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Soldiers Suspected of Lengthy Abuse of Palestinian from Hebron

Update: On 30 April 2012 the MPIU's monitoring department informed B'Tselem that an MPIU investigation had been launched to examine the complaint. On 14 November 2013 the office of the Military Advocate for Operational Matters informed B'Tselem that, subsequent to conclusion of the investigation, a decision had been made to close the case. The grounds for closing the case were not given.

Muhammad Maharmeh. Photo: Musa Abu Hashhash, B'Tselem, 19 March 2012.On Sunday morning, 11 March 2012, Ishaq Maharmeh and his son Muhammad were at home in the Old City of Hebron. According to testimony given to B’Tselem, at about 11:00 AM they heard noises from the direction of their roof and then saw several soldiers standing there. They went up to the roof and the soldiers asked them if they had thrown stones. Ishaq Maharmeh, 50, a father of nine children, replied that they had not. He told them that they should not have come into the house from the roof, but should have used the front door instead. During the ensuing argument, one of the soldiers struck Ishaq in the head with his weapon.

Ishaq’s son Muhammad, 22, tried to stop the soldier from beating his father. He told B’Tselem:

I shouted at the soldier who attacked my father and told him that my father is ill. The soldiers came over and pushed me into a room on the roof. They cursed at me and started kicking me and beating me with their rifle butts. I saw them assaulting my father, too. Then the soldiers took us downstairs into the house. They tried to handcuff me and I tried to prevent them from doing so. I told them that I hadn’t done anything and asked them to call the police. I saw my father bang his head against the wall a few times in despair. My mother tried to help me and stood between me and the soldiers, but one of them pushed her against the wall. Meanwhile, my father fell down. He lay there between the soldiers’ feet without moving. I told the soldiers: Handcuff me and take me, but leave my father alone.

The soldiers handcuffed Muhammad and took him out to the street. In his testimony, Muhammad said they pushed him into the doorway of another house and began to beat him again. Somehow, he managed to tear the handcuffs off and then the blindfold. “When one of the soldiers saw that I’d removed the cuffs, he shot twice in the air and then pointed his rifle at my chest. I thought he was going to shoot and kill me, but then my mother, who was standing nearby, got between me and the soldier and hugged me.

The soldiers then handcuffed Muhammad Maharmeh again and took him and his father, both of whom were barefoot, to an army base a few hundred meters away on Shuhadaa Street. Muhammad’s mother tried to give him some sandals but the soldiers would not allow it. At some point, the soldiers blindfolded Muhammad. He says that the soldiers continued to beat him as they took him to the base, while he was blindfolded and had his hands cuffed behind his back.

On the way to the base, Ishaq, Muhammad’s father, collapsed. The soldiers did not take him for medical treatment, but rather laid him on a stretcher and continued on to the base. Ishaq says that he when he woke up he was lying on the stretcher in a room on the base. A soldier gave him first aid and then left him in the room, guarded by soldiers.

The soldiers took Muhammad, still blindfolded, to a different room on the base. He told B’Tselem:

I sat on a chair and the soldiers stood around me, beating me. This went on for about fifteen minutes and then a soldier who spoke Arabic come over to me. My head was drooped forward. The soldier lifted up my head and hit me hard with his knee in my chest. I could taste blood and spat it out. One of the soldiers kicked the chair I was sitting on and I fell backwards. My head was hit by something. I heard the soldiers laughing. Then one of them began beating me with a wooden stick. I think it was part of the chair I had been sitting on, which had broken.

I stayed lying on the floor. One soldier stepped hard on my stomach. I heard that soldier ask another one to take a picture of him doing this and then I heard the sound of the camera. The soldier put his shoe on my head. Then the soldiers went on kicking and beating me with their fists and rifles. The soldiers beating me hardly talked with me and I think they traded places while they beat me.

Once when the Arabic-speaking soldier beat me, I asked him for a drink of water. I was very thirsty. The soldier lifted up my head, spit in my face and said: ‘Take that, you son of a whore.’ Other soldiers also spit on me. At some point I felt my clothes getting wet. By the smell I realized that one of the soldiers must be urinating on me.

The soldiers’ abuse of Muhammad lasted for a while, as his father, who was in a room nearby, could hear him screaming throughout. At some point, Muhammad says, he lost consciousness. In his testimony, he describes that happened next:

“I came to when they threw water in my face. I shouted in Arabic that I wanted a drink of water. The Arabic-speaking soldier told me: “Open your mouth and I’ll give you water.” I opened my mouth and he put something in it. I think it was dirt. I spit it out.

Then the Arabic-speaking soldier said: “I’m going to screw you.” I was lying on the floor and the soldier pulled down my pants and said he would shove a stick into me. He tried to do so and I resisted. After a few tries he started beating me with the stick. I think it was a broomstick, and it broke while he hit me. I prayed to God to let me die if this torture didn’t stop. I felt my body go limp, and thought I would faint.”

At about 19:00 in the evening, many hours after detaining him, the soldiers took Muhammed out of the room and put him in a vehicle with his father. The soldiers drove them to the Kiryat Arba police station where they waited for about two hours more, until a police officer interrogated each of them separately. While they were waiting, Muhammad asked one of the soldiers to let him see a doctor, but the soldier refused. Muhammad and Ishaq say they were both told they were suspected of assaulting soldiers and interfering with their operations. They gave their versions of the incident to an investigator who took notes and recorded them.

When their interrogation ended, past midnight, Ishaq and Muhammad Maharmeh were released and allowed to go home. Muhammad testified: “Around 12:30 AM one of the policemen took me and my father to the gate of the police station and told us to leave. My father protested and told him that we were barefoot and could not go home that way. He asked the policeman to let us use his phone to call someone to come pick us up. But the policeman refused, saying: ‘Yalla, get out of here!’ Then he closed the gate.”

The two walked home, about a kilometer from the police station. After getting home, they went to the government hospital in Hebron where Muhammad underwent various tests, showing that one of the fingers of his right hand was broken and that he had bruises on various parts of his body.

As this incident was unfolding, the family turned to a B’Tselem investigator in Hebron, Musa Abu Hashhash, in an attempt to locate Muhammad and Ishaq. B’Tselem contacted the Kiryat Arba police station and the Civil Administration’s Humanitarian Hotline several times. B’Tselem was told that they did not know where the two were being held. Finally, after 21:00, B’Tselem was notified by the Kiryat Arab police station that they were holding the two who were awaiting interrogation.

B’Tselem contacted the Military Police Investigation Unit, demanding that it open an immediate inquiry into the circumstances of this case.