The sleepy West Bank village of Naalin, with a population of just under 5,000 Palestinians, has seen more than its share of controversies this year. Israel’s contentious West Bank barrier will pass through the village, and has already led to the Israeli military relocating hundreds of olive trees belonging to the village’s largely agriculture dependent residents. But the latest incident involves something much smaller than a grove of olive trees: a 12 year old boy named Muhammed Hawaja.
When local paramedic Salah Hawaja went to bed on Wednesday night, he had no idea what was in store. And when a large number of Israeli soldiers surrounded his house, he probably assumed that he was about to be arrested again for participating in an anti-barrier protest, as he had been twice previously. But this time, the troops weren’t there for Salah, instead they dragged his preteen son from his bed, still in his pajamas, and took him to Ofer Prison.
The Israeli military suspected the boy was involved in a recent violent demonstration against the barrier, and claims to have extracted a confession from him “during questioning”. Salah however sees the arrest as revenge for his accusation last month that Lieutenant Colonel Omri Burberg beat him during a prior detention.
Readers might recall Lt.-Col. Burberg as the battalion commander in charge in an early July incident, also in Naalin, where protester Ashraf Abu Rahman was shot in the leg by an Israeli soldier while handcuffed and blindfolded. The shooting was captured on video, and Burberg received a 10 day suspension related to the incident after failing a polygraph test, and was later indicted for ‘unbecoming conduct’.
Naalin has been the site of several protests against the barrier, which are generally broken up by Israeli forces. In late July Israeli soldiers shot and killed a 10 year old Palestinian boy when one of the protests turned violent. Israeli troops shot several people during the boy’s funeral, one of whom died later of his wounds. During his funeral, Israeli troops fired tear gas and stun grenades at mourners. That strike sparked yet another protest, this time by Israeli anarchists, which led to the arrest of 25 when police determined the protest was “unlawful”. Needless to say, its been a busy summer for the village.
As for young Muhammed, his fellow prisoners have reported he is in high spirits. They feted his arrival, and offered him food, though the boy declined as he is fasting for Ramadan. The prisoners have promised to look after the boy as best they can during his stay.