On Monday, 13 September 2021, at around 5:00 P.M., Mustafa (13) and Muhammad (15) ‘Amira from the village of Ni’lin in Ramallah District were playing on their family’s land. The teens were playing with plastic bottles, which they were blowing up with detergent and aluminum foil. About a kilometer away, near one of the gates in the Separation Barrier, were more than 10 soldiers watching them play. After about an hour, two rubber-coated metal bullets were fired at the teens. Half an hour later, the soldiers came over and arrested them.
This began a sequence of abuse that lasted more than 24 hours, at the end of which the two teens were released. The soldiers handcuffed them tightly, punched them, kicked them all over their bodies and swore at them. The soldiers repeatedly asked about the whereabouts of another person who they claimed had been with the two teens. Although the two denied his existence, the soldiers insisted until Mustafa – for lack of choice – gave them a false name.
The teens were then taken to a military facility near the Ni’lin Checkpoint. There, after waiting again, they were interrogated separately – without the presence of an adult acting on their behalf. The interrogators only called a lawyer, whom the two do not know, and allowed them to talk briefly with him. At the end of the interrogation, the two were required to sign documents in Hebrew, had fingerprints and DNA samples taken from them, and were then forced to wait outside, blindfolded.
At 1:00 A.M., they were handcuffed and taken to a military camp, where they were put in a freezing room, given wet mattresses and left to their devices. In the morning, soldiers brought them some water and dry biscuits and left them again. Only in the afternoon, at around 5:00 P.M., they were taken – handcuffed and blindfolded – to a hospital, where they were examined. During their time at the hospital, they were led into a room in which a police officer held a video call on his phone with the military court at Ofer Prison. That was the first time they saw their lawyer, who translated the proceedings for them. After a hearing that lasted less than 10 minutes, the judge announced that they would each be released on a NIS 3,000 (~966 USD) bail. They underwent further medical examinations and were driven to the entrance to their village, where they were left at 9:30 P.M. with no prior coordination with anyone. A person who recognized them took them home.
Soldiers apprehended two teens who were playing on their family’s land and beat them severely. This began more than 24 hours of abuse in which they were beaten, starved and deprived of sleep. Dozens of people were involved in the abuse : soldiers, police officers, doctors, interrogators, nurses, ISA agents, clerks and a judge. Not one stopped to talk to them – two boys, one 13, the other 15. Not one bothered to ask why they had been taken from their families and homes in the first place. Not one explained to them or to their parents what lay ahead. Not one checked if they were hungry, thirsty, tired or scared. Not a single one.
In a statement to Israeli daily Ha’aretz, the IDF Spokesperson said: “Two Palestinian suspects were seen detonating an IED at the security fence.” In fact, the teens played for about an hour at blowing up bottles, about a kilometer from the fence, in full view of soldiers who did nothing and did not treat them as “suspects.” The spokesperson also claimed the “suspects fled.” In fact, one of them ran into the soldiers’ hands and the other surrendered immediately afterwards. He went on to claim that the soldiers did not beat them at all, offering an excuse: “One of the suspects fell to the ground and was lightly injured in the face. He received immediate medical treatment from the force.” Finally, the spokesperson added that “the suspects were provided food and drink.”
The IDF Spokesperson’s response indicates how routine such abuse is for the military: The detention of Palestinian minors has long been a daily occurrence in the West Bank. It is met – as in the case at hand – with utter indifference by all the authorities and people involved. These choose to ignore the rights of the detained minors, the special protections to which they are entitled as minors, and the long-term effect on their lives.
In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad, Mustafa ‘Amira (13) recounted what happened:
On Monday, 13 September 2021, at around 5:00 P.M., I went with my cousin Muhammad to play near Mount Abu Saydam (al-Kark) not far our homes, where there are olive groves. We were playing “Arabs and Jews”, a game in which you pretend to be Palestinians and soldiers fighting. We made fireworks that don’t make a lot of noise: plastic bottles with aluminum foil and cleaning detergent that explode when you shake and throw them. We also imitated the sounds of police sirens and gunfire.
