morning: Being Friday, there was no school.
Sometime around 6 P.M., they noticed two young masked people running down the street outside, an army jeep in hot pursuit. With their disguises, Qusay and his cousin couldn’t identify the two, who fled into the alleyways, the vehicle behind them.
A few minutes later, the jeep returned, without having caught the masked people, and stopped next to Qusay, who was standing outside with his bike. Four Israel Defense Forces soldiers got out, grabbed Qusay by his shirt and dragged him forcefully into the vehicle. His mother and father shouted and tried to approach the jeep to free him. The troops fired into the air and hurled tear-gas canisters. Hitam was fearful for her son and for the safety of two of her other children, Ruya, her 3-year-old daughter, and the 18-month-old Umar, who were also on the roof at the time.
Ibrahim al-Jaar gave the following testimony to Musa Abu Hashhash, a field researcher for B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization: “I was removing debris from the roof of my house ahead of tiling. My nephew, Rami, who’s 17, and my son Qusay, 10, were helping me. They each got a pail from me, which they emptied near the house. Qusay carried the pail on his bike and then came back for another load. While this was going on, with me on the roof of the house, I saw two masked children running on the street nearby. I saw a jeep driving fast and figured it was pursuing the two of them.
“I went on working. After about five minutes the jeep returned and stood across from the house. Four or five soldiers got out. I saw Rami and Qusay standing next to the house. Two of the troops snatched Qusay quickly and pushed him into the jeep, and one of them shut the door. When I saw that, I jumped down from the roof. One of two soldiers fired two shots in the air. I saw Rami trying to approach the back part of the jeep; he tried to pull Qusay out. The soldiers kicked Rami hard in the stomach and shouted at him. I pulled Rami away and tried to calm him down.
“Very quickly women from the neighborhood arrived, and also my wife, Hitam, and she tried to intervene. My wife started to cry and begged the soldiers to release the boy. The soldiers threw stun grenades and tear gas, and then got into the jeep and drove away toward [the settlement of] Karmei Tzur. I had tried to explain to them that the boy is my son and that he was working with me; the soldiers spoke in Hebrew and ordered me to back off and shut up. I tried more than once to get close to the jeep, and my wife also tried, in order to get Qusay back, and then one of the soldiers fired a shot in the air.
“I calculated that the jeep was going to the military base next to Karmei Tzur. I went there with my two brothers, Mahmoud and Maher. The soldiers allowed only me inside. I saw Qusay, his hands bound in front and blindfolded, sitting on a chair, crying and scared.
“I stood near Qusay. There was a soldier – not one of the ones who arrested him – who asked him about his friends and people who throw stones. I tried to intervene, but the soldier ordered me not to. He asked Qusay about older friends, and Qusay told him he doesn’t have any older friends. The soldier said he was looking for an older boy named Abdallah. I intervened more than once during Qusay’s interrogation. The interrogating soldier said that he wouldn’t stop asking questions until Qusay gave him the names of the stone throwers.
“The soldier questioned me about the two minors who ran past the house before Qusay’s arrest. I told him that I didn’t know them and that both were masked. I heard Qusay tell the soldier that he wanted to go back home. The soldier told him he would be able to go back, but that he was waiting for an order. Qusay was released at 9:30 P.M. and I went home with him. Qusay was frightened and confused, and I tried to calm him down. A few relatives and neighbors came over to welcome us. After he ate supper he went to sleep. During the last few nights he’s been waking up suddenly and looking all around.”
The cousin’s testimony: “I am Rami Alami and I live with my family in Beit Ummar – my parents are not alive. I am in the 11th grade. On Friday morning, I went to my uncle’s house to help remove covering from the roof of his house. At around 6 P.M., while we were working, I saw an army jeep driving fast along the road close to us. I thought they were chasing two young people (minors). The masked people ran along the road before the jeep arrived. Five minutes later, the jeep came back and stood under the house. Qusay was close to me, with his bike. Without asking a question, four soldiers got out. Two went over to Qusay and one of them grabbed him by the shirt collar and pulled him toward the jeep. I heard and saw Qusay crying and shouting, ‘I didn’t do anything.’
