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From the field

Testimony: Border Police officers beat five Palestinian workers in East Jerusalem, February 2004

'Abd Halahleh, one of the victims, age 30, resident of Kharas, Hebron district.

'Abd Halahleh

I live in the village of Kharas, which is north-west of Hebron. I am married and have three children. I am a construction worker, and I work on a building in the Har Homa settlement for an Arab building contractor named Muhammad Maragha. I work together with twelve or thirteen other laborers, all from my village. I usually sleep in one of the rooms of the building we are constructing, together with four other workers: Nihad Halahleh and his brother Jihad, Muhammad 'Attawneh and Rafiq 'Akabneh. The building has not been finished yet and the room we sleep in does not have a door. At night we close off the entrance with wooden planks. During the months we spent the night at the work site we did not have any problems with the Border Police, everything was going smoothly.

On Sunday evening, 8 February 2004, we were playing cards and at about 8:30 PM we got ready to go to bed. We heard some light knocking on the wooden planks, and then the planks came crashing down. A Border Police officer entered the room carrying an M16 rifle. Behind him followed a female Border Police officer, and she was also carrying an M16. The male officer was about 160 to 170 centimeters tall, fair-skinned, had a medium-build, and seemed to be about twenty years old. The female officer was smaller than he was, about 150 to 160 centimeters tall, also medium-built, and fair-skinned. She had black hair which was in a pony tail, and she looked about twenty years old as well.

There was a lamp in the room, and when the male officer entered he unplugged it and handed it to the female officer, who took it outside. He then ordered us to go outside. We went outside and stood at the entrance with the female officer guarding us. The male officer came out of the room after about five minutes. After that the two officers took us out of the building and walked us over to a Border Police jeep, which was parked ten to twenty meters from the building.

When we got to the jeep, the driver turned it about so that the rear was facing toward us and the building. The five of us were standing beside the jeep while the driver of the jeep and the male officer entered a nearby building. They had flashlights on their rifles. The driver was tall, fair-skinned, and had a pointy beard as though he had not shaven for a couple of days. He was medium-built and looked about twenty years old. The female officer stayed behind to guard us. A little while later, one of the officers called out demanding that one of us come over to him. The female officer told Nihad to go. Nihad approached them and I heard him scream. It was clear to me that the two officers were beating him. A couple of minutes later Nihad came back and the officers called to Rafiq. I heard him scream as well and understood that the officers were beating him also, and that soon the rest of us would get our turn.

When Rafiq came back, a construction vehicle used for drilling and a Toyota drove up. I heard people calling out to the officers. I don't know why. I did not see nor hear any conversation going on between the officers and the people in the construction vehicle, but then the officers ordered us to get into the jeep. Before we got in one of the officers asked in Hebrew which one of us had not been beaten yet. We did not answer him and the two officers punched and kicked us several times and only then let us get in the jeep. We got in the jeep and it began driving. The female officer was sitting beside us in the back, next to the door. The officer who had gone into the room was sitting in the passenger seat in front.

Along the way, the officers told us to keep our heads down and beat us on the back with batons. I don't know which of them beat us. After about ten or fifteen minutes the jeep stopped and I could see a grove of trees. The driver turned off the jeep's lights. Rafiq was sitting next to the door and the female officer ordered him to get out. He got out and so did the two male officers. Rafiq and the officers then went some distance from the jeep and I heard him scream. I figured that they were beating him badly and feared the worst, particularly because I did not know exactly how this would turn out. Ten minutes later, the officers got back into the jeep and began driving. I did not hear Rafiq screaming anymore when we left and so I was terrified. I thought he must have died or passed out.

The jeep stopped after about four or five-hundred meters in the middle of a grove. The female officer ordered Muhammad 'Attawneh to get out. He got out and approached the driver who was still in his seat. I heard the driver asking Muhammad in Hebrew for his ID card. A little while later I heard Muhammad scream. I did not know where they were exactly. The female officer had also gotten out and was standing beside the jeep. After about ten minutes Muhammad became quiet. The driver came up to the rear door of the jeep and asked the female officer for some water. He washed his hands. I think he was washing off Muhammad's blood. Then the two officers got back into the jeep. The jeep drove off and left Muhammad behind in the grove. I became even more worried that they were going to do the same thing to us.

After about four hundred meters the jeep stopped for the third time and it was my turn. The female officer told me to get out and approach the driver. I stood beside the open door and the driver asked me if the ID he was holding was mine. I told him that it was and he then forcefully swung the door towards me. I stepped back so that it would not hit me in the face. The driver came after me with a baton and began beating me. I tried to ward of the blows with my hands and grabbed the baton. The second officer then beat me on the back with his baton. I fell down and started to scream. I pretended to be seriously hurt and said: "My heart, my stomach!", but the officers did not relent. They pulled me up and kept on beating me on the head and chest with their batons. I fell again and they tried to make me get up but I stayed on the ground. Even then they kept on beating me. I got on my knees and bent my head to protect myself from the blows. One of the officers kicked me in the face and injured my nose. I screamed and the driver hit me again on the nose with his baton. Again I screamed. The officer went to the jeep and got his rifle. He turned on the flashlight attached to it and pointed it at me. Blood was flowing from my nose. The officer threw my ID on the ground as well as my permit which wasn't valid anymore. The two officers got into the jeep and left.

I picked up my ID and started walking in the direction we had come from. I called out to my friends but no one answered. I decided to go after the jeep and about fifteen of twenty minutes later I heard Nihad calling to Jihad. I went over to Nihad and the three of us, Nihad, Jihad and myself, went in the direction where we thought Rafiq and Muhammad would be. After about a hundred meters we heard Muhammad and Rafiq calling us and we all met up. When the officers beat me I lost my watch and I wanted to look for it, but the others told me that we should just leave. We rested for about ten minutes and told each other what had happened. Then we went east in the direction of the Beit Jala tunnel [the Tunnel Road], which was about a kilometer away. We crossed under the bridge and continued uphill until we reached Beit Jala. There we spotted a taxi, approached it and asked the driver to take us to the nearest hospital. He took us to the hospital in Beit Jala, where the doctors treated us.

Some Palestinian policemen came to the hospital, people from the Palestinian District Coordinating Office and the Governor of Bethlehem. We told them what had happened, and one of the policemen, a resident of Kharas and close relative of Rafiq, Mr. Maher 'Akabneh, took us to his house in Bethlehem. We spent the night there and the next day we went back to our homes in Kharas. On the way there we stopped in Halhul and had our injuries photographed.

The medical examinations indicated that I had a crack in the bone of my nose and bruises all over my body. Jihad was the most severely hurt of all of us. He had been injured all over his body, on his face, his hands and his head. When we were at the hospital we called our friends who were at the construction site. They told us they had checked the room where we slept and discovered that the police had taken Muhammad and Rafiq's cellular phones. My wallet, with the 135 shekels that were in it, as well as some documents and a small phonebook, had disappeared. We are planning to file a complaint with the Israeli police tomorrow. The contractor we work for also filed a complaint in his name with the Israeli Police.

'Abd a-Nabi Ishak Ibrahim Halahleh, age 30, is married and the father of three. He works as a construction worker and is a resident of Kharas, Hebron district. The testimony was taken by Musa Abu Hashhash in Kharas, on 13 February 2004.