Israeli Border Police officer fires sponge round at Palestinian teen’s head, then hits him in the head with a gun, Silwad, 10 March 2017

30 Jul 2017

At around 3:00 P.M on Friday, 10 March 2017, about thirty Palestinian teens and young men clashed with 20 to 30 soldiers and Border Police officers near the west entrance to the West Bank town of Silwad, north-east of Ramallah. The youths threw stones at the Israeli security forces; the troops fired rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas canisters. 

After about an hour, sometime between 4:00 and 4:30 P.M., the youths moved away, heading toward Silwad’s gas station, which is equipped with security cameras. About fifteen minute later, some fifteen teens and young men were standing across the road from the gas station when a Border Police vehicle drove up at high speed. They ran away through the nearby fields. A Border Police officer got out of the vehicle, fired a sponge bullet at the youths and began pursuing them on foot. The footage from the gas station security camera shows the youths running across the field and then one of them, 17-year-old D.T, falls down. A Border Police officer runs up to D.T. and hits him on the head with the barrel of his gun. 

In a testimony he gave to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad on 29 March 2017, D.T. spoke about these moments:

It felt like a hard object crashed into my head. The blow was so hard that I fell down flat, face down. Before I could get up, I saw the officer standing over my head. He hit me really hard with the barrel of his gun, on the top of my head. I felt nauseous. I started bleeding and then I fainted. 

S.T., who saw what happened from a short distance away, spoke with B’Tselem researcher Iyad Hadad on 13 March 2017. In his testimony, he related the following:

I saw a Border Police car chasing the boys who were standing near the building. The man in the passenger seat beside the driver quickly got out and started chasing the protestors into the fields. I heard gunfire, I’m not sure what kind. One of the fleeing boys was hit. I think from a distance of only about twenty meters. The boy, D.T., crashed down to the ground, face down. The officer reached him and right away hit him on the head with the barrel of his gun. He was then joined by a few other officers and they started dispersing the youths. The boys retreated to a safe distance and carried on throwing stones at the officers from there. The officers fired “rubber” bullets and tear gas canisters at them. In the meantime, more police and soldiers came. One policer officer went over to him. It looked like he was checking to see what condition he was in. About five minutes later, the officers tried to hold the boy and lead him, but he couldn’t walk and fell to the ground. They brought a stretcher and took him, covered in a piece of cloth, to the Border Police car which took him away.

The field the Palestinians fled to.  Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 14 March 2017
The field the Palestinians fled to.  Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 14 March 2017

In the clashes that ensued after D.T. was hurt, the troops fired rubber-coated metal bullets at two more youths. One of them sustained very minor wounds to a leg and arm, and the other was hit in the head.

D.T. was taken to Mount Scopus Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and from there to the Ein Karem Hadassah Hospital in the city. Scans performed at the hospital showed he had a skull fracture, a fractured rib, a subdural hematoma, and a bruised left lung. He underwent head surgery. 

D.T.’s parents learned of their son’s injuries from the head of Silwad Council, who came to their home to deliver the news. Muhammad T., his father, immediately called the Palestinian District Coordination Office (DCO) to request Israeli entry permits for him and his wife. He was told he would receive them the next day. In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad on 14 March 2017, he spoke about what his family went through:

I was a nervous wreck that night. I was very worried about my son. I have diabetes and my blood sugar levels shot up from the tension and I took medication to calm down. My wife, my sons and I were up all night. We couldn’t sleep. We were counting the minutes and the hours until morning, when we could go visit our son.

At 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon my wife and I got our permits, which were valid for only three days. The permits allowed us entry at any hour of the day or night and said “Despite Security Preclusion”.  My wife and I headed out to Jerusalem at 4:00 o’clock. We arrived at 5:30 P.M., but they wouldn’t let us in until 6:00 P.M., which is when visiting hours start. 

We were only able to see our son through the glass window of the recovery room. He was sleeping in a bed, hooked up to machines. There was a white bandage over his head, so we could only see his nose. Two Israeli security forces personnel were standing at the door. A friend of mine, who speaks Hebrew, asked the nurse about my son’s condition. She answered in Hebrew, and he translated. He said my son had a fractured skull and that some of his skull bone had been removed, and that it would be reconstructed in three months. She also said that because he was now sedated we couldn’t talk to him. She tried to calm us down and said he was stable. 

We tried to get into the room to see our son up close, because seeing him from behind the glass broke our hearts and just made us even more miserable. The security man wouldn’t let us in. When we asked why, he said my son was under arrest, but didn’t say why. We kept looking at our boy from behind the glass. His mother was crying, and I was trying to console her. After about an hour, we left. There was no point in staying. We couldn’t go in to see him, touch him or talk to him, and he was asleep. We couldn’t see any of his body, which was all hooked up to machines. 

We came back to visit him the next day, and then the day after that. We could only see him during hospital visiting hours. Every time we saw him through the glass, from the outside, he was in the same condition, still sedated. 

When the three days were up, the DCO refused to renew the permits issued to D.T.’s parents, citing a “security ban”. Later only the mother’s permit was renewed. His father was not allowed to visit him again for the remainder of his stay at Hadassah Hospital.

D.T. woke up after five days. After he was discharged from hospital, he spoke to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad about his time there: 

When I woke up on the fifth day and saw there were guards, I realized I was under arrest. Once my condition began stabilizing and improving, I was moved from recovery to a ward. I don’t which ward. They used metal handcuffs and ankle restraints to tie me to the bed. 

I can’t remember anyone from my family visiting me before I was transferred to the ward. On 19 March 2017, my uncle visited me. I was told that my mother and father got permits during the first few days, but they didn’t visit me in the room, just behind the glass. After that they wouldn’t let both of them come anymore. I understood from my mother that my father wasn’t given a permit for “security reasons” and that later my mother and uncle got permits, but the security forces wouldn’t let them come in to see me. 

On 22 March 2017, D.T. was taken by ambulance to al-Istishari Hospital in Ramallah, and the stitches were removed from his head. Three days later, he went home. 

D.T. after being discharged from hospital, showing the bruising on his leg left by the restraints at Hadassah Hospital. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 29 March 2017
D.T. after being discharged from hospital, showing the bruising on his leg left by the restraints at Hadassah Hospital. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 29 March 2017

The conduct of the security forces in this affair is particularly grave. A Border Police officer fired a sponge bullet at D.T., who was running away from him and posed no danger to anyone. Then, with D.T. lying on the ground, wounded and helpless, the officer hit him with the barrel of his gun, fracturing his skull and knocking him unconscious. It took fifteen minutes for the security forces to evacuate him to hospital, where he underwent head surgery. At the hospital, he was treated as a dangerous prisoner, guarded round-the-clock by security personnel who prevented his parents from going near him. His parents received entry permits only in the early days, and then, his father was denied entry altogether. The parents were not allowed to enter their son’s room, and had to see him from behind a glass window. D.T., a 17-year-old boy, remained in hospital completely alone, away from his home and family, and restrained to the bed for part of the time. 

While this account may be shocking, it is not all that uncommon: Firing unlawfully at a fleeing Palestinian youth, who posed no danger to anyone, and hitting him hard on the head – actions that could have resulted in disability or death; followed by disgraceful conduct during hospitalization in Israel, including placing restraints on an injured teenager and denying family visits are not a rare occurrence. Nor is it unusual for no one to be held accountable for these injustices, thereby guaranteeing that incidents of this sort will continue so long as the occupation does.