Israeli soldiers allegedly assault principal and teachers; threaten to hold them accountable for any future stone-throwing by students, Tuqu’, 10 December 2012:

Published: 
18 Feb 2013

On Monday, 19 November 2012, students at the boys’ high school in Tuqu’ demonstrated against Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza. The school is adjacent to Route 356, which connects Bethlehem and Hebron, and some students threw stones at the road. Subsequently, Israeli soldiers arrived on the scene. In a video filmed by a photojournalist for the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, a soldier is seen firing live ammunition at the students, although the latter posed no danger to the soldiers. One student, Muhammad al-Badan, 17, was wounded in the abdomen. B’Tselem approached the Office of the Military Advocate for Operational Matters (MAOP) regarding the incident. On 3 February 2013 the Office of the MAOP informed B’Tselem that it had ordered a Military Police investigation of the allegations.

B’Tselem has also learned from testimonies it gathered that, three weeks after the shooting incident, Israeli soldiers came to the high school. The soldiers assaulted the principal and two teachers, warning them they would be held accountable if students from the school would continue to throw stones at the road and to clash with soldiers. B’Tselem contacted OC Judea and Samaria Division, demanding an inquiry into the matter and measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.

In his testimony to B’Tselem, Tuqu’ high school principal Salem Abu Mfareh, 55, related the following:

Salem Abu Mfareh, Tuqu’ high school principal. Photo: Suha Zeid, B'Tselem

"“The school is located at the entrance to Tuqu’, near the main road. Sometimes students from our school clash with the military, and then the military uses tear gas to disperse the students. Sometimes the military fires tear gas at the schoolyard, and then the tear gas gets into the classrooms. The students inside the classrooms choke on the gas, and it’s difficult to study under these conditions.

Out of concern for the students’ wellbeing, I do all I can to make sure that the students don’t leave school before the end of the day. I’m concerned about confrontations between the students and the military.

Over the past year, on several occasions, soldiers tried to get into the school. We locked the main gate and kept them from getting in. Sometimes there are confrontations with the military when school lets out and the students leave the premises. I have no control over the students after they leave the school.”

Nabil Hajahjeh, 38, resident of Tuqu’ and mathematics teacher at the high school, told B’Tselem what happened on Monday morning, 10 December 2012:

Nabil Hajahjeh, Math teacher. Photo: Suha Zeid, B'Tselem“The school day began like any other. After the first three periods, it was time for recess. Most of the students went outside to the school’s inner courtyard. The school’s main entrance gate was closed. Another teacher, Mahmoud Zawahreh, and I were in the courtyard. On the road across from the school, everything was perfectly calm. Since the war in Gaza ended, there have been no demonstrations or clashes in our village. That’s why I was surprised when I saw two military jeeps pulling up at the gate. The soldiers got out of the jeeps and began knocking on the gate and pushing it, trying to open it.

The principal came out of his office. Mahmoud Zawahreh and I went with him to the gate. We opened it hurriedly and went out to the soldiers to find out what they wanted. We were afraid that they’d come into the courtyard; there were hundreds of students there and that could have been a disaster.”

Salem Abu Mfareh, school principal, related what happened next:

“Among the soldiers was an officer. He told me that they wanted to come in. I refused and told him that the students weren’t in their classrooms now, and I couldn’t bring soldiers inside. The soldiers began cursing us. One of them grabbed my head. Another grabbed both my arms and twisted them back. It hurt. Then, they dragged me over to the jeep. The officer came over to me and spoke to me in Arabic, saying: ‘This is your last chance to get your school into shape and to control the students. If you don’t, we’ll demolish the school and arrest you.’

I told him that I’d try to control the students while they’re in school. But I made it clear that after they leave the premises, I have no control over the students. The officer said that he’d hold me accountable if there’d be any problems like there had been during the war in Gaza. At that time there had been student demonstrations that grew into clashes with soldiers and stone-throwing incidents. During one of those clashes, soldiers shot one of our students, Muhammad al-Badan.”

Math teacher Nabil Hajahjeh testified that the soldiers left after about fifteen minutes:

"“The soldiers were outside the school for about fifteen minutes. Every so often they pushed us and threatened us that things would get worse if the students from the school continued throwing stones at the road and at the military. In the end, they took our phone numbers and ID numbers. Then, they got into the jeeps and left. We went back into the school. We calmed the students down and sent them back into their classrooms. We’re worried that the soldiers may come back. They said that if there’d by any trouble, they’d come back.”

B’Tselem wrote to OC Judea and Samaria Division Brig. Gen. Hagai Mordechai to report the incident, arguing that the soldiers had acted unlawfully. B’Tselem noted that if soldiers have information about a particular student who had thrown stones, they have recourse to numerous judicial measures. These measures do not include violent attempts to ascribe accountability to high school staff.

In its letter, B’Tselem asked that the circumstances of the incident be investigated and that, should the report prove accurate, relevant measures be taken against those involved. B’Tselem also inquired whether the soldiers and the officer in this case acted on their own initiative or on orders from more senior ranking officers. If the latter, B’Tselem requested that appropriate steps be taken against the senior officers as well.