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From the field

Three days of unchecked abuse: Israeli soldiers severely abuse six Gazan detainees, incl. three minors

On 10 October 2015, Palestinian youths from al-Bureij Refugee Camp in the central Gaza Strip staged a demonstration near the perimeter fence. B’Tselem’s investigation found that some 300 youths took part in the protest, which began in the afternoon and lasted until the evening. Some protesters threw stones at soldiers stationed behind earthworks on the other side of the fence, a little way off from it. The soldiers fired tear-gas at the protesters. During the clashes, six or seven youths tore out an iron gate set in the fence and began heading into Israeli territory. Military forces, including several jeeps, began combing the area in search of them. The troops also used flares and dogs. When the youths realized a pursuit had been mounted, they split up and began running in different directions, some into Israel. Others tried to turn back towards the fence, where clashes between soldiers and protesters were still underway.

Palestinian protesters stand at Israeli border fence. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa, Reuters, 13 October 2015
Palestinian protesters stand at Israeli border fence. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa, Reuters, 13 October 2015

Six protesters who crossed the border were apprehended by soldiers that evening. Three of them, minors, told B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh that the military used dogs to capture them. The soldiers, men and women, who arrested them used extreme violence during the arrest and while en route to a military base. At the base, whose location is unknown to the minors, soldiers severely abused the six detainees. For three days the detainees were kept tied up out in the open, repeatedly beaten, denied food and drink, subjected to various degradations, and denied sleep by blaring music and cold water poured on them. One of the teens told B’Tselem that during that time, soldiers burned his arms and legs with cigarettes.

One of the three teens arrested, ‘Abd a-Rahman Abu Hamisah, 15, told B’Tselem on 24 February 2016 how the soldiers captured and abused him:

A few minutes after I joined the demonstration, I went ahead with some other guys and we tore out the iron gate that’s part of the border fence. I entered Israeli territory and Israeli military jeeps started pursuing us, about five jeeps. The soldiers fired all around us. We kept running east into Israeli territory, into the vegetation. We ran a long way and couldn’t see the border any more. It was already evening and he sun had gone down. By nightfall, I realized we were in trouble and got scared. I couldn’t go back towards the border because the demonstration was over and the soldiers were occupied only with looking for us. I didn’t mean to go any further into Israel. I just wanted to get away from the soldiers and the gunfire. We kept running until 9:30 at night. The soldiers sent up flares and released dogs to pursue us.

Two dogs caught up with me. One got me by the left leg and other stood on my chest. The same thing happened to ‘Abd a-Rahman ‘Aydi, who was with me. Two other dogs attacked him. I started screaming because I was afraid of the dogs. A couple of minutes later, some soldiers came and pulled the dogs off us. Then they ordered us to undress completely and we stayed like that, naked, for a few minutes. Then we put our clothes on and the soldiers ordered us to sit on the ground.

A soldier tied my hands behind my back and blindfolded me. The same thing happened with ‘Abd a-Rahman. We were taken in one of the military jeeps to some military base about ten minutes’ drive away. There they took us out of the jeep, freed our hands and untied our blindfolds. One of the soldiers took me into a room with a desk and a computer. Two people in civilian clothes were sitting there. They didn’t introduce themselves. One asked for my name, which organization I belong to, and where I live. After I answered his questions, another soldier took me and sat me down on the ground in the yard of the base. He tied my hands again with plastic cable ties and blindfolded me again. They took ‘Abd a-Rahman into the room, too, and then sat him down in the yard not far from me. I could just see him from under the blindfold.

Then the soldiers put on music. There were a lot of men and women soldiers there and they started dancing. Every few minutes, one of them hit us with a rifle butt or slapped or kicked us. We stayed like that for three days, out in the yard of the base. They gave us only a bit of bread and some water and beat us every once in a while. The soldiers played soccer while we were in the yard and kicked the ball at us. We were so battered that our entire bodies ached. At night, when they knew we’d fallen asleep from exhaustion, they came over with a bucket of water and poured it on us. It was very cold, especially at night, and they constantly kept us from sleeping.

Once, when I was in a lot of pain during the night, a soldier came and took off my blindfold. He ordered me to drink a yellow liquid from a cup he was holding. I asked him what it was and he said it was medicine. It tasted bitter. My throat burned and I drank the entire contents of the cup. Then I no longer knew what was happening, I slept for several hours. When I woke up, I felt dizzy.

Soldiers watch protesters on other side of perimeter fence separating Israel and the Gaza Strip. Photo taken by demonstrators.
Soldiers watch protesters on other side of perimeter fence separating Israel and the Gaza Strip. Photo taken by demonstrators.

