More of the same. (Musa Abu-Hashhash is a dear friend and comrade.)

May 15, 2009

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

By Gideon Levy

Mohammed Abu Akrub returned from school one afternoon and stood in the street with a few friends, doing nothing, according to him. Six Israel Defense Forces jeeps appeared suddenly and announced a curfew in the village. That was the start of the abuse of Mohammed and his five friends – abuse that continued until dawn, when the six were tossed out of the jeeps, wounded and battered.

During the beatings, the kicks, the curses and the sleep deprivation that they meted out on their detainees, the soldiers were busy playing on PlayStation. If the youths fell asleep, they were punished: Each was given a number and the soldiers did a “countdown” every few minutes; anyone who didn’t get up was beaten. The youths received water and permission to go to the bathroom only after many hours. Two of them reported that hundreds of shekels were stolen from them by the soldiers. And, yes, the soldiers did glance at their IDs, but not at all of them and only just before the youths were freed. That’s how pointless their arrest, not to say their kidnapping, was.

Following is the story of the “clockwork orange” at the IDF’s Adurayim base. The incident took place on the night of April 26-27, and was recounted this week by a high-school senior, Mohammed Abu Akrub, in his home in Wadi al-Shajneh, near the town of Dura in the south Hebron hills. Akrub is 17 and lives alone with his brother; their parents are living in Saudi Arabia, where their father found work.

“Are you making trouble?” the officer asked Mohammed, who says he replied: “I’m a high-school student and I’m not causing any trouble.” The army jeeps dispersed in the village and quickly returned with another four detainees. Ayash Ajawi, who was just coming back from therapy for the ruptured disc in his back, was beaten. The soldiers handcuffed the six men’s hands behind their backs, blindfolded them and ordered them to march in a line to a larger military vehicle, which took them to the Adurayim army base, which Palestinians call majnuna – the crazy place – a few minutes away. The soldiers told them they would release them only in exchange for Gilad Shalit.

The six young men were placed in a detention cell and were given numbers from 1 to 6. Every few minutes the men had to call out their number to the soldiers, who were playing the role of prison wardens. After a few humiliating “countdowns,” Ajawi, who was No. 1, refused to play the game. He was punished by having to stand still for about 15 minutes. During the next 14 hours, the six remained handcuffed and blindfolded, and were only allowed to go to the bathroom after about 12 hours.

At around 1:30 A.M. the soldiers began to play on PlayStation. The Palestinians did not see how many there were because they came and went. The soldiers also ate in the room, but the Palestinians were denied food; occasionally, one was kicked or slapped. The soldiers bent Rajai’s glasses when they stepped on them, after noticing they weren’t covered completely by the flannel blindfold and removing them. But only at 4:30 A.M. did what Mohammed now calls “the real story” begin.

The soldiers called Nos. 3 and 4, Abu Akrub and Saber Bustanji, 19, and ordered them to go outside. The two disappeared. After about 20 minutes they gave the same order to Nos. 1 and 2: Ajawi and Ali Bustanji, 21. Two by two, as in Noah’s ark, the young men were taken to an unknown destination. After about 20 minutes came the turn of Nos. 5 and 6 – Midhat Shahin, 24, and our friend Mohammed, respectively. The soldiers, says Mohammed, began to beat them outside and then loaded the two onto a jeep. Inside they kicked Mohammed’s face and blood flowed from his nose. After a drive of about five minutes, the handcuffed and blindfolded teen understood from the soldiers that they had reached the outskirts of the Al-Fawar refugee camp. The soldiers kicked Mohammed and Midhat, shoving them out of the jeep with their feet. Mohammed fell flat on his face on the road, his eyes still covered and his hands bound. He heard Midhat shouting and concluded that the soldiers were kicking and beating him. Afterward, they also hit Mohammed with their rifle butts while he was lying in the road, and he began to lose consciousness. He heard the soldiers ordering Midhat to wake him up and get him on his feet; Midhat slapped Mohammed in the face until he regained consciousness and he stood up somehow. Mohammed recalls that a soldier then began to beat him on the back with his rifle butt and kicked him in the groin. The abuse continued for maybe half an hour, according to Mohammed’s estimate, on the outskirts of Al-Fawar.

Fuad Naji, a teacher who passed by early in the morning on his way to school (it was the day of his students’ annual outing, and he wanted to arrive early), saw the soldiers beating the two handcuffed young men. The soldiers ordered him to leave and he continued on his way.

After the beatings, one soldier removed Mohammed’s blindfold and handcuffs with a box cutter, putting the cutter against the young man’s face; he lurched backward in fright and the soldier kicked him and hit his knee with a rock. Brandishing his rifle, the soldier then ordered Mohammed to leave. It was 5:30 A.M., exactly 14 hours after the kidnapping.

It turned out that each pair had been taken to a different place and beaten, and two were also robbed. Ayash recalls that a moment before he was released, the soldiers pulled his wallet out and confiscated NIS 600 of the NIS 620 inside; they also allegedly took NIS 140 from Abu Akrub. Ali Bustanji arrived at the hospital barefoot; the soldiers had thrown his shoes away.

The soldiers checked only two of the detainees’ IDs – and even then, only hastily and only at the end of that night. Thus, the soldiers had no idea whom they were arresting, which means there was no justification for the arbitrary kidnapping. The young men filed a complaint last week with the Palestinian police and at the same time turned to the B’Tselem human rights organization.

The IDF spokesman provided this response to Haaretz this week: “On April 26, 2009, two Molotov cocktails were thrown at an IDF force that was traveling on Highway 60 as part of ongoing security activity in the area. Six Palestinians who were identified in the vicinity were arrested by the force. The claims of the article regarding improper treatment of the detainees are being investigated by the Military Police detective unit; at the end, its conclusions will be transmitted for perusal and an opinion by the chief military prosecution.

“Early in 2009 there were 13 incidents in which suspicious objects and dummy bombs were placed on Highway 60, as well as five incidents of throwing Molotov cocktails. In three cases, live ammunition was used against Israeli civilians who were traveling on Highway 60 – incidents that did not cause casualties.”

Epilogue: A few days after the event, the field investigator for B’Tselem, Musa Abu Hashhash, arrived in Wadi al-Shajneh to gather evidence concerning the incident. A little while later, an IDF force arrived in the village again and this time arrested about 20 children, some of them six years old. Some were barefoot, most were frightened. The soldiers brought the children to the school and examined their hands to check whether they had thrown Molotov cocktails. One child was detained. Meanwhile, Abu Hashhash documented the entire incident with his video camera. He introduced himself as a B’Tselem investigator and the IDF officers present permitted him to film from a certain distance. However, shortly afterward, one soldier confiscated his camera and returned it about two hours later – with everything erased.