Saturday, December 24, 2005

[ePalestine] Twilight Zone: Dusty trail to death / `I refused, and he hit me'

Dear friends,

Not to ruin your holiday spirts, but the two news items below, both written by Israeli journalists and published in the Israeli newspapers are worth sharing.  Both are exemplary of brave journalism.

As many in the world celebrate the Holy Land tonight, few, sadly, are aware of the reality of the people of the Holy Land.  Few will be praying for the 6 children of  Mr. Shawara.  Few care to remember that Bethlehem is separated from Jerusalem by US-backed Israeli soldiers.  Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Holy Land, to most, have lost any real meaning...they are only to be recited in chorus with no emotions or conscious.

Drink, be happy, be marry...when you're done we will still be here...struggling to end what has become a globally-sanctioned occupation.

Wondering of the power of religion, when stripped of human meaning,


Last update - 11:45 23/12/2005 

Twilight Zone / Dusty trail to death
By Gideon Levy

On Sunday morning of last week Mahmoud Shawara, a laborer, mounted his mule and set out from his home in the village of Nuaman to look for work in the neighboring village of Umm Touba. At about 9 A.M., he was arrested by a Border Police unit that detains workers who do not have an entry permit to Israel every morning. 

The Border Police ordered Shawara to get into their jeep. He refused. He did not want to leave his mule unattended. At 9:30 his brother saw him for the last time, healthy and sound. At 4 P.M. a resident of Umm Touba named Mohammed Hamadan noticed a mule galloping toward the village and dragging something behind it. From a distance, Hamadan thought it might be scrap metal. As the mule came closer, Hamadan saw that it was dragging an injured, battered man. The mule, he says, was galloping down the slope and looked frightened. He stopped the animal and then discovered that the person being dragged across the ground was Mahmoud Shawara, from the neighboring village, whom he knew well. Shawara's left hand was roped to the mule's neck. He was unconscious and barely breathing. His skull and face were smashed on the left side and blood was pouring from him. He managed to utter a few broken, unclear words or parts of words and then stopped breathing. 

Hamadan untied Shawara, laid him on the ground and pressed on his chest to restart his breathing. He then summoned an ambulance from the clinic of the Meuhedet health maintenance organization in the village. Shawara was taken to Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, where he was admitted to the neurosurgical section of the intensive care unit. At the end of the week, during which he did not regain consciousness, Shawara died of his wounds. He was 43, a laborer and the father of nine children, who went to look for work in the neighboring village. 

How was Shawara killed? Did the Border Police abuse him physically and tie him to the animal and then spook it, bringing about his death from blows to his head from rocks as the animal lurched down the hill? Was he beaten and then tied to the mule, which was then sent on its way? Or is the Justice Ministry's Police Investigations Department correct in claiming that this was a riding accident - Shawara tied himself to the mule, fell off it and was seriously injured. 

People in Nuaman told us this week that the Border Police regularly tie people who are "illegally present" in Israel (shabahim) to their animals. We will cite the testimony of another Palestinian worker who was tied to his donkey by Border Policemen a few weeks ago as he lay on the ground, face down, with his hands tied behind his back and a cinderblock on his back, placed there by the Border Police. Between Nuaman and Umm Touba, two peaceful villages above a spectacular valley, lies the dragging strip. 

Close-up of the horror: the face of the dead man is smashed. Shawara's body lies on the floor in his house, covered by a Palestine flag and a sheet from Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem (even though he died in Hadassah). The house - an "illegal structure" - has no roof, lest it be demolished by Israel. A blue canvas covers the home to protect against the elements. 

It is afternoon, a few minutes before the funeral procession is to begin, on Sunday of this week. Someone places a Hamas flag on the deceased, over the Palestinian flag and the Shaare Zedek sheet. The women of the family are crying inconsolably; the firstborn daughter, Kauther, 24, is about to faint. Before the body is taken from the room, the face is - unusually - covered, in order to conceal the injuries. The governor of Bethlehem, Salah Taamri, is standing outside with all the local dignitaries. The funeral is restrained, difficult. There is only one extremist outcry: "Ya, Jew, ya pig, we will stomp you underfoot." 