Soldiers were sitting under a sunshade at one of the openings in the Separation Barrier, watching us. About 150 meters away from them, there were about 10 more soldiers lying under trees on a hill. About an hour after we started playing, the soldiers under the sunshade fired two “rubber” bullets at us, which didn’t hit us. We were scared and moved about 25 meters towards the village, but stayed inside our grove. I shouted at the soldiers and one of them swore at us. We swore back.
At 6:30 P.M., while we were just talking, Muhammad suddenly said soldiers were coming and ran away. I didn’t see the soldiers, but I ran and then the soldiers caught me. There were five of them, and they pointed their weapons at me. One of the soldiers ordered me to sit down on the ground and then they tied my hands tightly behind my back. It hurt a lot. Then another soldier arrived. The first one grabbed my head and rubbed it into the ground, on the stones and dirt. I screamed from the pain and felt that I was bleeding from the scratches. Then one of them put his foot on my back and punched me in the face few times. Meanwhile, I saw they’d caught Muhammad. They brought him close to me. There were more than four soldiers with him.
They handed me a cell phone and told me to talk to someone who identified himself as an ISA agent. He asked me in Arabic for our names, how old we were, and what we were wearing. He asked me about another boy, and I told him there was no one else. He insisted there was someone, and when I told him there wasn’t, he told me I was lying. One of the soldiers took the phone away from me and then punched and kicked me. He demanded I admit that someone else had been with us. Just to make it stop, I made up a name and said that there’d been someone called Yusef with us. He kept hitting me and asking me questions about Yusef. I said I didn’t know, but he insisted I give him Yusef’s full name, so I made up a full name just to get the beating over with. Then the soldier handed me the phone again to give the ISA agent the name. I did as he said.
The soldiers led me to a spot near where Muhammad was lying on the ground. One of them asked me about our bottles. We had three bottles left, and I showed him where they were. I explained how to make “fireworks” and how we play with them. The soldiers brought Muhammad over and sat him next to me for a few minutes, and then they led us through groves for several hundred meters. They swore at me and the soldier who was leading me kept trying to take me through the terraces so I’d trip. I did trip twice, but didn’t get hurt. They led me to a jeep and one of the soldiers said “Welcome to Israel” and banged my head against the jeep door. It hurt a lot. The soldiers put me in the jeep and started driving. I didn’t know where we were going, and I was terrified and shaking with fear.
After a short while, the jeep stopped. A soldier covered my eyes. I later found out that I was at the Ni’lin Checkpoint. It was around 7:30 P.M. A few moments later, they brought Muhammad in and sat us both down on wooden benches. A soldier watched over us. We were two meters away from each other, but we weren’t allowed to talk. I asked for a drink, and the soldier brought me a glass of water and helped me drink because my hands were tied. I also asked to wipe the dirt and blood off my face, because it had dried up and was bothering me, and the soldier brought me a tissue. He cut off the zip ties so I could wipe it off, but wouldn’t let me take the blindfold off, just move it a bit. After I was done, he left the blindfold on but didn’t put the zip ties back on.
At around 8:00 P.M., I heard a soldier take Muhammad away. Half an hour later, they took me, too. They sat me on a chair inside a room and the interrogator asked me to take the blindfold off. There were two police officers there. The interrogator explained I had rights. He said I could refuse to answer the questions, but the court would see that. Then he called a lawyer and gave me the phone to speak to him. He and the policewoman stood by the door. On the phone was a man who introduced himself as a lawyer called Naser Nubani. He told me not to be afraid and that no one would hit me. I told him that they’d already hit me. He told me not to confess to anything I hadn’t done and asked me to hand the phone back to the interrogator.
The interrogator asked for my father’s phone number, but I was so scared that I gave him a wrong number. I gave him mother’s number, and he spoke with her and told her that I was under arrest and that he’d talked to a lawyer. He said, “Your son’s causing problems.” She told him, “My son is still little boy, it’s unthinkable to arrest him.” Then the interrogator ended the call. He told me I was in trouble and would be brought before a court. I was afraid I’d be held for a long time and that my studies would suffer. He asked me what we were doing in the grove and about the bottles. Then he asked if we’d thrown stones. I explained to him everything that had happened to us, in detail. Then he said, “You should thank the soldier that he only beat you and didn’t kill you.”
