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From the field

Suspicion of abuse: Soldiers detained a 13-year-old boy and abandoned him at night, handcuffed, in another village

Update: On 14 November 2013 the Office of the Military Advocate for Operational Matters informed B'Tselem that because the complainant refused to file his complaint with the MPIU, a decision was made not to investigte the complaint.

Muhammad a-Zir, 13. Photo: Suha ZeidTestimonies taken by B’Tselem indicates that during April 2012, soldiers arrested Muhammad a-Zir, age 13, three times in Harmalah, the village where he lives in the Bethlehem district. According to the testimonies, the soldiers beat the boy during his first detention, during which he was interrogated without his parents present and he was not permitted to consult an attorney, in contravention of the law regarding detention of youths. Following both subsequent detentions, the soldiers left him at night with his hands cuffed, somewhere unknown to him, and far away from his home.

Details of the incidents:

Muhammad a-Zir, age 13, an eighth-grade student, lives in a house at the edge of Harmalah, a village near the road to the Tekoah settlement. Following recent incidents in which stones were thrown at vehicles driving by on the road, soldiers searched the homes in the nearby section of the village. On Tuesday, 10 April 2012, at about 4:00 PM, soldiers knocked on the door of the a-Zir home. Maryam a-Zir, Muhammad’s mother, let them in. After searching the house, they told her that they were arresting her son because he had thrown stones. The mother protested and argued that Muhammad, who suffers from pulmonary edema, did not participate in the stone-throwing, but the soldiers took Muhammad anyway.

Maryam a-Zir left followed her son and the soldiers out of the house. She testified that after they went outside, the soldiers beat the boy: “I saw four army jeeps standing in the street. Soldiers grabbed Muhammad and threw him on the ground face-down. Three soldiers sat on him. One sat on his head, another on his back, and a third on his legs. The soldiers punched him in the head. A few other soldiers started to kick him all over his body. I cried and said to the soldiers: ‘My son is sick, please don’t beat him.’ I saw one of the soldiers hit him in the chest, right in front of me. I tried to get closer to Muhammad and one of the soldiers shoved me away.”

According to testimonies from Maryam, Muhammad, and a neighbor who witnessed the incident, after about half an hour the soldiers put Muhammad into a jeep. They bound his hands and feet and blindfolded him and took him to the nearby Herodian military base. Muhammad testified that when the soldiers took him out of the Jeep at the base they beat him again. Then, he says, he was placed in a room, where he was left all alone until morning.

Sometime during the morning, Muhammad was taken to the Kiryat Arba police station where he was interrogated on suspicion of stone-throwing. When the interrogation concluded, Muhammad was taken to the brigade base at Gush Etzion, where he was examined by a doctor for the first time since his arrest. After Muhammad complained of pain and shortness of breath, the doctor ordered that the boy be taken to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Muhammad was examined and treated while he was guarded by soldiers, and then taken back that same evening to the Gush Etzion base.

During the evening, the Gush Etzion police called the Muhammad’s father, Taleb a-Zir, who testified to B’Tselem:

“In the evening of the day after Muhammad’s arrest I received a phone call and they told me that they were calling from the Etzion police station. They said that my son Muhammad was with them and that I had to bring them a thousand shekels to get him back. I told them that I don’t have that kind of money and they hung up. Three hours later they called again and told me: ‘Bring 800 shekels and come to get your son.’ I told them again that I don’t have that kind of money and again they hung up the phone. Half an hour later they called again and told me to bring 400 shekels. I did not agree to pay, and then they told me to come and get my son from Etzion without paying. When I got to Etzion, I found Muhammad waiting for me in the yard by the gate to the base. He looked exhausted.”

About a week after his arrest, Muhammad a-Zir was arrested a second time. Muhammad and his parents don’t remember the exact date of the second arrest. Muhammad testified that sometime in the afternoon he was coming home from school and was standing near his house when two army jeeps came down the street and stopped alongside the house. According to Muhammad’s testimony, soldiers got out of one of the jeeps, grabbed Muhammad, and put him in the jeep. This time too, the soldiers handcuffed Muhammad, blindfolded him and took him to the nearby Herodian army base. Muhammad was put into a room at the base where he was held for several hours. During the evening, the soldiers took Muhammad out of the room and put him into the Jeep again, without ever having questioned him. The soldiers drove Muhammad to the area near the intersection at the entrance to Tuqu, about a kilometer from his home. Muhammad testified:

“I don’t know where the jeep drove because I was blindfolded and it was dark. After about half an hour, the jeep stopped. The soldiers took off my blindfold, but they left my hands tied. They took me out of the jeep and drove away. I think that it was at the intersection around Tuqu. I am not totally sure about the place, because it was very dark. I was really scared because I was alone in the dark. My hands were tied and I didn’t know where I was.”

At about the time that Muhammad was taken out of the jeep at this place unknown to him, someone phoned from the Gush Etzion police station to notify Muhammad’s mother that her son had been left at the Tuqu intersection and they should go fetch him. Muhammad’s father, who was staying overnight that night at his workplace, contacted a taxi driver and asked him to go and get his son. The taxi driver found Muhammad walking along the road near the Tuqu intersection, and took him home.

During the evening of Monday, 30 April 2012, Muhammad a-Zir was arrested for the third time that month. Soldiers took him from his house and put him into a jeep. Muhammad was taken to some army base, which he was unable to identify. The soldiers sat him down in an open yard for several hours, blindfolded and handcuffed. Then, without having questioned him, the soldiers again put Muhammad into the jeep. This time the soldiers left Muhammad handcuffed, in the middle of the night, in the village of Tuqu. Muhammad, who had no idea where he was or how to get home, knocked on the door of a house and woke the residents. The father of the family, Muhammad a-Sha’er, brought the youth inside. A-Sha’er described what happened in his testimony to B’Tselem:

“I woke up when I heard someone knocking on the door. I looked at the clock and saw that it was 2:30 AM. I was surprised and couldn’t figure out who could be at the door so late. I went to see who it was, opened the door, and saw a youngster of 13 or 14. His hands were cuffed. I asked him who he was and what he wanted. I explained to him that he was in Tuqu. He told me that soldiers had arrested him at his house in Harmalah and that after he sat and waited for a few hours in the yard at the army base, the soldiers put him into an army vehicle and let him off in the village, with his hands cuffed.

I took the boy inside and gave him food and water. I heated a kitchen knife over the stove and used it to cut the plastic handcuffs off of his wrists. I asked him his name and asked for his parents’ telephone number. I called Muhammad’s house, and told his father that he was with me and explained what had happened. About an hour later, the father came and picked up Muhammad.”

On 13 June 2012, B’Tselem contacted the Military Police Investigations Unit (MPIU) demanding that it open an investigation into these incidents. Thus far, B’Tselem has not received any response from the MPIU.