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From the field

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

Muhammad 'Attawneh, one of the victims, age 22, resident of Kharas, Hebron District.

Muhammad 'Attawneh

I live with my parents and nine brothers in Kharas, a village about twenty kilometres north west of Hebron. About four months ago I started working on a construction site in the Har Homa settlement. I work with ten other laborers from my village for an Arab Israeli contractor. His name is Mahmoud Mragha. Some of the workers are older than I am and they have permits to enter Israel. The others and I don't have them. I think it's because we're young. More then ten of us sleep in the building where we work. Four of the workers, who are my friends, and I sleep in one of the unfinished rooms on the first floor. We use wooden boards to close the opening. The other four laborers are 'Abd a-Nabi Ishaq Halahleh, who is 29 years old, married and father of three, Jihad Ahmed Halahleh, age 25, married and father of five, Rafiq Mahmoud 'Akabneh, age 29, married and father of four and Nihad Ahmad Halahleh.

On Sunday, February 8, 2004, in the evening, we were playing cards in the room. At about 8:30 P.M., we were getting ready to go to sleep and we closed the opening to the room with wooden boards. Suddenly, we heard banging on the boards and a loud kick. The boards fell down and two Border Police officers came in, a male and a female. The female officer was about 165 centimeters tall. She had light skin, a medium body, blonde hair and she looked in her twenties. The male officer was blonde, was full-bodied and looked about 25 years old. They were wearing Border Police uniforms and carrying M16 guns.

The male officer grabbed the lamp, took it out of the socket and gave it to the female officer. She took it out of the room. The room was then lit by the flashlights attached to their guns. They pointed their guns at us and ordered us to get up and hand over our ID cards. I got my ID out of my wallet and gave it to the officer. The officers ordered us out of the room. We asked them to let us change clothes, but they refused. When we got out, the male officer told us to give him our wallets. I had 100 shekels, a bank card, a cell phone contract and a phone book in mine. The officer took the IDs and the wallets and we went outside. We stood outside, near the room and the male officer went inside and conducted a search. He came out after a few minutes and I noticed his pockets were full. I don't know what he had in them.

The two officers made us stand by a Border Police jeep which was about twenty meters away from the building. I couldn't see the jeep's license plate number because it was dark. An officer who had been sitting in the driver's seat came out of the jeep. He and the other officer went into a building that was about ten meters away from the jeep. The driver had dark skin, a thin black beard and he was about 170 centimeters tall. He was thin and looked younger than the other officer. They turned on their flashlights before they went inside. I think they were looking for other workers. While they were doing this, the female officers guarded us.

One of the officers called one of us over. The female officer told Nihad, who was closest to her, to go over to them. Nihad went over to the officers and the driver attacked him. He hit him and banged his head against the wall. The other officer flashed his light on them so I could see the officer beating Nihad. After about five minutes, Nihad came back and the officers called for someone else to go over. Rafiq went and the driver hit him too and banged his head against the wall.

About five minutes later, an Israeli construction vehicle used for drilling and a Toyota arrived. The construction vehicle driver called out in Hebrew: "Police, Police"! The officers told us to get into the jeep. We got inside and sat in the back seat. We were practically sitting on top of each other. The female officer sat beside us. The jeep started moving, and during the ride, the officer who was sitting next to the driver beat us with a club. He asked in Hebrew why we had been there. He asked who our employer was and my friends answered him in Hebrew. I understand a little Hebrew.

After about twenty or thirty minutes, the jeep stopped in a forest that's about a kilometer from the Beit Jala tunnel. The area was dark and the lights of the jeep were off. The female officer told Rafiq, who was sitting next to the door, to go to the officers that were sitting in front. Rafiq got out and the two officers came out too and took him away. I don't know where. After about ten minutes, the two officers came back without Rafiq. I was terrified because I didn't know what had happened to him. I figured they were going to do the same to me. The two officers got back inside and the jeep drove about 500 meters into the forest. The female officer told me to get out. When I did, the driver called me over and I went to him. He took out my ID card and asked in Hebrew if it was mine. I said yes. He put it back in his pocket and ordered me to come closer. Suddenly, he yanked open the jeep door. It hit me in the face. The officers spoke Hebrew to us.

The two officers got out. They kicked me and hit me with the butts of their guns. I screamed and cried out for help. They knocked me down and continued to beat me all over my body and face. They stood me by a rock and banged my head against it. The blonde officer grabbed me from behind and the driver kicked me in the face a few times. My mouth started bleeding. Then the female officer got out and beat me with a club on the head and ears. Every once in a while one of them would kick me in the groin. I fell down several times, and each time, they pulled me up and continued beating me.

After about twenty minutes, the driver gave me my ID, turned around and then kicked me in the back. I fell face down. The driver called me and I ran away, because I thought he would go on beating me. He threw stones at me and one of them hit me in the back. I got away from the jeep and then I saw it drive off.

I sat on the ground. I felt slightly better after five minutes. I heard Rafiq calling me and I answered. We decided to follow the jeep but not get too close. After about fifteen minutes we heard 'Abd a-Nabi, but we couldn't see him. We kept walking until we saw the other three guys. We didn't know exactly where we were and we decided to walk toward the tunnel. We walked for a kilometer or a kilometer and a half toward Beit Jala. We passed the bridge, which is south of the tunnel. When we got to Beit Jala we saw a taxi driver and we asked him to take us to the Al-Hussein hospital which is in Beit Jala. We got there at about midnight. The doctors gave us preliminary treatment. Some police officers, the governor of Bethlehem and the Head of the Palestinian District Coordinating Office came to the hospital. We told them what had happened to us.

The medical examinations showed that I had bruises on my back and swelling in the head and face, mostly around the eyes. I also had pain in my testicles. My upper lip was wounded and the doctors stitched it up. Rafiq had bruises on the chest and ribs. 'Abd a-Nabi's face was swollen. He had a slightly broken nose and bruises all over his body. Nihad also had bruises all over his body. Jihad had a cut on his cheek. The doctors gave him six stitches. His foot was broken and he had bruises all over his body.

When we were at the hospital we talked to Ibrahim Halahleh, Fahed 'Issa Abu Jaramish and 'Ali Ahmed Halahleh, who are some of the other workers who had stayed in the building. We asked them to check our room. They said that Rafiq's cell phone and mine were missing. My phone is a Samsung, and the phone number is 067-737751. I bought it in the beginning of the month for 1,050 shekels. The officers also took my wallet. I had had four packs of cigarettes in the room and they were gone too. I remember that when we were in the jeep, the blonde officer asked me if I smoke LM. I said yes. The other workers told me that they were missing 100 to 200 shekels each.

At around 1:45 A.M., we were discharged. We went to Maher 'Akabneh's home in Bethlehem. He's one of the officers that came to the hospital. We spent the night there. In the morning we went back to Kharas. We stopped in Halhul on the way to get our bruises and injuries photographed. I know that our employer, Mahmoud Mragha, filed a complaint with the Israeli Police. We intend to do the same, maybe tomorrow.

Muhammad 'Omar Saleh 'Attawneh is 22 years old. He is single, works as a laborer, and is a resident of Kharas, Hebron District. The testimony was taken by Musa Abu Hashhash at the witness' home on February 13, 2004.