He took me out of the room and Muhammad went in. After about 40 minutes, they took me back into the room. They wanted me to sign all kinds of papers in Hebrew. They said it was proof that they’d let me speak to a lawyer. I signed everything, even though I didn’t understand was I was signing. Then they took my fingerprints and a DNA sample.
At around 1:00 A.M., they covered our eyes, tied our legs together and drove us to some military camp. They put us in a freezing room, took the masks off our eyes and covered them with a white cloth. They untied our feet, tied our hands and brought us wet, cold mattresses. They told us to go to sleep but I couldn’t sleep, it was too cold. We were hungry, but they didn’t bring us food and we didn’t ask for it because we were so tired. We just wanted to sleep.
We stayed that way until 8:00 A.M. They brought us water, took us behind one of the rooms to relieve ourselves, and then brought us back to the room. They brought us dry biscuits and some pretzels. Then I feel a sleep for a bit. At 5:00 P.M., police officers came and woke us up. They covered our eyes and put us in a car. When it stopped, they put masks on us, and then we realized we were inside a medical facility , like a hospital. We underwent tests there, and someone asked me if it hurt where I’d been beaten.
Before we left the hospital, a court hearing was held through a police officer’s phone. The judge talked and our lawyer translated. The judge told us, “I don’t want you to back in court, and don’t do the things you did.” The hearing lasted less than 10 minutes and then the officer closed the phone. They took us to the fifth floor, where I was examined again, and then they took us back to the car, covered our eyes and drove off. I didn’t know where. I fell asleep in the car and woke up when we were at the entrance to our village. The time was 9:30 P.M. Someone we know took us home. After I got back, I was still in pain and had bruises on my face and swelling around my right eye, as well as marks on my wrists from the zip ties and scratches. But I didn’t go to hospital. I rested at home and took painkillers. I didn’t go to school for two days.
In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad, Muhammad ‘Amira (15) recalled what happened to him after the soldiers came to the grove:
I managed to escape but didn’t get far. I decided to go back so I wouldn’t leave my cousin alone. I went back with my hands raised, to hand myself in. An officer and a soldier came up to me. The officer was angry. He was swearing and shouting in Hebrew. I didn’t understand what he was saying. He pressed my hands to my sides and slapped me hard in the face, pulled my ears sand headbutted me with his helmet.
He laid me down on the ground and more soldiers came and stood around me. I couldn’t see Mustafa but heard him screaming for help. The officer asked me about the third person who had been with us. I told him there were only two of us there. He kept asking me questions, but I didn’t know what to answer him. He walked over to Mustafa, and then came back and told me to talk on the phone with someone he called “Captain Hamza.” The man on the phone also asked me where the third person was, and I told him we were there alone. After a while, another officer arrived, I think it was the man I’d spoke to on the phone. He interrogated me again and asked me what we were doing there and where we lived. Then asked about the bottles and I explained to him what we’d done. I was terrified and confused.
They had me on my knees, and the stones and gravel stuck to my knees and hurt me. I asked if I could sit normally, but the soldiers didn’t let me. After a few moments, I saw them leading Mustafa. His hands were tied behind his back and he was bruised from a beating. I saw scratches on his face and a red and blue mark around his right eye. He looked messy, dusty and scared. He was trembling.
Then a soldier tied my hands with a piece of cloth and they walked, leading me before them. The whole way, the soldiers swore at me and pushed me. We walked across terraces and thorns, but I didn’t fall. We walked for some time. On the way, they told me to speak on the phone with a man who introduced himself as “Captain Wissam,” and he also asked me about a third person named Yusef who he said had been with us.
