Testimony: Soldiers severely beat four Palestinians on a trip to the Dead Sea, holding them for an entire night , April 2009

Mahmoud Taqatqah, quarry worker

Mahmoud Taqatqah

Last Thursday night [2 April], after work, I called my friends who work with me in the quarry in Beit Fajjar: Muhammad Mahmud Diriyah, Saleh Mustafa Taqatqah, and Majid Musa al-‘Odeh.

Majid has a 1995 Mitsubishi with an Israeli license plate.
The four of us decided to go to the Dead Sea, in Majid's car. We left Beit Fajjar around 8:00 P.M. We went via Marah Rabah, Tuqu', and the a-Rashayida road, finally getting to the a checkpoint near Kibutz Qalya.

There were four soldiers at the checkpoint. They stopped our car and took our identity cards and the car documents to check them. The car is in terrible shape, but it isn't stolen, and its registration is valid. About an hour later, the soldiers said, “There isn't any problem with the identity cards and the registration, but we aren't letting Palestinians enter the Dead Sea. Go to Qalya or go home.”

We drove to Qalya, but it was closed, so we returned [to the checkpoint]. Before reaching the checkpoint, we saw a dirt road leading up the top of the mountain. We drove up. We saw tents in the distance and looked at the sea. We stopped the car, turned on the lights, and sat down to eat. We decided to stay in the car until morning and then go down to the sea by foot. After eating, we sat in the car, listening to music. It was 11:00 P.M.

About half an hour later, we heard somebody say “Arabs! Arabs!” I saw three soldiers, who were about ten meters away. I don't know where they came from. They cocked their rifles, aimed them at us, and told us to get out.

Majid got out first. As soon as he did, a helmeted fair-skinned soldier in his mid-twenties hit him in the head with a pipe. Majid fell down, his head bleeding badly. Then they beat Saleh, who was sitting in the back seat, behind the driver. The soldiers hit him on his hand, and he cried out, “Help! My hand is broken!”

The soldiers went to the other side of the car. Muhammad was sitting in the front passenger seat, next to the driver, and I was sitting behind him. The soldiers told the two of us to get out and lie on the ground.  We did as they said. I heard somebody yell that his hand hurt. I didn't hear Majid. I thought he possibly had lost consciousness because of the blow to the head.

The soldier who had hit Majid with the pipe also used it to hit me on the back of my neck and on my hand. Then he hit Muhammad on the mouth, cracking two of his front teeth and drawing blood. Another soldier hit us with his rifle. The third soldier aimed his rifle at us and swore at us.

The two soldiers beat us for about fifteen minutes, and then the third soldier shouted, “Where's the fourth guy?” The soldiers looked around. We did too. We didn't see Majid. The soldiers asked us where he was. When we said we didn't know, the soldiers started to beat us again. They said, “You're from Gaza. We'll show you who we are!” The beating continued for about an hour.

The soldier holding the pipe told me to get up. He had me walk in front of him and told me to call out to the one who had disappeared, Majid. I was exhausted and in great pain from the beating. My hand and the back of my neck hurt in particular. I called out to Majid for at least an hour, but he didn't respond. The fair-skinned soldier hit me on the hand and neck, and then brought me back to where Saleh and Muhammad were.

We stayed there, lying on the ground. When we tried to raise our head or speak with the soldiers, they hit us. We spent the night this way. When the sun started to come up, I could see the three soldiers clearly. One of them was dark, like an Arab, short, and pretty thin, and was in his  early thirties. Another soldier was dark with black hair, tall, about 1.8 meters. He was the one who guarded us and swore at us. The third soldier, the fair-skinned one, is the one who beat us with the pipe.

The dark, short soldier spoke with somebody by walkie-talkie, to check our identity cards and car registration. He said, “These are the same people we stopped in the evening at the checkpoint. We checked their identity cards and registration, and let them go. Only now I recognize them.” I think he said they had beaten us because they didn't recognize us as the ones who had been at the checkpoint.

He said to us, “If you call to Majid and he comes, we'll release you, and you can go home.” Saleh, Muhammad, and I called out to Majid. About half an hour later, he responded. We called out, “Please Majid! Come here! Come back to us!” After about twenty minutes passed, we saw Majid crawling. His head was bloody and his clothes were blood-stained. He was about 100 meters from us.

The fair-skinned soldier went over to him and dragged him to us. Majid lost consciousness. I told the soldier, “Please let us go! We have to take Majid to the hospital!” He gave us back our identity cards and let us pick up Majid and take him to the car.

We drove fast, to get away from the soldiers and the cursed place where they had beaten us all night long. We drove the same way we came. We left the car in Marah Rabah and drove by taxi to hospital in Beit Jala.

We took Majid to the emergency room. He was still unconscious. The doctors stopped the bleeding and X-rayed his head. They examined all of us. They X-rayed my neck and left hand. They said I had a problem with my neck and severe bruising. They gave me a shot to kill the pain. They put a collar around my neck to keep it stationary and told me to use it for the time being. Saleh's left hand was broken. Three of Muhammad's front teeth were fractured, and he had bruises all over his body, mostly on his legs and back.

We stayed in the emergency room the whole day. Then we were discharged, except for Majid, who was hospitalized.

Mahmoud Rasmi Mahmud Taqatqah, 36, married with seven children, is a quarry worker and a resident of Beit Fajjar in Bethlehem District. His testimony was given to Suha Zeid at the witness's house on 5 April 2009.