The villagers are convinced that Shawara was killed by the Border Police. But when a Border Police jeep suddenly shows up in the middle of the funeral, for a quick, provocative look, the restraint is maintained. This is the way of the hill people: they are sparing of speech and very apprehensive. Nuaman lies on the open road to Jerusalem, between Bethlehem and the Israeli capital, east of the Har Homa neighborhood, in a place where the separation wall has not yet been completed. The Border Police are here every day and people are afraid to talk. 

Exactly a week earlier, Shawara set out from his home for the last time. His brother, Daoud, left his home at about 7:30, on foot, making for Umm Touba, which lies within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, and where there is sometimes work to be had in construction or farming. Daoud relates that after a short time, a Border Police jeep arrived and arrested him and the other laborers, six in all, who had set out from the village. None of them had a permit to work in Israel. Not long afterward Mahmoud arrived, too, riding his mule. He too was on the way to look for work, as was his daily custom. 

The Border Police detained him, too. They confiscated the orange ID cards of everyone in the group and ordered them to go to the police station in Talpiot, in the southern part of Jerusalem. After some negotiation, Daoud says, the Border Police took them to the station in the jeep. Mahmoud refused to get into the jeep, saying he could not leave the mule by itself in the open. An argument broke out, but the Border Police did not use violence against Mahmoud, says his brother Daoud. Daoud was taken away in the jeep and his brother remained behind with the mule and the Border Policemen who stayed with him. After a brief interrogation and after signing an undertaking not to enter Umm Touba again, Daoud and the others were taken to the new Rachel checkpoint - at Rachel's Tomb, by the entrance to Bethlehem - and sent on their way. 

Daoud never saw his brother alive again. Arriving back in the village at about 12:30 P.M., he was unable to find Mahmoud. It is a small village of 170 residents, one fatality until last week, stone houses on the edge of a spectacular valley in the east, the Har Homa settlement in the west. They are Bedouin, members of the Taamra tribe. 

At 4 P.M. Mohammed Hamadan saw the galloping mule, leaving behind a cloud of dust. It was making its way along the trail that goes down to Umm Touba, which is flanked on both sides by piles of garbage. We are now walking along the path from Nuaman to Umm Touba, a trail which the mule followed, at least in part. It is a rocky trail. A few hundred meters separate the place where Shawara was arrested from the place where he was discovered tied to the mule. Six and a half hours separate the time at which Shawara's brother saw him alive and well and the time he was discovered tied to the mule. No one knows what happened in those hours. 

Hamadan is now looking for signs of blood on the trail followed by the mule, but the rain has apparently washed everything away. He saw no wounds on Mahmoud's body, only on the shattered left side of his head. He was tied to the mule by a rope of black cloth. Here is where he stopped the mule, grabbing its reins, on the slope. The workers in the adjacent warehouse for construction materials also saw the event. The owner of the business, Ahmed Abu Their, was the one who called the ambulance. He says that he saw Mahmoud tied to the mule but was afraid to approach. 

The men, their faces grim, are sitting on the ridge and waiting for the ambulance to bring the body from Hadassah. The women, in black, are sitting in the shadow of the dead man's home and keening. Young people fly Palestinian flags on the roofs of the houses and on the fence of the cemetery that lies below the village. 

The convoy is approaching from the valley, the Palestinian ambulance in front with red lights blinking. An Israeli army jeep watches from afar, parked on the security road that was paved along the separation wall that is being built as the "Jerusalem envelope." No one in the village knows where the border lies here between "the territories" and "Jerusalem." When the wall is completed, it will all become clear. In Nuaman only one resident has a Jerusalem ID card (blue); everyone else is "territories." Neighboring Umm Touba is "Jerusalem" but not all its residents have blue cards, either. A man next to me wipes away a tear. The body is taken from the ambulance into the house. Inside the deceased's face is uncovered, the face of a peasant, mustachioed and wounded - and is immediately covered. 

