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From the field

Soldiers come to arrest youth: beat and wound him and his sisters. IDF Spokesperson: “Response was minimal”

Update: On 14 November 2013, the Office of the Military Advocate for Operational Matters informed B’Tselem as follows: “The case was closed after receiving the report by military officials and once it was found that the arrest in question was resisted with quite some violence. It was found that IDF troops acted within reason in view of the circumstances”.

In the early dawn hours of Sunday, 26 May 2013, an Israeli military force came to the home of the ‘Awad family, in the village of Budrus, in order to arrest 19-year-old ‘Abd a-Rahim ‘Awad. In the course of the arrest, the troops used much violence against several members of the family.

Left to right: Lena, Oumamah and Najlaa ‘Awad on day of incident. Photo: Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem.
Left to right: Lena, Oumamah and Najlaa ‘Awad on day of incident. Photo: Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem.

In its response to the incident, quoted in a column by Gideon Levy in Hebrew daily Ha’aretz , the IDF Spokesperson stated: “An initial inquiry has indicated that, on Saturday night, during the arrest of a wanted person in his home in the village of Budrus, the family members violently resisted the arrest. Their resistance included the use of knives and glass shards. In order to deflect the threat, the force employed a minimal response, including pepper spray and stun grenades, in order to carry out the arrest mission as required, while minimizing risk to the soldiers. During the incident, two soldiers were lightly wounded and received medical treatment on the spot. The circumstances of the incident are still under examination”. The military also released a video clip showing footage of the event filmed by a camera mounted on the helmet of one of the soldiers. The edited footage, which is less than a minute long, shows a very small part of the incident and does not include the soldiers’ violent actions towards the family.

B’Tselem’s research indicates that the ‘Awads did, indeed, actively resist the arrest of ‘Abd a-Rahim. In addition, his sister, Oumamah, told B’Tselem that she had been holding a scythe during the arrest. However, she claimed that she had threatened to harm herself, and not the soldiers, with it. In the video clip released by the military, Oumamah is seen holding a scythe, but she is not threatening the soldiers with it or attempting to attack them.

The research indicates that the soldiers’ conduct during the arrest cannot be considered a “minimal response”, as described by the military. The findings indicate that the soldiers used severe violence against ‘Abd a-Rahim and his relatives, who had attempted to protect him and prevent the arrest. One reason for the family’s extreme reaction may have been genuine fear for ‘Abd a-Rahim’s safety, as soldiers shot and killed his 16-year-old brother, Samir ‘Awad, several months ago. The force carrying out the arrest should have considered the delicacy of the matter and prepared accordingly.

The incident ended with ‘Abd a-Rahim being taken away, injured and bleeding, by the soldiers, while four of his sisters were taken to hospital in Ramallah. One sister was diagnosed with a hairline fracture in her hand, and another needed stitches for a head wound. The soldiers left the house having damaged it heavily: there were broken doors and windows and items that had been singed as result of the use of stun grenades inside the house.

B’Tselem wrote to the MAG Corps demanding an immediate investigation into the incident.

Detailed description of the event

In testimonies given to B’Tselem researcher Iyad Hadad, members of the ‘Awad family recounted how, on the night of the arrest, the parents and eight of their children were sleeping in the house. Most of the family was sleeping on the ground floor, and ‘Abd a-Rahim was sleeping on the roof. At approximately 2:00 A.M., the family unexpectedly found that there many soldiers in the house.

Family member Oumamah ‘Awad, 23, recalled:

Oumamah 'Awad after the incident. Photo: Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem

“I was awake, because I had just finished talking on the phone with my fiancé. The others were all asleep. I was just about to go to bed when I heard strange noises coming from inside the house. I wanted to check what they were, so I opened the door to the room and was surprised to see soldiers inside the house. Some of them were masked. I saw some soldiers going up the stairs to the roof, where my brother ‘Abd a-Rahim was sleeping. Other soldiers came into our bedroom. My sisters and I were in our night clothes and we didn’t have time to cover our heads. My younger brothers started crying. Suddenly, I heard ‘Abd a-Rahim shouting. My sisters and I went out of the room to see what had happened to him. I saw the soldiers push him down the stairs. He fell and hit the stairs. He had scratches on his shoulders and face, he was bleeding from his nose, mouth and knees. We stood in front of him and shielded him from the soldiers with our bodies. The soldiers attacked us and tried to get to ‘Abd a-Rahim.

