TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — A video has emerged showing an Israeli soldier lining up school-aged Palestinian children and photographing them in a nighttime raid on their home. The video shines a light on the military's tactics in the occupied West Bank, which activists say violate Palestinian rights.
The video was released Wednesday by the Israeli rights group B'tselem and shows soldiers in a Palestinian home after dark. The Palestinian adults are seen gathering up the children from the home — some of them appearing to have been roused from sleep — and ushering them onto a balcony. A girl is seen crying, and a woman comforts her by saying “it's just routine.”
The soldier raises his phone to take a picture of the children — many of them grade-schoolers and younger — and implores them to “say cheese.”
The incident caught on camera, which according to B'tselem and the military took place in the West Bank city of Hebron in September, was filmed by a B'tselem activist. She is heard challenging the soldier: “They are kids. You like when soldiers come and take pictures of your kids?”
The video comes after a recent report by former Israeli soldiers and the Washington Post described an effort by Israeli soldiers to gather photos of Palestinians in the West Bank for use in surveillance technology that could assist the military to identify lawbreakers. Critics say the initiative is an intimidation tactic and violates privacy rights of Palestinians.
“It seems that for the military, all Palestinians, including school-age children, are potential offenders. At any time, it is permissible to wake them up at night, enter their homes and subject them to a lineup,” B'tselem wrote in a statement.
The military said the soldiers arrived at the house in Hebron after Palestinians were seen throwing stones from it at a nearby settlement. The soldiers entered the home to identify the stone throwers, according to the military.
“While the soldiers were in the suspects’ home, minors were photographed by the officer at the scene in order to identify the stone throwers. The officers’ actions at the scene diverted from standard protocol,” the military said, adding that a soldier was “reprimanded for his wrongful actions.”
The military's statement did not explain why the minors needed to be photographed in order to be identified nor which action diverted from protocol. The military declined to answer further questions, including about the surveillance technology mentioned in the Washington Post report.
A post on the Israeli military's website from June, which refers to the surveillance technology in passing, says it was working to increase soldiers' use of technology in the West Bank to help apprehend Palestinian outlaws.
“We have advanced technology, smart cameras with sophisticated analytics, sensors, which can alert in real time about a suspicious activity and the movement of a suspect,” battalion commander Uriel Malka is quoted as saying. “The goal was that all combatants and commanders in the field will know how to operate these systems in the best way.
In another development, international rights group Amnesty International accused a British heavy machinery company of allowing its diggers and excavators to end up in the hands of clients who use them to demolish Palestinian homes and construct settlements in the West Bank.
The group said J.C. Bamford Excavators Limited's equipment is sold to an Israeli intermediary, who then sells it onward to customers that include the Israeli Defense Ministry. Amnesty said use of a middleman doesn't absolve it of ensuring its equipment is not used to violate human rights.
“JCB’s failure to conduct proper human rights due diligence on the end use of its products represents a failure to respect human rights,” the group said in its Thursday report.
The company is among more than 100 businesses listed in a U.N. database of companies that operate in Israel’s West Bank settlements. The company could not immediately be reached for comment on the Amnesty report.
The international community overwhelmingly considers the settlements, built on occupied land claimed by the Palestinians for a future state, to be illegal. Israel rejects such claims, citing the land’s strategic and religious significance, and says the matter should be resolved in negotiations.
Also on Thursday, one of the five Palestinian hunger strikers protesting against Israel’s controversial policy of being detained without charge ended his strike after reaching a deal with Israeli authorities, said a prisoner rights group.
According to a statement issued by the Palestinian Prisoners Club, which represents former and current prisoners, Alaa al-Araj ended his 103-day hunger strike after Israeli authorities agreed to his immediate release from so-called “administrative detention.”
Rights organizations say Israel’s policy of holding Palestinians without charge denies them the right to due process, while Israel says it is needed to protect sensitive intelligence that, if exposed, could compromise military sources.
Israel’s Shin Bet security agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Israel has been under increasing pressure to release the five prisoners who have been on hunger strike for months. Last week, Palestinians across the occupied West Bank and Gaza held demonstrations in solidarity with the prisoners.
Hunger strikes are common among Palestinian prisoners and have helped secure concessions from Israeli authorities in recent years.
A sixth prisoner ended his 113-day hunger strike last week after Israeli authorities said he would be released from detention in three months time.