Tawfiq al-‘Awawdah, 17, was also one of the teens arrested. In his testimony to B’Tselem on 5 April 2016, he described the abuse he was subjected to at the military base where he was held for three days:

After I was arrested, they took me to a military base. The soldiers put me on the phone with someone. He asked my name and why I’d come to the border. Then they took me into the yard and I stayed there with the others for three days. They left us out there even though it was very cold. During those three days, the soldiers tortured us. Sometimes, while we slept, they poured cold water on us to keep us from sleeping. They wouldn’t give us any food or drink and wouldn’t let us go to the toilet. Every now and then, a soldier came and tightened the handcuffs, making it really hurt. At other times, soldiers came and beat us all over our bodies with the butts of their rifles. Sometimes, soldiers played soccer and kicked the ball at us; at other times, they put on music and kicked us in the face and all over our bodies.

Muhammad Muhsein al-‘Azazi, 15, also told B’Tselem about the violence to which he was subjected during the arrest and the abuse he underwent for three days:

One of the military jeeps caught me as I was trying to get back into Gaza. About seven soldiers got out of the jeep. Then another jeep drove up and several soldiers got out. They pointed their guns at me. They ordered me to stop and raise my hands. One of them told me to take my pants off. I refused, because he was trying to humiliate me. The soldiers came towards me and one hit me in the back with a rifle butt. He pulled my pants down and the boxer shorts I was wearing. Then he put my shorts back on and tied my hands behind my back with plastic handcuffs. They threw me face down on the ground, and then three soldiers turned me so I was lying on my right side and started kicking me with their boots and hitting me all over my body with their rifles. One blow hit me in the teeth and I broke a front tooth. I felt myself swallow it. They especially focused on hitting my stomach and I started vomiting blood.

After a while, they left me just lying there. Then another jeep drove up and stopped right beside me. The driver got out and started beating me. Then they put me in the jeep and continued beating me until we got to a military base. There they took me out of the jeep and sat me down on the ground outside. After about an hour, they took me to an intelligence officer in civilian clothes who started interrogating me. He asked me why I had come to the border and why I had thrown stones. He wanted to know the names of my relatives and where I live. Throughout the investigation I was still only in my underwear and shivering with cold.

After about fifteen minutes, they took me out of the room and brought me a shirt and pants. As they led me out of the room I saw five other guys who had been at the demonstration at the border and had also been arrested. They were all sitting on the ground, blindfolded and handcuffed. The soldiers sat me down with them. Each one of them was interrogated, one by one.

A while later, I saw the officer leave the interrogation room. One of the soldiers came over, took my clothes off again, and switched my handcuffs to narrow plastic ones. He tied my hands behind my back and tightened the cuffs until my hands really hurt. When I cried out in pain and asked them to loosen the handcuffs a bit, one of the soldiers tightened them even more. After that, every time a soldier went by, he hit me.

Three days went by like that. I sat with the other guys outside, on the ground, and they came over to beat us whenever they felt like it. Sometimes they played music and beat us in time with the music playing in the background. When we asked them for water, they brought some and poured it over our faces. Sometimes, they played soccer around us and the kicked the ball at us.

One time, when we were so thirsty we begged them for water, a soldier who spoke Arabic came over and gave me something to drink. I thought it was water but when I drank it, it tasted bitter and I felt dizzy. I realized it was alcohol. Another time – I think it was the next day – I asked for water and they gave me alcohol again. After I tasted it and refused to drink, they poured it on me.

For three days we were subjected to relentless abuse. We shivered with cold and they poured cold water over us; they kept us from sleeping; and at some point I was hit in my left shoulder with a sharp object and I started bleeding. They wouldn’t help me. They put cigarettes out on me, on my left leg and on my right arm.

On 28 December 2015, al-‘Awawdah and al-‘Azazi were convicted of infiltration and disturbance of the peace. Abu Hamisah was convicted of infiltration only. As part of the plea bargains they signed, the three teens were sentenced to four to six months in prison. In the court transcript, the judge noted that the probation officer who met with Muhammad al-‘Azazi reported that the arrest, and especially the time at the military base, were traumatic for the boy.

The accounts given by these minors paint an alarming picture of severe abuse by soldiers misusing their power with no one reining them in. The fact that soldiers can so easily turn a military base into an exterritorial area in which they can treat minors as they please with no one to control their actions is, in part, the consequence of a law enforcement system which for years has enabled security establishment personnel to employ violence against detainees, including minors, without then being subjected to any accountability.

On 2 May 2016 Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the MPIU had launched an investigation of this case. However, past experience has shown that these investigations usually lead to no further action, because they were not meant for uncovering the truth, but for creating a semblance of a functioning law enforcement system.