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The voice of Muhammad Dababseh

Update: On 22 August 2011 the Department for the Investigation of Police notified B’Tselem that the case had been closed for lack of evidence. On 15 December 2011, Attorney Gaby Lasky filed an appeal to the State Attorney on behalf of B’Tselem against the closing of the case, and demanded that the State Attorney’s Office order that the investigation be completed. On 14 February 2012 the State Attorney’s Office said that an appellate case had been opened and was being processed.

Last August, Musa Abu Hashhash, B'Tselem’s field researcher in the Hebron area, met with Muhammad Dababseh. In all his years with B’Tselem, having met with hundreds of Palestinians injured by Israel’s security forces, he had never encountered such a case. The 21-year-old from Tarqumya could not speak. For three hours, he painstakingly wrote out his testimony of what happened to him four months earlier.

Part 1: Beaten dumb

Dababseh related how he worked for several years in construction in Israel, without a permit, to help support his seven siblings and ill parents. On 23 April 2010, as he was on his way home from a construction site in Ashkelon, a plain-clothes policeman whom he recognized came over to him and asked him where he was from. When Dababseh said he was from Hebron, the policeman began hitting him with the butt of his pistol and with a club.  Dababseh started to run away, but stopped when the policeman fired the pistol. The policeman caught up to him and continued to beat him, stopping only when a police patrol van arrived and took Dababseh to the local police station .

Muhammad DababsheWhile held in waiting until questioning, Dababseh fainted. When he awoke a few hours later in Barzilai Hospital, in the city, he found that he had lost his ability to speak. He was held in detention in Israel for three months. All that time, he was incapable of uttering a word, and his condition was not treated. He was released after an indictment was filed against him for unlawful entry into Israel, for aggravated assault of a police officer, for obstructing a police officer in performing his duties, and for attempted assault of a police officer. The criminal proceedings are still under way .
Dababseh returned home, still unable to speak and suffering greatly from the sudden disability. With the aid of Doctors Without Borders, he received various kinds of treatment in hospitals in Hebron, to no avail. His distress deepened .

Having taken Dababseh’s testimony, B’Tselem wrote to the Department for Investigation of Police (DIP) demanding that an investigation into the incident be opened
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Part 2: Silent waiting

Abu Hashhash relates that ,

After I took his testimony, he would come to me once a week or so to find out if there was anything new with his complaint against the police.  It was hard for him to communicate and he sat there looking sad and confused. There were times that he wrote how much he wanted to speak again. He wrote that he had lost his friends and that he could no longer communicate properly with anyone, including his family. He wrote that he was embarrassed to be in public, so he spent most of his time in his house, closed off from the world. When the doctors in Hebron were unable to help him, he wrote that he had begun to lose hope .

Part 3: Hope

On 29 October, the journalist Gideon Levy reported Dababseh’s story in the leading Israeli daily Ha’aretz. One reader took it to heart. Pnina Erenthal, a clinical speech therapist and head of the Institute for Communication Disorders at the Kaplan Medical Center, decided to try and help Dababseh. She invited him for treatment at the center in Rehovot, and helped him obtain a permit to enter Israel – not a simple procedure for a Palestinian with an indictment pending against him in Israel .
Erenthal spent a full work day with Dababseh and found that he suffered from a psychologically-based vocal distortion – a psychological trauma that had transformed into a physical problem. After two hours of treatment, Dababseh managed, with great difficulty, to make some sounds and garble a few words. He left the hospital excited and full of hope. He was invited back for further treatment .

Part 4: The phone call

Two weeks ago, on 2 January 2011, Dababseh went for his second treatment with Erenthal. That same day, Abu Hashhash received a call to his cell phone. He heard an unfamiliar voice say “hello” on the other end of the line. The voiced introduced itself as Muhammad Dababseh. Dababseh immediately went to Abu Hashhash’s office, entering with a wide grin on his face. He hugged Abu Hashhash and thanked him again and again. Abu Hashhash says he felt as if a new person was standing before him, confident and overjoyed. Finally, he could tell Abu Hashhash all the details of the traumatic incident and describe his suffering in detention. He explained that the hundred days in detention had been the hardest in his whole life, because he was unable to communicate and no one could understand his suffering. Now, he said, he could go back to living his life and helping support his family

On 5 January 2011, the DIP informed B’Tselem that an investigation into the incident had been opened .