The village's lawyer, Daoud Darawi, who works in the Palestine branch of Defense for Children International (DCI) in Ramallah, is demanding an international investigation of the circumstances of Shawara's death. "They did to him what the whites did to Indians in America," he says. He tells about two similar cases. In the nearby village of Dar Salah, Border Police in a jeep struck a donkey on which Walid Amiya was riding, knocking him to the ground. He survived. In nearby Wadi al- Humos, they tied Maamoun Abu Ali to his donkey and tried to send the animal on its way. He too survived. (We will come back to him later.) 

According to attorney Darawi, the Border Police have been in the area for about a month. Since their arrival, cases of abuse of laborers looking for work in the neighboring village have increased. "Come one day at 5 A.M. and you will see what goes on here every day with the Border Police," the lawyer says. Mahmoud Shawara's family filed a complaint with the Police Investigations Department (PID). 

The Justice Ministry spokesman, Yaacov Galant, said this week on behalf of the PID, "Our best investigations, which we conducted from the moment the complaint was received until last Friday afternoon, indicate that there is no connection between the activity of the Border Police and the injury and death of the individual. Apparently he was warned about the mule, told not to ride it. It was a wild mule. Apparently he mounted it, rode it and also tied himself to it." Has the investigation been thoroughly concluded? Galant promised to check and get back to me. A short time later: "At the moment there is nothing new. We have not gotten one testimony that would connect the Border Police [to the event]. We will be happy to receive other testimonies. In the meantime, no one can point to a specific connection between the Border Policemen and the case." 

Maamoun Abu Ali is a construction worker on a building that is going up in the Doha neighborhood in the southern section of Bethlehem. We tracked him down on Tuesday of this week. A smiling bachelor of 20, he still carries the scars of his encounter with the Border Police in the valley below Nuaman. Abu Ali is from the neighboring village of Abadiya. About two months ago, during Ramadan, he was riding his donkey on the way to nearby Wadi Humos to buy a chicken for the break- fast meal at Shahar's butcher shop. It was slightly after midday. Suddenly a Border Police jeep pulled up next to him. "Where are you going?" Abu Ali was asked, and he replied, "To buy a chicken." The Border Police checked the items the donkey was carrying and then examined Abu Ali's papers. A shabah. Bingo. 

With the animal's reins they tied Abu Ali's hands behind his back and made him lie on his stomach on the ground, face down. The Border Police like to "punish" the shabahim they catch. Abu Ali relates that they placed a cinderblock on his back and then whipped the donkey to make it walk. Abu Ali's donkey is old and stubborn, or maybe he only obeys his master - whatever the case, it refused to budge. Abu Ali says he also pulled with his bound hands, so the donkey would not move. It is not difficult to guess what would have happened if the donkey had panicked and started to gallop, with Abu Ali lying face down, hands tied behind his back to the animal. At one point one of the Border Policemen also stood on Abu Ali's back, one foot on him and one foot on the cinderblock, to put pressure on him. 

The abuse went on for about a quarter of an hour, Abu Ali says. Finally the Israeli troops gave up trying to make the stubborn donkey move and ordered Abu Ali to get up. They spoke Arabic. Abu Ali says that one of them covered his eyes with his hands and another struck him once in the face with a stone. He still has a scar on the right side, below his lip. They threatened him, saying that "if he wandered around here again, he would be killed." They then sent him on his way. Abu Ali did not file a complaint with the Police Investigations Department. He wanted to complain to the Palestinian police and have them pass on the complaint, but was dissuaded from doing so by the policeman in his village, who told him, "People are getting killed here, so be thankful that you're alive and healthy." 

"Let us tell the world what they are doing to us, about the disgusting occupation we live under," the elderly Mohammed Abu Ranar Adum, one of the village headmen, says in his eulogy. The funeral is about to disperse in silence. In the shade of the olive trees, at the edge of the village, on the brink of the valley, stands the mule, tied to a tree. A brown, strong animal. When we approach to take its photograph, the mule shows signs of panic, turns its head aside and tries in vain to break loose. 