We walked on and then they put me in a jeep. They told me to keep my head down so I wouldn’t see where they were taking me. After a short drive, they stopped and I saw we were inside a police station or a military camp near the Ni’lin Checkpoint. They took the handcuffs off, covered my eyes and sat me on a chair. After a short while, I heard Mustafa coughing and realized he was sitting next to me. I called out to him, but one of the soldiers ordered me to be quiet. After about 15 minutes, I asked for water and they let me drink. I asked to go to the bathroom, and they took off my blindfold and let me go.
At around 8:00 P.M., one of the soldiers took me to an interrogation room. I sat there for about 10 minutes without anyone talking to me, and only then a soldier took off my blindfold. I saw two interrogators, a man and a woman, and each had a computer. I refused to answer their questions without a lawyer. I know I have the right not to speak without the presence of a lawyer or parent. The interrogator agreed to call my brother Safi (25) to give him the name of a lawyer. He called my brother and informed him I was under arrest, and Safi apparently gave him a lawyer’s name. I wanted to speak with my brother, but the interrogator refused. He called the lawyer and let me talk to him. The lawyer instructed me not to talk about anything I hadn’t done, not to be afraid and to answer the interrogator’s questions. He also said there would be no beatings at that point. I ask him if he was coming to the court hearing, and he said yes and that the hearing would be the next day.
The interrogation lasted about half an hour. The interrogator asked me what we’d been doing there and who was with us. After the interrogation, they sat me on a bench outside and brought Mustafa in. He was also interrogated for about half an hour. After he came out, they brought me back in. They demanded I sign documents in Hebrew, and I refused because I didn’t understand what was written there. They took my fingerprints and a DNA sample and then put me back in the yard, near Mustafa. My hands were untied but my eyes were covered. It was already night-time and there was no traffic outside except military and police. It was freezing, and we were exhausted and hungry.
At around 1:00 A.M., they put us in a jeep, tied our legs and took us to a military camp. I don’t know where it was. They put us in a room with the air-conditioning on and it was so cold, like a fridge. They gave us wet mattresses. Our clothes got wet from the mattresses and we shivered. We couldn’t really sleep, despite the exhaustion. At night, a soldier came and asked me where Yusef was. I said I didn’t know, and he left.
We stayed like that until 8:00 A.M., and then a soldier came to wake us up. They brought us each a glass of water, took us to the bathroom, and then brought us back to the room and gave us dry biscuits and some pretzels. Even though we didn’t want to, we ate them because we were hungry. One of the soldiers asked me if I had any pain or illnesses. I told him I have excess water in my kidneys. He made me sign a paper and left. After a while, another soldier came and asked me the same questions, and also made me sign something.
At 5:00 P.M., two police officers arrived and told us they were going to take us to hospital and then to prison. They drove us in a police car with our eyes covered. On the way, we fell asleep from exhaustion, so we didn’t know how much time had passed or where we were being taken. They stopped and took off our blindfolds and put masks on us. We realized we were in a hospital. I don’t know which one. I had tests done and told them about my medical history.
Then they took us to one of the upper floors, where the police officers sat us down with a cellphone and ordered us to join a video call. We saw our lawyer there, and we realized it was a court hearing in our case at Ofer Prison. Our lawyer translated what the judge said. There was an exchange between him and the judge, and he demanded they release us because we’re minors and because they had nothing incriminating against us. The judge said she’d release us on the condition we wouldn’t do anything that would land us back in prison.
Then, we had more tests. At around 8:00 P.M., we were taken with our eyes covered to Ofer Prison, where we were told we were being released. I later understood from my brother Safi that he’d deposited 3,000 shekels (~965 USD) as bail for each of us, and was waiting for us there because he thought he could take us home from prison. But they didn’t release us there. Instead, they drove us to the entrance of our village without letting anyone know. When we got out of the car, Mustafa was still in handcuffs. They didn’t coordinate anything with our families. One of the villagers saw us and took us home.
Because of the beatings, the cold, the hunger and the lack of sleep, my head and ears ached badly and I was exhausted. It was more than 24 hours of severe mental stress. I didn’t go to school the next day.