JERUSALEM — Two Israeli soldiers have been arrested for allegedly ordering a bulldozer to bury four young Palestinians in piles of dirt after a violent protest near their West Bank village, military officials said Sunday. The boys were later rescued.
"The head of the Central Command, Gen. (Amram) Mitzna, ordered a military police investigation with the highest priority," an army spokesman said. "As a result, two soldiers were arrested and we're expecting more arrests."
The first account of the burial, which occurred Feb. 5, was initially denied by the army. But after Israeli media found eyewitnesses and doctors who treated the boys, and their accounts had created a public uproar, the military ordered an investigation.
Acts of Brutality
Since a violent uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip began Dec. 9, the army has been charged with many acts of brutality against the protesters, including the deliberate breaking of bones and the beating deaths of at least three people.
Several cases have been witnessed by Israeli and foreign journalists, and a recent investigation by a team of four American doctors resulted in charges that the Israeli military is engaged in an "uncontrolled epidemic of violence."
Senior officers, including Mitzna, have publicly acknowledged concern over the number of cases where Palestinians have been abused, but they say that these are against policy and that the violators are punished.
The burial incident occurred at the Arab village of Salim about 3 1/2 miles east of Nablus, the army spokesman said. But other than saying that the charges involved "improper behavior," he would give no details.
Israeli journalists interviewed an eyewitness to the burial, and the witness' account was verified Sunday by military officers.
According to these accounts, an army patrol found a road barricaded by burning tires and other debris. As is often done, the soldiers went to a nearby house and ordered the occupants, in this case, four young boys, to help an Israeli bulldozer clear the blockade.
The eyewitness said that after the road was open, the soldiers ordered the boys to kneel with their heads on the ground in the Muslim prayer position. Then they beat them with clubs.
The military officers confirming this account agreed that the soldiers then ordered the bulldozer driver to bring a load of dirt. At first he refused, but when one soldier shouted at him and perhaps pointed his rifle--although that is in dispute--he did as he was told.
Covered With Trash
The witness told Israeli reporters that the dirt was dumped on the boys, covering two completely, a third to his chin and the other to his shoulders. Then, the witness said, soldiers covered all four with trash and left.
Residents of nearby houses rescued the boys and took them to a Nablus hospital, where doctors confirmed that the bruises and cuts they suffered were consistent with such a burial.
The report of the arrests came on a day in which the occupied territories had one of the least disruptive periods since the uprising started. There were only scattered reports of rock throwing and demonstrations and no reported injuries.
But several hundred members of the Druze sect, a secretive offshoot of Islam, fought a brief street battle with police to protest the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, a region in the far northern part of the country that was taken from Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967.
The demonstration, staged on the sixth anniversary of the annexation, was broken up by tear gas. Twenty people were arrested, police said.
There were no indications that the Golan Heights protest, the first since a similar demonstration a year ago, was directly related to the unrest in Gaza or the West Bank.
In fact, except for a major battle in Nablus on Friday morning, the momentum of the demonstrations has slowed over the last three days, and the number of major confrontations has dropped. Military and Palestinian sources say, however, that the fight may have shifted to rural areas where the two sides face off at night and out of public attention.
But while the countryside was generally quiet, the Unified National Leadership for the Uprising in the Occupied Territories, a Palestinian body thought to set policy for local groups that actually carry out the protests, issued its latest leaflet, No. 7.
Although it called Tuesday "Anger Day" and said there would be a general strike and major demonstrations then, its real significance was its appearance.
Jerusalem police last week arrested several Palestinians and charged them with inciting the protests and seized a printing press allegedly used to print the inflammatory leaflets.
Spokesmen for various Palestinian groups denied that the actual press had been discovered, but other sources acknowledged Sunday that the machine had been confiscated.
They also conceded that Israel had successfully jammed a clandestine radio station broadcasting from Syria that had encouraged demonstrations and issued directives to local protest leaders.
As a result, said one Palestinian, the latest leaflet was delayed and coordination was lost.