Last update - 01:20 14/12/2005

`I refused, and he hit me'
By Amira Hass

Fourteen-year-old Taher Ouda from Madma, a Palestinian village south of Nablus, was the subject of a story in Haaretz last week. Under Israel Defense Forces orders, he was kept in arm and leg restraints and under around-the-clock guard by two military policemen at the Schneider Children's Medical Center, following an operation on his leg. At the time, the IDF Spokesman said he was kept in the restraints since he was under de facto arrest. 

According to the version related by the soldiers, Ouda had intended, together with other youths, to throw Molotov cocktails at Israeli vehicles. As the soldiers were chasing the youths, Ouda tried to throw a Molotov cocktail at the soldiers, at which point he was shot and wounded in the leg. Ouda, who works with his father delivering cooking-gas canisters in the village, hotly denied the allegations: He was bringing a gas canister to a neighbor at the edge of the village and found himself in the middle of the gunfire. The incident occurred on the evening of Wednesday, November 30. He sustained a fracture in the femur, and a torn tendon. Ouda was operated upon that evening. A long steel rod was fixed by four screws along the length of his leg. It prevents him from bending his leg. 

On the morning of Sunday, December 4, four days after he was wounded and brought to the hospital, the military policemen had him discharged. A Schneider spokesman explains: "Upon completion of the hospital treatment, the youth was released, with instructions for continued treatment, but only after the medical staff ascertained through the IDF that he would be transferred to a facility where he would be able to receive suitable medical treatment." 

During the initial days of arrest, Israel Police or Shin Bet investigators routinely interrogate Palestinian detainees, in order to obtain confessions that would provide the basis for an indictment (or incriminate additional persons). But on Monday evening, December 5, Ouda was freed and sent home. Amid the hugs and kisses, the warm welcome and the numerous visitors, he talked about the "suitable medical treatment" he had received after his transfer from the hospital. He was never officially told where he was or who was holding him. Which may explain why he alternates between "soldier" and "policeman" in his account of what happened (although it was evidently a Israel Prisons Service facility). 

Police and Shin Bet spokesmen told Haaretz that they had no connection to Ouda, and were not involved in any interrogation. It turns out that the Military Police were responsible for him on Sunday, until he was handed over to the Prisons Service on Monday, December 5. 

`I told the soldiers I was cold' 

"After breakfast on Sunday," Ouda told Haaretz and MachsomWatch activists, "I watched a movie, and then the soldiers received a message. They took me out of the hospital. I asked what time it was, and they said it was 10 A.M. I was dressed only in the hospital robe and a coat. No underwear or pants. I tried to explain to the soldiers [they did not speak Arabic, and Ouda does not speak Hebrew - A.H.] that I wasn't dressed, and that I was cold, but they didn't care. I asked where we were going, and the soldier said he didn't know. All of this was by sign language. The soldiers pushed the wheelchair. My injured leg dragged along the floor, in front of the wheelchair. One of the soldiers attempted to arrange the leg (so that it would not drag along the floor), but couldn't. In the bag that was with me was underwear that had been sent from home, a cell phone my father gave me, some chocolate and a notebook that my father sent to the hospital, with a letter from my sister in it. In the notebook, I'd also begun to write a journal in the hospital. 

"They put me into an army car. There was no room to lay down, only seats. One soldier was sitting near the driver and another soldier sat in back. The car made a lot of stops. Each time, the driver would get out and then come back. My hands were tied the whole time. My legs were not bound. 

"We got to a big plaza, where I saw police cars and offices. I also saw soldiers in handcuffs. I asked what time it was, and they said it was 2:00. I sat in the car for half an hour or so, and then they took me out. One of the soldiers who was guarding me in the hospital, and who wore a skullcap, shook my hand and said good-bye. He looked into my eyes and I saw he had tears in his eyes. They led me into a van that was parked there. They stood me up in it, on both legs, including the injured one. They handcuffed my hand to an inside handle above the window. I bent my healthy leg, and I stretched forward the injured one, which cannot bend. My head and [upper] back were hunched over the whole time, because I am taller than the handle was. 

