Last month (finally) brought the first conviction arising from the killing of 17-year-old high school senior, Imran Abu Hamdiya, in Hebron on 30 December 2002. Dexter Filkins of the NY Times was the first – and, I suspect, only – U.S. reporter to draw attention to the disturbing circumstances of Imran's death, when he reported:
Hebron, West Bank, Jan. 1 2003 - Almost any young man walking the streets of this gritty Palestinian neighborhood on the eastern rim of the city can tell you the same thing: when the Israeli border police want to give someone a beating, they take him to the city's deserted industrial area after dark.
Imran Abu Hamdiya [left], a 17-year-old high school senior, was taken away by four police officers Monday night, residents here said in interviews, and he never came back. Mr. Hamdiya's friends, assuming he might need a hand after receiving blows from a nightstick, went to the city's industrial zone to look for him.
They found his body there, splayed in a pool of blood. When they carried their friend to a local hospital, a doctor delivered his appraisal. "He died from injuries caused by beating the head and face," said Dr. Mazen Jabari, of Mohtaseb Hospital.
-- Hebron Residents Describe an Israeli Reign of Beatings; NY Times, 2 Jan 2003.
In fact, according to the eventual indictment in the case, Imran Abu Hamdiya was picked up at random by four members of the Israeli Border Police, who forced him into their jeep on the night of 30 December. While one drove the jeep, two others beat him in the back of the vehicle, while the fourth filmed a trophy video of the beating from the front passenger seat. Finally, as they were passing a gas station, at a speed of 70-80 kph, the two police in the back of the vehicle pushed Abu Hamdiya out of the moving jeep into the street. He was killed when his head hit the ground. Bassem Wahbi (20) was convicted of driving the vehicle from which Abu Hamdiya was thrown; the trial of his three colleagues continues.
I think that the news of the Abu Hamdiya conviction caught my eye specifically because it turned out that he was killed by the Israeli Border Police, and it made me recall a previous case involving the Border Police that I had already blogged about in The Banality of Evil. In that case, three Israeli border policemen went on trial in June 2004 after they admitted detaining two 17-year-old boys in Palestinian village of Kfar Qatana, and taking them into a nearby forest where they beat them and forced them to perform humiliating acts.
The aspect of the case that I commented on at the time was the argument that one of the policemens’ lawyers put forward in defence of his client. He suggested that violent abuse like this simply reflected the "behavioral norms" of the Border Police, and that the real victims in this case were therefore not the beaten 17-year-olds, but the poor policemen, on trial for performing "the arduous duties the Border Police are required to carry out".
"Of course we beat those Palestinian boys - that's what Israeli Border Police do, why are you putting us on trial for it?" seemed such an odd defence that it struck me as almost funny at the time. But then I read about Imran Abu Hamdiya being thrown from the back of the moving jeep, and it occurred to me that maybe that lawyer was not speaking hyperbolically at all; maybe that in the Israeli Border Police it really was normal to treat Palestinians like this. So then I looked back at my own notes I had collected just while doing research for posts on this blog, and I began to realise that that lawyer had a point - why single out his clients for beating up these two particular Arabs, when the Israeli Border Police have brought us so many other unforgettable moments like:
1. Inquiry After Israeli Forces Caught Using Boy as Shield; the Independent/UK, 24 Apr 2004
A photograph [click to enlarge] of a Palestinian boy tied to an Israeli police jeep has been handed to justice officials charged with investigating complaints over the use of "human shields" against demonstrators. The boy, 13-year-old Mohammed Bedwan, and three adult protesters were tied to border police vehicles last week during one of what have become almost daily demonstrations against the routing of the Israeli government's barrier through Palestinian land. Activists claim Mohammed was tied to the jeep by police.
The photograph, taken by human rights activists in the village of Biddo, north-west of Jerusalem, shows Mohammed tied by an arm to a mesh on the jeep windscreen - a mesh intended to protect the vehicle and its driver against stones and rocks. Police said last night that the Justice Ministry's police complaints unit was investigating the case...
