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From the field

Zeita: Border Police officers sexually harass and abuse farmers, Summer 2003

Iyad Abu Hamda, age 29, resident of Zeita, Tulkarm District.

I worked in Israel until three years ago. Because of the security situation and the closures, I switched to farming. I rent land northwest of the village, near the Green Line. My wife, my bothers, and I grow vegetables on the land. Soldiers have sometimes come into the fields demanding that we leave the area, claiming that it is a closed military area. But that doesn't happen on a regular basis.

The work on the fence began about a year ago. The army and Border Police increased their presence in the area, and they regularly check us and let us cross. In some cases, armored personnel carriers prevented farmers from going onto their land. My land lies to the west of the fence.

On Friday, 27 June, I was on the way to work with my wife and three of our children - Anwar, age 7, Nabiya, age 4, and Ahmad, age 6. We were near Sami Sadeq's orchard, which lies next to the fence, when a Border Police vehicle stopped us. There were two male border police officers inside. The officer on the passenger side asked in Arabic for my name and address and to see my ID card. I handed it over to him. He said, "Iyad, I know you and I know where you live. I know that your father is married and lives in Baqa a-Sharqiya, and that you are a bad person and a trouble maker." He added, "If you behave, you can get a permit." He said that I had been imprisoned in Meggido Prison and that "I have a past [record]."

I asked him where he got the information from, and he said that the Police and the Shabak [GSS] interrogate farmers to find out which are good and which are bad. I asked him his name. He said that his name is Amir and that he is in charge of the area. He added that he was responsible for the gate and that he decides who is allowed to pass. Construction of the gate had almost been completed at the time.

He later spoke with my wife and told her that he knows who her father is, that her father is married to a woman from Qabatiya, and that she [my wife] has a sister who studies at the university. I asked him how he knew all this and why he was interested in us. He replied, "You behave and don't make trouble, and you'll be able to pass through the gate regularly." "What do you mean," I asked, "you want to turn me into a collaborator?" He said "We don't force anyone. What is important is that you don't make trouble and are honest." I told him that I don't need an entry permit if it means I have to be a collaborator.

Later, he said to me, "Iyad, don't tell anyone that I stopped you and asked you questions, and that my name is Amir, and don't ask anybody about me." During the argument, I saw the name tag on his chest. The tag said "Wa'il Rahal," and I called him Wa'il. He was surprised. I asked him why he told me his name was Amir if his name was Wa'il. He said that Wa'il is his nickname, and that his real name is Amir.

The next morning, I walked to the field with my wife and sisters. The fence gate was finished, but it was not locked. We all went back home before noon. In the afternoon, my sisters went back to the field, and around 4:00 P.M., my wife and I went to get them. The fence was locked. One of the laborers on the fence was standing on the other side, along with a Border Police jeep.

I noticed Wa'il Rahal standing alongside the jeep and asked him to open the gate for me. I told him that my sisters were in the field, and that I had come to take them home. He told me that the key was in the office. I asked the laborer for help, and he said he would take his car and bring my sisters to another path [where they could cross]. From then until last Saturday, I did not see Wa'il Rahal in the gate area.

Last Saturday [2 August], at about 6:00 A.M., my wife, my sister Nihaya, my brother Ihab, and I were walking to the field. When we got to the gate, no farmers or laborers were there. I saw Wa'il standing there with some other Border Police officers. He called me over and asked me where I had been and why they didn't see me. I told him that I pass every day, and he was the one who wasn't around. He said that he would help me. He asked me which jeeps were by the gate and if the soldiers treated the people well. He told me to move back so the officer in charge wouldn't see him and cause problems for him. I think he said this to show that he was doing me a secret favor.

I passed through the gate. Wa'il called to my brother, then to my sister, and then to my wife. I stood there waiting for my wife, and he asked me to move back and not cause any problems. My wife was standing near the gate. I thought it was just a matter of a routine check. After about fifteen minutes passed and she still had not crossed, I began to worry. I didn't understand why it was taking so long. I assumed that the soldiers were bothering her.

When she came through, I asked her what took so long. She said that the soldier asked her about the farming and other things, and that she would tell me the details at home. She was tense. At home, she told me that "Amir" tried to get her to go with him and have sex. I asked her to tell me all the details of the conversation so that I could understand exactly what happened. After she told me, I tried to calm her down I told her that I would submit a complaint to the relevant officials. I told her not to give in to any threat, and we agreed that whenever we encounter that patrol, we would stay together.

The next day, around 6:15 A.M., I went to the field with my wife, my sister, my brother, and my wife's sister Hilwa. We passed through the gate as usual, and Wa'il Rahal wasn't there. We started to harvest the peppers. Around 8:00 A.M., I left the greenhouse to make some coffee. The others remained in the greenhouse. They came out about ten minutes later. As they did, a Border Police jeep pulled up.

The jeep stopped between the others and me. Four border police officers were in the jeep, including Wa'il Rahal. He said that he had come to have a cup of coffee, and repeated that a few times. He also asked me about the kind of coffee we had. Then he began to talk with my wife and the others in my family. The three other border police officers were next to me. About two minutes later, Wa'il came over to me and told me that my sister was masculine. I told him that she has to be strong so that she can defend herself.

Later, Wa'il Rahal went over to my brother Ihab and beat him. Ihab tried to run away. I went over there to get him to stop beating my brother. I asked him why he was beating him. He replied, "Your brother mentioned Hamas." I asked him what that had to do with anything, and added, "Why are you here? You can't come here." He said, "You and your brother have to leave the area within fifteen minutes." He warned me not to stay in the field. I asked him to leave, and he knocked over the coffee jug and told me to leave with the others. "You can arrest me, but I am not leaving," I said, and explained that my bother was mentally disabled. I told Wa'il and the other officers that I intended to file a complaint, and not to keep silent on this matter. They got into the jeep, and as they left, Wa'il told me that he would be waiting for me at the gate in fifteen minutes.

I ignored his comments and stayed in the field. About five minutes later, the jeep came back and stopped next to me. Wa'il told me, "Give me your and your brother's ID cards." Another one of the border police officers said, "Your brother is wanted, there is information against him, and he was detained in the past." I told him that that was not true, and that my brother had never been detained. He said, "We checked on the computer, and your brother is wanted and had been detained." I told him that my brother had never been in jail, and he said that I was lying. I replied, "Your computer is lying." Wa'il threatened to arrest my brother, and I told him that my brother hadn't done anything, and that he was mentally disabled.

The jeep stayed around for another three minutes or so. Wa'il gave us back our ID cards and said that I could work until noon. Since then, I have not been able to get to my field because the soldiers won't let me pass through the gate. This is the fourth day in a row that I have not been able to pass through the gate.

Iyad Muhammad Sa'id Abu Hamda, age 29, is married to Samer, and they have three children. He works as a farmer and is a resident of Zeita, Tulkarm District. The testimony was taken by 'Atef Abu a-Rob at the witness's house on 7 August 2003.