"Somebody appeared. I noticed two leaves on the shirt of the uniform. The door opened from the side and was left open. He was holding a folder, he pointed to it and said, `Sign.' I refused. He slapped me across the face. He didn't ask anything, he only insisted that I sign. He would go away and come back every few minutes, each time demanding that I sign. I refused. He slapped me and kicked me in my good leg and then left, and came back a short while later, and then demanded again that I sign. I again refused, and he hit me. 

"It went on like this until the evening, at which time they took me out of the car. I guess that it was around 10 P.M. Throughout this whole time I didn't eat or drink, and they didn't let me go to the bathroom. They only hit me. In the evening they came and removed the leg restraints, but my hands remained cuffed. They led me by foot to a jail that was there. Again they demanded that I sign `so that you can get out,' and I refused. They didn't read out to me what was written; it was in Hebrew. They put me into a room that had two bunk beds. I asked to eat, and the soldier brought me some mysterious food, and I didn't eat. I asked to go to the bathroom. They let me go to the bathroom but they didn't help me, even though it was hard for me. They just yelled at me. 

"I wanted to sleep, and I laid down on one of the beds. The door opened, and a soldier ordered me to stand up. Another soldier came, took off the handcuffs, but the cuffs were still around one of my hands, I don't remember which. He was holding a briefcase, and demanded that I sign. I refused. He demanded three times and I refused three times, and then he stood me up, ordered me to put my hands at my sides and he spread my legs apart, by kicking at the good leg. And I was wearing only the hospital robe and a coat. He slapped me in the face a few times. And then he put the cuffs back on my hands, and I went to  sleep. They brought me a big coat with a hood to cover myself up [apparently a sleeping bag - A.H.]. 

"On the morning (of Monday, December 5), the same soldier who had brought me the food the previous evening came into the cell. This time he brought me water, a tomato and a few peppers. I ate. Another soldier led me to the car that had brought me there from the hospital. I could tell because of the driver. I was handcuffed. In the car, they cuffed my legs, too. Before starting the car, they blindfolded me with a rag. We drove for an hour and a half or two. I felt that we drove through a tunnel. At one point the driver switched off the engine and began speaking with someone outside. While we were driving, my [injured] leg was constantly being shoved around. Later on they removed the blindfold." 

Slaps and a punch in the stomach 

"We got to a place that I guessed was a prison. They took my bag from me. They put me in a very narrow cell. I couldn't stand up in it, I could only lie down, bent over. I couldn't stretch my legs. Someone came and demanded that I sign. I couldn't see who it was because I was lying down, with my head on my arms. I was afraid that the leg would not heal, and I missed my mother. I refused to sign, but they told me that it was only my signature to the fact that they had taken my cell phone. After what I guess was about two hours, they removed me from this narrow cell. I asked them to help me carry the bag, but they refused. They sent me to an ordinary prison cell, all by myself. I didn't cry, I was only shaking from the cold. On the way from the solitary confinement cell upstairs one of the detainees warned me about `birds' (asafir) - who try to get you to talk. 

"Again a soldier came in, one I didn't recognize, and demanded that I sign, and again I refused. I laid on the bed. The soldier tied my hands above my head to the bed, and cuffed my feet to the bed. He started to slap me around. After 20 or 30 slaps, he punched me in the stomach. I felt I wanted to throw up. He punched me again, and this time I did throw up. He released my legs and uncuffed my hands from the bed - but they remained cuffed to each other. He threw me a little toilet paper so I could wipe up the vomit. 

"They put someone, a Palestinian, in my room, who was bound hand and foot. He asked me why I was arrested. I told him that there was nothing against me, and that if I wasn't released that night, I would be released the next morning. He told me that he'd killed a settler and was sentenced to 15 years, and he told me not to be afraid of him, that he wasn't a collaborator. But I felt he was a collaborator. I told him I wasn't afraid (to tell him what I'd done), it was only that I hadn't done anything, and I would be released, if not today then tomorrow. He asked me how I was so sure of myself. After a while, a soldier came and took him out. 

