On Monday, 12 September 2022, at around 12:30 P.M., two soldiers stationed at Checkpoint 160 (Diwan a-Rajabi) in central Hebron detained Palestinian brothers Hamam (8) and Ghazi (10) Maharmeh, who were on their way home from the UNRWA school located about 250 meters away. The soldiers made the two children sit on the ground outside the checkpoint, and later put them in a room inside it where, they were questioned about throwing stones at the checkpoint. No one informed their family they were detained.
The soldiers then made the children sit on the floor of the room for about an hour. Meanwhile, their father, Wael Maharmeh, arrived at the checkpoint after searching for his missing sons and hearing of their detention. Maharmeh pleaded at length with the soldiers, who eventually led the children to a fenced crossing within the checkpoint compound so their father could see them and pass them drinks. The soldiers held the children at the checkpoint until about 6:00 P.M., when Red Cross representatives arrived. Wael Maharmeh waited outside the checkpoint the entire time with his three-year-old son.
While the particulars of this case may be extreme, it is not unusual in itself. Incidents of this kind are all too familiar to Palestinians in central Hebron – and throughout the West Bank – who live a daily routine of violence by security forces, which sometimes extends to young children, too. The soldiers did not make a mistake or misunderstand protocol – they were carrying out the policy of the Israeli apartheid regime.
Ghazi Maharmeh and his father gave their testimonies to B’Tselem field researcher Manal al-Ja’bari on 19 September 2022:
Wael Maharmeh (45), a father of four from central Hebron:
I live with my wife and our four children, between the ages of three and ten, in the al-‘Aqqabah neighborhood in the Old City of Hebron. On 12 September 2022, at around 1:00 P.M., the preschool teacher called to say my two eldest sons, Ghazi and Hamam, hadn’t picked up their brother Hares (3) as usual. I was very worried and went to pick Hares up. Then I went with him to the UNRWA school that the boys attend, but it was empty by then. While I was there, a teacher from the school called and told me the military had caught them and was holding them at Checkpoint 160.
I went to the checkpoint with Hares and spoke to a soldier there. He said they were holding my boys in a room inside the checkpoint because they’d thrown stones. I tried to explain to the soldier that they’re young and also new at school, so I didn’t believe they’d thrown stones. I asked the soldiers to let me see them, but they refused and ordered me to move away from the checkpoint.
I sat down with Hares by the fence near the turnstile and refused to budge without my kids. The soldier I spoke with got angry and started talking to me aggressively. He put me on the phone with someone who introduced himself as an officer and said my kids had thrown stones at the soldiers. When I said that wasn’t true, he ordered me to wait quietly and not cause trouble, until the police arrived to investigate the matter. Then he hung up.
I waited by the checkpoint for about an hour without seeing my boys. Then I asked the soldier to give them a drink of water, and he said he only had his own water. I went to the store, bought water and juice and asked the soldiers to pass them to my kids. Then the soldiers brought my kids out to the iron passageway. Hamam was crying and scared. I gave them the water and juice and talked to them, in order to distract them and calm them down.
There was someone there from CPT (Community Peacemaker Teams) who tried to film the kids without being noticed, after the soldiers forbade her. The soldiers kept the kids in the iron passageway, which is like a cage, until 6:00 P.M. Meanwhile, I talked to the Palestinian DCO and the Red Cross. When that didn’t help, I started posting requests on Whatsapp groups for help from human rights organizations. At some point, a Red Cross vehicle arrived. Only then were my children released – after about five and a half hours at the checkpoint. They were exhausted, hungry and scared, and their faces were pale. I took them home. On the way, I tried to calm them down and joke with them in order to make them feel better.
Ghazi (10), a 5th grader:
School finished at about 12:30 P.M., and I headed home with my brother Hamam, who goes to the same school. Suddenly, an Israeli military jeep stopped next to us and two soldiers got out. They grabbed Hamam and me, spoke to us in Arabic and tried to put us in the jeep. We refused to go and screamed and cried. So instead of putting us in the jeep, they made us sit behind it.
There was a woman there that I recognized, because she always watches over children crossing checkpoints near the school. She came over and asked for our names, and the soldiers shouted at her and made her move away. After she moved away, the soldiers took us to Checkpoint 160 and put us in a room. Hamam cried and begged the soldiers to leave us alone. When they took us into the checkpoint, a soldier asked me in Arabic why I threw stones. He also wanted us to give him the names of children who throw stones. I told him it’s our first year at this school and we don’t know anyone. He ordered me to shut up and wait in the room for the police to come and get us.
He sat us down on the floor. We waited like that for about an hour, until I heard my dad’s voice outside the checkpoint. He was speaking with the soldiers in Hebrew. Hamam started crying again, and I tried to calm him down and get him quiet down. The soldiers took us out to a crossing with an iron fence and our dad gave us water and juice. He said he would stay with us and wouldn’t leave without us. Hamam calmed down and stopped crying. We waited at the crossing for a lot of hours. The whole time, my dad sat with my little brother Hares on a fence by the turnstile and talked to us. In the end, the soldiers let us go. We were tired and hungry. Dad took us home.