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B'Tselem urges ban on military's use of dogs in residential West Bank

Update: On 19 May 2013, the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem that the assault on Amneh Hithnawi was being looked into and information gathered from military sources. On 10 September 2013 the Office of the Military Advocate for Operational Matters informed B'Tselem that the account given by military officials indicates that “it was a Yamam [Special Police Unit] operation, with an IDF force present on the outer periphery. Accordingly, a decision was made to close the file and hand it over to the DIP for its attention”. Further to this letter, B’Tselem approached the DIP on this matter. In April 2014, the DIP informed B'Tselem that the investigation was still underway.

Two cases in two days: Oketz Canine Unit dogs attack civilians in course of military operations, January 2013

B'Tselem documented two extremely worrying cases of Israeli military dogs assaulting Palestinian civilians. Both attacks occurred in the first week of January 2013, in the northern West Bank, one in the city of Jenin and the other in the village of Tamun. The attacks, which occurred two days apart, are similar. In both cases the dogs were in the company of military forces that entered residential areas, and the dogs attacked civilians in or near their homes.

In one case, Amneh Hithnawi, 88, was attacked in her home in Jenin. She required extensive medical treatment for the resulting injuries. She was taken immediately for urgent medical treatment in Israel, underwent several operations and spent a month in hospital before being discharged. B'Tselem wrote to the MAG Corps demanding that the attack be investigated.

B'Tselem also reported the cases to OC Judea and Samaria Division and demanded that the use of military dogs in residential areas of the West Bank be prohibited.

Specifics of the two cases:

Amneh Hithnawi after being discharged from hospital. Photo: ‘Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 18 February 2013
Amneh Hithnawi after being discharged from hospital. Photo: ‘Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 18 February 2013

The assault on Amneh Hithnawi, 88. Jenin, 3 January 2013:

For 88-year-old Amneh Hithnawi of Jenin, the morning of Thursday, 3 January 2013, began like any other. Following is the account she gave to B'Tselem:

I saw a few youths throwing stones and running away, and then I noticed that there were soldiers and military jeeps in the street. I watched from the balcony for a few more minutes and then decided to go inside."

Hithnawi was alone in her apartment that morning. Shortly after she went inside, she was surprised to see a dog come in to her home. Her testimony continues:

"Suddenly I saw a large and very frightening dog inside the apartment. The dog jumped on me right away and bit my right arm, hard. I fell down, with my arm still in the dog’s jaws and teeth. I screamed for help.

A few minutes later, a soldier came in. The dog let go of me. Then a few more soldiers came in. They had a woman soldier with them who spoke Arabic. I told the soldiers: 'What did I do to you to make you do this to me?'"

The soldiers administered first aid to Hithnawi at the scene, but were unable to stop her bleeding. They took her outside, to a military vehicle in the street. After another vain attempt to stem the bleeding, Hithnawi was driven in the military vehicle to HaEmek Hospital in Afula, Israel. Later that day, her children came to visit her there.

At the hospital, it was found that Hithnawi's arm had sustained extensive damage. In addition to the open wounds, the dog's bite had broken her arm. Hithnawi underwent surgery and after a week in hospital, was transferred to Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer, also in Israel, where she underwent skin graft surgery on her arm. Hithnawi was discharged from the hospital about a month later.

Hithnawi told the B'Tselem field researcher who met with her after she had been discharged from hospital that she was still suffering the physical and emotional aftereffects of the incident:

"Even now, more than a month later, I keep seeing the dog in my mind’s eye. At first I almost went crazy. The image of the dog in my head wouldn’t leave me during the nights I spent in the hospital. I went through a very difficult week. Just this morning, at the time for the morning prayers, I was standing at the same spot in the house where the dog attacked me. Suddenly I imagined that I saw the dog. I could see the whole incident as if I were watching a movie. I asked God to protect me from the Devil, and continued praying. If only I could get that picture of the dog out of my head."

In March 2013, B'Tselem wrote to the MAG Corps, demanding it open a Military Police investigation of the incident.

No response has been received to date.

The assault on Akram Bsharat, 21. Tamun, 1 January 2013:

On Tuesday, 1 January 2013, an Israeli military operation was underway at the village of Tamun in the Tubas District, between Jenin and Nablus. Akram Bsharat, 21, of Tamun, a student at A-Najah University, testified to B'Tselem as follows:

Akram Basharat. Photo: ‘Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 3 Jan. 2013"On Tuesday there were no classes at the university, because the Palestinian Authority had declared a day off for the new year. At around 11:30, I saw that military forces had entered the village. About half an hour later, I noticed that my younger brother Usama wasn’t home. I heard shooting outside and decided to go out and look for him because I was worried about him.

I went toward the part of the village where I had seen the soldiers. I found Usama there and asked him to go home. Usama did go home, but before I managed to leave the area myself, the soldiers ordered me to stop.

There was a group of youths there that the soldiers had detained, and the soldiers ordered me to join the group. They put us into the yard of a house and I saw another group that the soldiers had detained, this one made up of women and teenage girls."

About twenty minutes later, another military force entered the yard. They had a dog on a leash with them, and it was held by one of the soldiers. Bsharat's continued his testimony:

“The soldier began walking around the yard with the dog. The soldiers ordered the women to go into the house and the teenage boys and I stayed in the yard. I saw that the boys, who were 14 or 15 years old, were scared. A few of them sat down behind me because they were afraid of the dog.

A few minutes later, I saw that the dog was suddenly free of its leash. I don't know if the soldier unleashed it or if the dog got free by itself. The dog jumped on me and sank its teeth into my arm. I pulled back hard and managed to break free of the dog, but then it attacked me again. The dog let go of my arm. It got hold of my shirtsleeve and started pulling at it. When I tried beating the dog in self-defense, one of the soldiers intervened. He took a knife out of his pocket, cut my sleeve and grabbed the dog. Then he took the dog away from me. I think that the soldier was trying to protect the dog from me.

My arm was bleeding. I asked the soldiers to have me taken to get first aid, but they told me to shut up. One of them hit me in the chest to shut me up. About fifteen minutes later, one of the soldiers walked me over to a military jeep and there they bandaged my arm."

Finally, two hours later, the soldiers permitted Bsharat to be taken from the village for treatment. He was taken to a medical clinic in the nearby town of Tubas and from there for further treatment at a hospital in Nablus. Bsharat was hospitalized overnight but chose to leave the next day, against medical advice, because he did not want to miss the semester’s finals.

Akram Bsharat chose not to file a complaint about the attack, fearing that it would lead to further harassment by the military.

The military policy that permits the use of dogs in residential areas is both problematic and unacceptable. It is also of questionable legality. Dogs are dangerous, cannot always be controlled, and have inflicted grievous injuries on Palestinian civilians.

In view of these recent assaults on civilians by dogs of the Israeli military’s Oketz Canine Unit, B'Tselem Executive Director Jessica Montell wrote to OC Judea and Samaria Division demanding a that the use of dogs be prohibited in residential areas in the West Bank.

Montell stated that the military must find alternatives to accomplishing the tasks now done by dogs, so that there is no danger to civilian lives or wellbeing. She added that, so long as the use of dogs continues, commanders and soldiers must be instructed in no uncertain terms that, before using an attack dog in a residential area, all requisite precautions must be adopted to prevent any harm to civilians.

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