Clip of soldier scuffling with child stirs debate

Pictures of Palestinians fighting to free a boy (above) held by an Israeli soldier during clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters last Friday in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, have gone viral, with peop
Pictures of Palestinians fighting to free a boy (above) held by an Israeli soldier during clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters last Friday in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, have gone viral, with people interpreting the images in opposite ways.PHOTO: AFP
Pictures of Palestinians fighting to free a boy (above) held by an Israeli soldier during clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters last Friday in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, have gone viral, with peop
Pictures of Palestinians fighting to free a boy held by an Israeli soldier during clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters last Friday in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, have gone viral, with people interpreting the images in opposite ways.PHOTO: REUTERS

Video of Israeli arresting Palestinian boy goes viral, adds to war of perception online and off

NABI SALEH (Palestinian Territories) • Not much of what happened last Friday during a demonstration near the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh is in doubt.

But in thousands of social media arguments, antagonists in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have interpreted one charged encounter in completely opposite ways.

After a protest against Israel's military occupation became an exchange of tear gas and stones, an Israeli soldier tried to arrest a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, one arm in a sling, who was accused of hurling rocks.

The soldier was quickly set upon by five female protesters, as at least eight journalists or activists photographed the confrontation.

A wrestling match ensued, with the soldier's ski mask pulled off and the boy's 14-year-old sister biting the soldier on the hand. The soldier yelled for help, and eventually a superior officer arrived and ordered him to let the boy go.

While walking away, visibly frustrated, the soldier threw down a stun grenade.

Footage of the incident has since gone viral, generating a bitter debate both online and off.

As is often the case when it comes to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, there has been little room for middle ground.

Palestinians see it as proof of Israel's abuses in the occupied West Bank, while many Israelis say that the soldier fell into a media trap laid by activists.

Palestinian papers reproduced a cartoon showing the soldier with a dog's head, while some in Israel saw the decision not to arrest the boy as a sign of weakness.

Left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz, referring to the headlock the soldier had put the boy in, lamented the situation in which the military has found itself in the West Bank.

"It's a national headlock in which an entire army, and behind it a nation, remains in a state of denial that there are military solutions to the conflict," it said.

Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, has for years been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Each Friday, Palestinians, foreigners and even Israelis protest against the expansion of the nearby Halamish settlement. Stones are typically thrown by the protesters, while tear gas and rubber bullets are fired by the security forces.

In the past three years, two people have died and 375 have been injured, with nearly half of them minors, according to protesters.

According to his father, the child in the video, Mohammed Tamimi, broke his wrist while fleeing an Israeli tank in his village, which was why he was wearing a cast. "I wasn't afraid," the boy said, "but I cried to call my family to come get me away from the soldier."

His mother Nariman said she thought of "only one thing: free my son from the soldier's hands".

The Tamimi family has been at the forefront of the protests in Nabi Saleh. The father, Mr Bassem Tamimi, said he has been arrested nine times.

Ms Ahed Tamimi, the boy's teenage sister, is known to some for older photos showing her raising her fist at Israeli soldiers. It resulted in her being received by then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2012.

Some Israelis have accused the family of being agitators who put their children in danger.

An Israeli officer familiar with the situation called Friday's protest a "PR stunt" where demonstrators "try to provoke soldiers by hurling stones at them that can be deadly", forcing them to react.

The soldier's father told Israeli journalists that he regretted that his son's restraint was not being given more praise.

Israel's culture minister, Ms Miri Regev, described the incident as humiliating for the soldier and called on the military to change its rules of engagement.

"We need to decide immediately that a soldier that is attacked is permitted to return fire. Period," she wrote on Facebook. "I call on the minister of security to put an end to the humiliation and change the open-fire regulations immediately."

The Haaretz analysis, meanwhile, sought to put the episode into context. "No amount of PR and media management will make the occupation of another nation look good," it said.

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2015, with the headline 'Clip of soldier scuffling with child stirs debate'. Print Edition | Subscribe