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

Samar Abu Hamda, age 26, resident of Zeita, Tulkarm District.

I have been married to Iyad for eight years. When we got married, he worked inside Israel. Three years ago, he started to work in our village's greenhouses. I work with him.

The construction of the fence has caused problems for people in our village. The problems result from the presence of Border Police and the army. They question us, but let us pass through. About six weeks ago, the Israelis built a gate in the fence, and now we have to pass through the gate. The gate opens around 6:00 A.M. to allow people to cross and work their fields, and it is closed right after they cross.

Once, when the gate had not yet been completed, I was with my husband on our way to the field. A Border Police jeep stopped us, and a border policeman spoke with my husband and later with me. He told me that he knew my father, and asked me all kinds of questions about my personal life, such as how long I had been married, and where I am from. He was nice to me and tried to strike up a friendship with my husband and me.

The next day, I went with my husband and his sisters to work in the field. When we returned, around 11:30 A.M., they had already finished installing the gate. Around 2:00 P.M., my husband's sisters and my sister went back to the field to work. This was the first time that my sister joined in the work. Around 4:15 P.M., my husband and I reached the gate on our way to the greenhouse. One of the workers involved in building the fence was there. I asked him to open the gate. We explained that my husband's sisters were on the other side. He said that he understood, but that the Border Police officers forbid him to open it.

My husband asked the officers to let us pass. One of them is known as Amir. He came over to us and said the he was sorry, but he did not have the keys, and that if he did, he would open the gate for us. While my husband was speaking with him, I asked the laborer to help my husband's sisters cross back. I heard one of the officers say to the laborer, "Tell her that Amir loves the colors red and black." I was dressed in a red blouse and black skirt. I ignored the comment.

We could not cross, and we went home. Two days later, the gate stayed open from 6:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. They changed the hours, and now it is open from 6:00 A.M. to noon, and sometimes to 9:00 P.M.

Last Saturday [2 August], my husband, my sister, and my two brothers-in-law walked to work. When we got to the gate, my husband passed through. When my turn came, Amir began to talk to me. He said, "Where have you been? We haven't seen you." I replied that we had not left the area, and that they were the ones who weren't around. He told me that he had wanted to speak with me for some time. He added that he finds me attractive and likes me. "Good God," I replied, "of all the women you see, you like only me?" He said that it wasn't in his hands, and that Allah wished it. I asked him what he wants from me, and told him that I was a married woman with children. "I love you," he said, and began to flirt with me. He stared at my body and said, "You are a beautiful woman," and "it is obvious from your eyes that your husband does not satisfy you sexually." I told him that my husband and I get along fine together. "It is none of your business whether my husband satisfies me," I added.

Amir told me that, if I were with him, he would take me on trips and to the sea, and not to greenhouses and other farming work. I told him that this was our life, and I was happy with it. He asked me if I go to work alone, and I said, "No, I go with my husband and his family." He told me to find an excuse to go to work alone. I asked him why, and he replied, "You don't understand what I want?" I told him no and he told me that he would make things easy for me if I came alone. He said that he would let me pass alone. That would lead to bad rumors about me, I replied. He said he would take me in the jeep, claiming that I was wanted [by the Israeli security forces], then we would have sex and he would bring me back a half an hour later. He said that he intended to kiss me, fuck me, and then bring me back.

His comments frightened me. I tried to get him to speak softly. I told him I was married, that I have children, and that I want to live. "You shouldn't do this," I said. But he continued and said he would bring the Jeep to the gate at Baqa a-Sharqiya, that I should go there, and then go with him. I refused and told him it would never happen, even if he shot me.

When he realized I wasn't being cooperative, he said that he would come to our house and cause problems, and find an excuse to take me from the house, and then do with me what he wished. I told him that, if that happened, I would kill myself. He told me that I had two options - to go with him willingly or he would come to the house and take me by force. He said that if I refused, he would spread rumors about me in the village. He threatened to say that I'd had relations with another policeman, and that he saw me with this policeman and has pictures. I tried to convince him not to do that. I begged him. But it did not help, and he continued to threaten me.

I told him that I believe in myself and was not worried about rumors. In fact, I was frightened to death. Amir then returned to his first method, which was more delicate. "Listen, if you consent, we'll be friends and I can help you at the gate." I replied, "Chase after somebody else and leave me be." He said, "If that is the way you are going to be, you'll see what happens. You'll wait three hours at the gate." Then he gave me back my ID card, which he had taken when he started talking with me.

I passed through the gate and walked over to my husband. He asked me what took so long. I told him that the policeman had questioned me. We were not alone, so I did not tell him all the details. I made something up, but he was not convinced. When we got home, I decided to tell him. He understood me and bolstered my spirits. He told me that if the policeman did it again, we would complain to the officials in charge. I felt better.

The next morning, we went to work as usual. Other Border Police officers were at the gate. We crossed and walked to the field that is to the west of the fence and started to work. Around 8:00 A.M., Iyad was making coffee outside. My sister-in-law and I left the greenhouse. A jeep arrived and stopped near Iyad, about five meters from where my sister-in-law and I were sitting.

I heard a border policeman say, "We want some coffee." I did not notice if he was inside or outside the jeep. Four police officers got out. The driver went over to Iyad and spoke with him for five minutes. Then he went back into the jeep. He sat in the seat next to the driver, and his legs were outside the vehicle.

Another policeman went over to him and spoke with him, and he got out of the jeep and came over to us. As he approached, I saw that it was Amir, the same one who had harassed me. I was startled and frightened. He spoke with Nihaya, my sister-in-law, gave her a water canteen and told her to fill it with water. She told him that we don't need water. He told her, "Fill it up, or I'll break your head." She told him that he can't just do whatever he wants to do.

He went over to Iyad and said, "Your sister is very masculine." I spoke with Ihab [Iyad's brother], so that I wouldn't appear frightened, and said, "Why don't you shave? If you were to shave, things would be better for you." He said, "Why is it that anybody who doesn't shave is considered a member of Hamas?" I heard Amir say, "There's no Hamas here" and he shoved Ihab. Iyad saw that and asked Amir why he was hitting his brother.

Amir went to Iyad and threatened to spill the coffee. He told us that we have fifteen minutes to leave the area. Iyad did not agree [to leave], and they argued for a few minutes. Then the police officers left. I went into the greenhouse and continued to work until noon. On the way home, we passed through the gate without a problem, even though the same police officers were there.

For the next three days, they didn't let us pass through the gate. Each time we got to the gate, the officers closed it.

Samar Jabber Mahmud Abu Hamda is 26 years old, and is married and the mother of three children,a homemaker and a resident of Zeita, Tulkarm District. The testimony was taken by 'Atef Abu a-Rob at the witness's house on 6 August 2003.