Rabbi Arik Ascherman, who heads the organization Rabbis for Human Rights, says he was also tied to the front of a separate jeep, along with a Palestinian and a Swedish activist from the International Solidarity Movement, after they protested that the boy had been beaten after he was detained. He said he himself was head-butted by the border police unit commander when he was arrested...RELATED LINK
Child Used as Human Shield after Beating; Rabbis for Human Rights, 16 Apr 2004.
2. Israeli troops admit sadistic abuse; al-Jazeera, 28 Sep, 2004.
Israeli state-run radio on Monday reported that five Israeli occupation soldiers had confessed to committing "degrading acts" against two Palestinian youths. According to the radio report, the soldiers were manning a roadblock outside the Palestinian neighbourhood of Abu Dis earlier this month when they allegedly detained, beat and humiliated two unidentified Palestinian boys.
Press reports added that the soldiers forced the boys into an abandoned house near the roadblock. There they urinated into a small plastic bucket, dipped the boys' identity cards in and, at gunpoint, forced them to retrieve the IDs with their mouths. According to testimonies made by the boys to Israeli human rights organisation Btselem, the soldiers also extinguished cigarettes on their skin. Before being released, they were ordered to jump from the roof of the one-storey building, causing unspecified injuries.
The soldiers, who belonged to the notoriously violent border police, were arrested on Sunday night, after the story was published in the Hebrew-language press.RELATED LINKS
A. Forced to drink urine, drink or die; IMEMC, 24 May 2005: [S]oldiers based at a military checkpoint in Abu Dis, near Jerusalem, stopped Sameeh Rahhal, 22, from Bethlehem, and Firas al-Bakry, 22, from Hebron, and other workers... Sameeh said in his testimony that soldiers forced him to choose between having his hands and legs broken or drinking the soldiers' urine...
B. Policemen tried for abusing Palestinians: Tel Aviv, Israel, Sep. 28 (UPI) -- Several border policemen who allegedly beat two Palestinians, made one drink urine, and forced the two to jump out of a second-floor window, were Monday ordered to be confined on house arrest while the prosecution prepares a charge sheet… A secret investigation ended Sunday. The five policemen were arrested and by 11 p.m. confessed to severe maltreatment, said the head of the Policemen's Investigations Unit, Herzl Shviro.
C. Border Policeman gets 14 months jail for abusing Palestinians: Border Policeman Nir Levy was convicted by Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Thursday in the aggravated assault and abuse of a helpless Palestinian civilian. Five other Border Policemen – Yossi Moshiashvilli, Robert Schneider, Alexander Miropelsky and Ariel Simhayav – were indicted in Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court for allegedly abusing two Palestinians in September 2004…
D. Light sentences for soldiers who tortured two Palestinians; www.nrg.co.il, 19 May 2005 (and in English translation): The Jerusalem District Court issued a lenient prison sentence of just four to eight months for three of the five Border Guard soldiers charged with attacking and torturing two Palestinians in Abu Dis eight months ago....
3. Border Police officer forces man from 'Attil to commit sexual act with a donkey; B'Tselem, June 2003.
Then he told me to ride to the nearby grove. I asked him about my ID card. He told me that we hadn't finished, and that he would be behind me. He and the other policeman followed me in the jeep. When we reached the grove, he tied the donkey to a tree and told me to fuck it. He repeated his demand a couple of times. He also told me to lift up the tail of the donkey and tie it around my head. I told him that the tail was too short, and that I wasn't able to do it. He stood facing me and aimed his weapon at me. The other policeman was in the jeep, watching what was going on.
I stood behind the donkey, took out my penis, and told him "enough." He said, "I'll tell you when it is enough." I was frightened to death, and I couldn't get an erection, so I couldn't do anything. He made me continue, and I pretended that I was doing what he wanted me to do. I tried to look over at them, but the policeman yelled at me and told me not to look, and that if I did, he would shoot me. This went on for about thirty minutes, before he told me to stop.RELATED LINK
Witness testimony on the sexual harassment of Naziya Damiri; B'Tselem, June 2003.
4. Border Police Officers Abuse Palestinian Laborers for 3 Hours; B'Tselem, 3 Mar 04.
On the evening of 8 February 2004, Border Police officers broke into a building in Jerusalem in which five Palestinians from Kharas, a village in the West Bank, were staying while they worked in the city. After taking the construction workers out of the room and confiscating their documents, one of the police officers ordered the Palestinians to give him their wallets. Subsequently, the officers called two workers over and beat them. Among other things, the officers banged the men’s heads against the wall.