"By now it was evening. I was awfully tired, and I went to sleep. Someone came in dressed like a doctor. I asked him what time it was and he said it was 6 P.M. He told me to arrange my things, because they were taking me to court. Then they removed the metal handcuffs and replaced them with plastic cuffs. A prisoner who was there gave me sweatpants, a shirt and sandals, but only after an argument with the soldiers. I'd been barefoot ever since they took me out of the hospital. He also brought me a crutch. From the other prisoners I heard that I was in Ramle. But two minutes later they took the crutch away from me. 

"They put me in a car, sat me behind the driver, and I stretched my injured leg forward. A policemen sat down next to me, and to make room for himself he pushed my injured leg. They tried to blindfold me with a garbage bag, but when it didn't work, they covered my head with the garbage bag. My hands were cuffed very tightly. Every so often the driver, who was a soldier, would turn around and slap me and demand that I lean my head down. As he was turning around to slap me, I felt that he collided or brushed up against another car, apparently a truck. After that, he still managed to get in a slap. I think we were driving for about two hours. I sweated a lot, and I nearly suffocated from the plastic bag over my head. The leg was hurting me a lot, and so were my hips, which were bound by a belt. I thought we were on the way to the court, and when they pulled me out of the police car I suddenly realized I was at the Hawara roadblock. 

IDF Spokesman denies 

The IDF Spokesman's response: "On the afternoon of December 4, the detainee was about to be handed over to the Prisons Service. Since his transfer to the Prisons Service was delayed, a team of military policemen and the detainee made their way to the Military Police base in Tel Mond. Around 7 P.M., the Prisons Service made the decision not to process the detainee until the following morning. Accordingly, the detainee was held in a separate detention cell in the Military Police base. 

"When he entered the lock-up, there was a need to carry out a procedure of deposition of property, and therefore an Arabic-speaking soldier explained to the detainee that he had to sign the document to confirm that his cell phone was deposited. The detainee refused to sign the deposit form. Until the time that he entered the detention cell, only the detainee's hands were bound. Once he entered the detention cell, the handcuffs were removed. The detainee's stay in the Military Police base was closely supervised by the base commander, an officer of the rank of major, who confirmed that his treatment was humane and according to regulations. We emphasize that the detainee was not beaten or handcuffed to a vehicle. 

"On the morning of December 5, 2005, the detainee was transferred to the Prisons Service facility in Ramle by a team of military policemen. That evening, at around 7 P.M., a directive was issued by the Samaria district of the Israel Police, stating that the detainee should be immediately released. 

"A team of three military policemen was entrusted with his transfer from the Prisons Service facility to the Hawara roadblock. The detainee was transferred from the Prisons Service with a plastic bag tied around his eyes. In the course of the journey no exceptional event took place, and the allegations of violence committed against him are groundless. The Military Police car did not have a collision with any other car. The trip lasted approximately one hour, at the end of which the detainee was transferred to a Civil Administration officer who was waiting there." Nevertheless, the IDF Spokesman informed Haaretz that these were the results of an initial inquiry, and that an investigation of the event continues. 

The Prisons Service reported, "The detainee arrived at the central hospital of the Prisons Service on December 5, 2005 at 11:35 A.M., and his processing was approved by the chief medical officer of the Prisons Service (due to his being injured). The detainee was released that same day by the Prisons Service at 6:10 P.M. and was taken by the Military Police. The detainee spent these hours in a hospital room and was held separately, because he is a minor." 

Maher Talhami, the attorney for Physicians for Human Rights who met twice with Ouda and took down an affidavit, says that on the basis of his own experience, the beating of minor Palestinian detainees in order to have them sign confessions is routine. This view is shared by attorney Khaled Quzmar, who represents minors in military tribunals for Defense for Children International. 

What makes this case atypical, say the two lawyers, is that Ouda insisted on not signing, was released early, and was able to tell about his arrest only a few days after it occurred. 


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