“Just then, I saw Ibrahim jump from the roof to the ground. He started to talk to the soldiers and told them that Qusay was a minor and that he had been working with him. He tried to pull his son away, but then a soldier fired a shot in the air. Qusay’s mother, my aunt, also came out and tried to get close to her son and pull him away, but one of the two soldiers pushed her and kept her from approaching. Some women and neighbors gathered around and tried to get closer. One of the soldiers threw tear gas and stun grenades to disperse them. I also tried to get close to the jeep and pull Qusay out. One of the soldiers kicked me twice, once in the stomach and once in the leg, and threatened to shoot if I tried it again.
“One soldier quickly shut the back door of the jeep. Qusay was still crying inside. The other soldiers got in and drove off in the direction of Karmei Tzur. I saw Ibrahim and his brothers getting into a vehicle and understood that they had decided to catch up with Qusay. I knew they [the troops] were sending him to the military base near Karmei Tzur.
“I waited at my aunt’s house until 9 o’clock, in the hope that Qusay would return, but decided to go home. I was tired and went to sleep early. I found out in the morning that Qusay had been released at 9:30 and that he was back home. I learned that a soldier had accused him of throwing stones and had questioned him about whether he knew the names of the children who threw stones.”
Qusay’s testimony: “On Friday I was helping my dad… Around 6 o’clock that evening, when I was carrying a pail on my bike, an army jeep passed the house going fast. Before that, I saw two masked children running along the road. One of them was wearing a green shirt that was the same color as my shirt. After a few minutes the jeep came back and pulled up next to our house. I had enough time to get on my bike and stand next to Rami. Four soldier got out of the jeep fast. Two came toward me and one of them pulled me by my shirt into the jeep. I saw Dad jump off the roof and he started to talk to the soldiers. I heard the sound of a bullet fired in the air.
“The door of the jeep was open. Mom came out of the house and tried to approach me. She asked the soldiers to let me go and [told them] that I was a minor and hadn’t done anything. I saw a soldier push her and not let her stand there. My cousin, Rami, tried to get closer, and then the soldier kicked him and pushed him away from the jeep. I saw and heard women and men around the jeep who were trying to help me and were talking to the army people. Suddenly I heard the sound of stun grenades and smelled [tear] gas. The soldiers got in fast and the jeep headed toward the settlement. I was scared and I cried the whole time. I said I didn’t do anything. One soldier covered my eyes in the jeep and put metal handcuffs on me. After a few minutes they took me out and put me on a chair next to an army tower.
“A soldier came over to me and pulled the blindfold up and started to ask me if I threw stones, and I said I didn’t. I told him I was helping Dad take things off the roof. The soldier asked me to repeat what I said, because I have a speech problem. After half an hour Dad got there and stood by my side. The soldier was still asking me and kept on asking me. He asked me about my friends and their names and ages. I told him that my friends are in my class. He said he wanted older friends. He also asked me to give him names of people who throw stones and I answered him that I don’t know a single one.
“After my father got there, the soldier took the handcuffs off my hands, after I told him they were too tight. I saw the soldier asking my father questions about the people who throw stones in the neighborhood. I kept on sitting in the chair the whole time.
“After 9 o’clock, I heard the soldier tell Dad that I was getting released and sent home and that he was waiting for an order on the phone. After a few minutes they let me go. I went home with Dad and with my uncles, who were waiting outside. A little bit after I got there I went to sleep, I was very tired. During the arrest I was very scared and I cried all the time. I only stopped crying when Dad came to the place where I was under arrest.”
The IDF Spokesman’s Office told Haaretz in response that the incident is now under investigation.
According to B’Tselem, at the end of August, a total of 185 Palestinian minors (under age 18) were incarcerated in Israeli prisons, two of them under the age of 14. In the past few years, the number of children and teens imprisoned by Israel has ranged between 180 and 400 at any given time.