The officers put the five Palestinians into a jeep. After driving for several minutes, during which one of the police officers beat the men with a club, the jeep stopped in a grove of trees near Beit Jala. The police officers then dropped off each of the workers in a different location and left them there after beating them severely.
5. On Apathy; Haaretz, 23 December 2005.
In today's Haaretz Magazine, Gideon Levy tells the story of Mahmoud Shawara, a 43-year-old father of nine, who left for work on his donkey one day from his house in the village of Nuaman, near Bethlehem, was arrested by border policemen, and, after he refused to accompany the soldiers without his donkey, was tied to the donkey. The frightened donkey then galloped toward the village; Shawara sustained serious injuries all over his body, and ultimately died in great pain in the hospital to which he was taken by eyewitnesses. Although the Department for Investigating Policemen found no relationship between the border policemen's behavior and Shawara's death, testimony indicates that this is an abusive practice well known to Palestinians. It even has a nickname: "the donkey procedure."
On Wednesday, Haaretz located another man, Maamoun Abu Ali, who underwent similar abuse at the hands of border policemen two months ago, not far from the place where Shawara was arrested and tied to his donkey. Abu Ali, according to his testimony, was also tied to a donkey. A concrete block was placed on his back, his hands were tied, and the border police then prodded the donkey to run. Luckily for him, however, his donkey refused to budge, so Abu Ali was saved from death...RELATED LINKS
A. Israeli police 'tied Palestinian to galloping mule'; UK/Independent, 23 Dec 2005: A Palestinian man, said to have been last seen in the custody of Israeli border police, died after being found wounded and comatose beside a mule to which he had apparently been tied and dragged along a dirt road. Relatives of the man are seeking legal advice on whether they can secure the reopening of the investigation. They suspect the policemen detained him for seeking work in Um Touba, a Palestinian village inside Israel, without a permit, tied him to his own mule and drove it off at a gallop...
B. Dusty trail to death; Haaretz, 23 Dec 2005: People in Nuaman told us this week that the Border Police regularly tie people who are "illegally present" in Israel to their animals. The village's lawyer, Daoud Darawi, is demanding an international investigation of the circumstances of Shawara's death. 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…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.
So what exactly is it with the Israeli Border Police? Is that where they assign you if you fail the aptitude test for all the other branches of service? And is there no one in charge of these people? Or, as Israeli human rights group B'Tselem suggests, is the problem not that individual officers break the rules and assault Palestinians, but that assaulting Palestinians is the rule for the Border Police:
A spokeswoman for Btselem told Aljazeera.net that mistreating and humiliating Palestinians was an established policy of the Israeli Border Police Force. "It is a systematic policy. It is a modus operandi - this is common knowledge," she said.
She pointed out that border police were carrying out such acts with impunity and without any real deterrent. "Every policeman involved in such acts knows deep in his heart that he won't be punished and that even if punished the punishment will be petty and symbolic," she said. She added that for every case of humiliation exposed, there were many others that went unreported.
Whatever the reason, you have to sympathize with that lawyer who wanted to know why his client - who hadn't even killed anyone - was being singled out for just doing his job. Abduct a couple of teenage boys, beat them and force them to eat dirt, and suddenly you're a criminal. What kind of justice is that? Free the Kfar Qatana Three!
1. Photo of Imran abu Hamdiyah is by Musa Abu Hashhash for B'Tselem.
2. Photos of Allah Ahmad Ismail Taher, and unnamed 17-year-old, beaten by border police officers on 26 April 2004, from Reuters/family handouts.
3. The photograph of Muhammad Bedwan tied to the jeep at Biddu is by Rabbis for Human Rights.
4. Photos of Muhammad 'Attawneh & Jihad Halahleh, two of the five Palestinians beaten on 8 February 2004, are by Musa Abu Hashhash for B'Tselem.
5. Thanks to reader Carol D., for the link to the UK Independent report: Israeli police 'tied Palestinian to galloping mule'; 23 Dec 2005.