SHAFAQNA – A 7-year-old Palestinian boy and his 12-year-old cousin, accused of throwing stones at an Israeli bus, were detained by Israeli security officials in East Jerusalem on Tuesday evening and interrogated for hours, relatives said Thursday.
The detention of the boys, Ahmad Zaatari and his cousin Mohammed Zaatari, was the latest example of Israel’s crackdown on children, even the very young, accused of stone-throwing and other provocative activities.
The detentions have drawn criticism from human rights groups, which say they traumatize children, and accusations that Israel pressures children for information.
Israeli security officials point out that rock-throwing can be dangerous, and even deadly. A 4-year-old Israeli girl, Adele Biton, died in February after being critically injured in a car accident caused by Palestinian rock throwers in 2013.
It is a widespread problem in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, where young Palestinians frequently hurl rocks at Israeli military and civilian vehicles. Many Palestinians see the action as a central weapon in their resistance to Israel’s occupation.
There are no statistics available on the detention of children younger than 12 because they are usually released within a few hours. Brad Parker, a lawyer at Defense for Children International-Palestine, said the Israel Prison Service counted 25 Palestinians aged 14 and 15 currently behind bars.
Mr. Parker said his organization estimated that 200 to 400 children younger than 12 were held each year in situations similar to Ahmad’s.
“These really young cases have been cropping up more and more, but I wouldn’t say it’s a regular occurrence,” he said.
Mahdi Zaatari, 44, Mohammed’s father and Ahmad’s uncle, said the boys had been playing outside their home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz when they were picked up by plainclothes police officers around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israeli police, said Ahmad had been caught throwing stones at a bus but had no information on why Mohammed had been detained.
Barakat Zaatari, Ahmad’s grandfather, said the boy was too young to pose a threat. “A rock wouldn’t fly a meter from his hand,” he said.
Mahdi Zaatari said security officers arrived at the family’s home shortly after picking up the boys, demanded the identification cards of the boys’ fathers and then left. He said that the family had not been informed of the children’s location and that relatives had gone searching station to station.
Around 10:30 p.m., Mr. Zaatari said, the police called and said the boys were at a police station on a main street in East Jerusalem. The family waited there until around 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, when Ahmad was released. His uncle said Ahmad was terrified and had not been given anything to eat.
“They asked him: ‘How do you want to die? Do you want to be a martyr?’ ” Mr. Zaatari said. “They asked him if he liked throwing stones and tried to get him to tell on the other children.”
Mr. Rosenfeld said social workers and Ahmad’s parents had been told of his detention, but he did not know how long it had taken to notify them.
Mr. Zaatari said Mohammed was held overnight and appeared in court on Wednesday on a charge of throwing stones. He was ordered to stay away from Jerusalem for three days. Mr. Zaatari and Mohammed are now staying in Tel Aviv.