We stood facing the soldiers, with ‘Abd a-Rahim behind us. I took a scythe that was nearby and held it against my neck. I threatened the soldiers that if they didn’t move away, I’d kill myself. One of the soldiers spoke Arabic. He said to me: “Go on, slaughter [sic] yourself. Go on, you don’t have the guts to do it”. I heard another soldier yelling at him not to bully me too much. I pressed the scythe to my neck and drew blood. When I began doing that, the soldier made the soldier who had provoked me move away, and I stopped cutting myself. After that, we managed to get ‘Abd a-Rahim into our bedroom and closed the door”.

According to Ahmad ‘Awad, 48, father of the 13-child family, at that point, an ISA agent entered the house. ‘Awad is acquainted with the agent, who is in charge of the area. The agent told ‘Awad to calm his family down. ‘Awad demanded that the ISA agent first make the soldiers leave the house and also let his son get medical treatment. At that point, most of the force left the house. However, they returned with reinforcements several minutes later and stormed the house. ‘Awad related what happened next:

Ahmad 'Awad. Photo: Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem“The soldiers threw stun grenades at our windows and broke them. Then they came into the house. I tried to block their way, but one of them pepper-sprayed my face. It hurt a lot. It felt like my face and eyes were burning. After a few minutes, when I could open my eyes again, I saw the soldiers taking the doors off their hinges. They threw stun grenades into the rooms. Then I saw them grab my daughter Lena by the hair and start dragging her along. Lena was screaming. They dragged her out of the house while kicking and beating her”.

Lena ‘Awad, 28, lives with her husband and four children in another house in the village. In her testimony, she stated that her sister Oumamah had called her during the incident and told her what was going on. Lena quickly came over to the house and joined her family. She described what happened then:

“The soldiers started throwing stun grenades into the house. They broke the door down and came into the room we were in with ‘Abd a-Rahim. They pushed me back behind the door and started beating and kicking me. I fell down, but they kept on beating me. They tore the sleeve of the cloak I was wearing. I saw other soldiers beating my mother and sisters.

The soldiers grabbed me by the hair and dragged me out of the house, kicking me as they went. When we were outside, they tried to twist my arm in order tie my hands behind my back. I resisted and they were very violent and twisted my arm forcefully”.

Oumamah ‘Awad described how, at that point, she and her 18-year-old sister, ‘Aishah, had put their brother in the bathroom:

“We pulled ‘Abd a-Rahim into the bathroom. I brought him his shoes, so that he’d be ready for the arrest. I understood that they were going to insist on arresting him. ‘Abd a-Rahim couldn’t put his shoes on by himself, so I put them on for him. A few moments later, I heard the soldiers breaking down the door of the corridor leading to the bedrooms and bathroom. I went out with ‘Aishah, leaving ‘Abd a-Rahim in the bathroom. We hoped the soldiers wouldn’t find him there. When the soldiers saw us, they sprayed pepper spray into our eyes. They found ‘Abd a-Rahim. We heard him crying for help, but the soldiers wouldn’t let us move and started hitting us. I saw four soldiers drag ‘Abd a-Rahim outside. He wasn’t resisting and looked like he’d fainted. My mother was hysterical because he wasn’t moving. She kept screaming: “Say something, ‘Abed... Say something...!” He didn’t say a word. The soldiers dragged him out, kicking and beating him. We tried to run after them, but they used force to make us stop. They went off with ‘Abd a-Rahim and then we lost sight of him.”

Damage to the ‘Awad home. Photo: Ahmad ‘Awad, 26 May. 2013.
Damage to the ‘Awad home. Photo: Ahmad ‘Awad, 26 May. 2013.

After the force left the house, a Palestinian ambulance arrived. It had been detained by the military at the entrance to the village for more than an hour. The wounded sisters were taken to hospital for treatment. A hairline fracture was found in Lena ‘Awad’s hand. Another daughter, Najlaa, 26, needed several stitches, as she had been hit in the head by one of the stun grenades that the soldiers threw into the house when they returned with reinforcement. Two other sisters had bruises.

‘Abd a-Rahim was taken into custody. He was interrogated by the police on suspicion of throwing stones and admitted to the charge. It was only a day after his interrogation that he was transferred to Hadassah Ein Karem for medical treatment, after which he was taken back into custody. On 10 June 2013, he was remanded for four more days. As yet, he has not been indicted.

The ‘Awad family home was greatly damaged during the incident: many doors were taken off their hinges and broken; the panes of four windows were shattered; mattresses, cushions and a rug were singed by the detonation of stun grenades within the house; and the furniture absorbed the odor of the gas, forcing the family to spend several nights out of the house.

B’Tselem applied to the MAG Corps demanding that an investigation into the incident be opened. To date, B’Tselem has received no response from the MAG Corps with regard to this demand.