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From the field

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

Nihad Halahleh, age 28, resident of Kharas, Hebron District.

Nihad Halahleh

I live in Kharas, a village about twenty kilometers north-west of Hebron. I have four children. The eldest is seven years old. I am a construction worker and I have been working in the Har Homa settlement for an Arab contractor named Mahmoud Mragha. I don't have a work permit and I don't have a magnetic card. I sleep at the construction site with four other workers from Kharas. One of them is my brother, Jihad Halahleh, age 25, married and father of five. During the week we sleep in the one of the rooms on the first floor. We go to the construction site every Sunday. On Thursdays we go back to Kharas.

On Sunday, February 8, 2004, at around 8:30 P.M., as we were playing cards and getting ready to sleep, we heard someone knocking on the wooden boards that seal the room's opening. About a second later, the boards were pulled away and a Border Police officer came in. A female Border Police officer came in after him. They both had M16 guns. The room had been lit by a lamp that was at the foot of the bed. The male officer took the lamp and gave it to the female officer. She took the lamp out of the room. I managed to get a look at her before she left the room. She was short, about 155 to 165 centimeters in height. She was medium-built and had light skin. The male officer was taller than her. He was full, fair skinned and looked in his twenties.

The male officer demanded our IDs. We gave them to him. Then he told us to leave the room. He stood in the doorway and demanded our wallets as well. I had 40 shekels in change in my wallet. We stood outside and the female officer watched us. The male officer stayed in the room for ten or fifteen minutes. I think he was conducting a search. When he came out they took us to a Border Police jeep. The driver turned the jeep around so that its back was facing us and the buildings. The driver got out of the jeep and went with the other officer into a nearby building. The flashlights on their guns were turned on.

We stood in line near the jeep and the driver called me over to him from inside the building. I went to him and he took me into the entrance of the building. The driver spread my legs and ordered me to put my hands up. He searched me. I told him I had a lighter and a misbaha [a prayer chain] in my outer pocket. The driver pulled my hair, banged my head against the wall and kicked me hard between the legs. I screamed from the pain. He grabbed my hair again and banged my head against the wall. He beat me for about five minutes and then took me outside and made me stand next to my friends. While he was beating me, the other officer was walking around the floor of the building where we were and he lit it up with the flashlight on his gun. After I went back outside, Rafiq 'Akabneh, age 29, married and father of four went into the building. I don't know what happened to him inside, but from his screams I figured he was also getting beaten up. When he came back, a construction vehicle used for drilling arrived and the driver called out to the officers. I don't know why.

The officers told us to get into the jeep. We got inside and the female officer sat near the rear door. The jeep drove off along a dirt road. Then it went onto a paved road. Our heads were down during the ride and the officers beat us with their clubs. I don't know which of them beat us. The jeep drove for over fifteen minutes. On the way, I heard clapping and the cheering of soccer fans and I understood that we must be near the Malha stadium. Then the jeep drove through a gate and onto to a dirt road. I didn't see the gate but I heard the sound of a gate opening. About 200 meters from there, the jeep stopped. I could see trees. The two officers got out of the jeep and so did Rafiq. The driver took Rafiq away from the jeep. I couldn't see where they were going, but I could hear Rafiq screaming. The female officer stayed in the jeep with us and hit us on our heads with a club.

About ten minutes later, the officers came back without Rafiq. I thought he might have been badly hurt, or that he had lost consciousness or even died, because I couldn't hear him. I was afraid something bad was going to happen to us. The jeep started again and while it was driving, the officer who was sitting next to the driver hit us on our backs with a club. The jeep stopped after about 500 meters. Muhammad got out and went to the driver, who was sitting in his seat. The driver asked Muhammad in Hebrew if the ID he was holding was his. I heard Muhammad say yes. I then heard the jeep door open forcefully and the officers got out. I heard Muhammad yelling and I figured the officers were beating him. After about ten minutes, the driver came back to the jeep and washed his hands.

The two officers got into the jeep and we drove for another 400 or 500 meters on the dirt road. The jeep stopped and this time the officer told 'Abd a-Nabi Halahleh to get out. 'Abed went over to the driver. I heard him screaming for about ten minutes and then he was silent.

Jihad and I were in the jeep. The two officers came to the jeep's back door, hit both of us with clubs and the butts of their guns and then went back to the front seat. The jeep drove on and the female officer kept beating us with a club.

The jeep stopped after about 500 meters and the driver got out. He came to the rear door and asked me if the ID card that he was holding was mine. I told him I couldn't see. Then I heard a phone ringing and the officer who was sitting next to the driver picked it up. I could hear someone on the other end telling them to get somewhere fast. I didn't catch exactly where because I know only a little Hebrew. The driver took me to the front seat and turned the jeep's light on. I looked at the ID and said it was mine. The driver took me about ten meters away from the jeep and slapped me. He tried to kick me in the face but I deflected the blow with my hands. He threw my ID far away. I ran away from him. He threw stones at me. One of them hit my back. It felt like I broke my leg while I was running. I hid behind a tree and I could see the jeep driving off. Jihad stayed in the jeep and I heard him scream. The jeep drove off about fifty meters and I could still hear Jihad screaming.

I stayed behind the tree and saw my brother moving away from the jeep eastward. It was a full moon and so I could see everything by the moonlight. I called my brother over. After I called out to him a few times, he came over and I could see the jeep driving away. Then I heard 'Abd a-Nabi calling me and I answered him. We went in his direction and looked for my ID. When I found it, 'Abd a-Nabi, Jihad and I went to find Rafiq and Muhammad. We found them about two hundred meters away from there.

We rested for about ten minutes and described to each other what had happened to us. I couldn't believe we were alive. We didn't know exactly where we were until we saw the bridge that leads to the Beit Jala tunnel. We walked under the bridge and got to a paved road which leads to Beit Jala. When we walked up we saw a taxi. I stopped the driver and told him what had happened to us. We asked him to take us to the hospital. He drove us to the Al-Hussein hospital in Beit Jala. We got there a little before midnight.

At the hospital I was given preliminary treatment and was x-rayed and examined. The governor of Bethlehem, the Head of the Palestinian District Coordination Office, some Palestinian Police officers and a few journalists came to the hospital. We told them what had happened. When we were discharged, we went to the home of one of the officers, Mr. Maher 'Akabneh. We spent the night at his house in Bethlehem. In the morning we went back to Kharas.

According to the medical documents from the hospital, the back of my head is swollen, my back is bruised and my right leg is cracked. My testicles are also very sore. Jihad was the most severely hurt. His hand is broken. He has a long cut on his cheek and a head wound. He was bleeding from his right ear and nose and had bruises on his back. 'Abd a-Nabi's nose was hurt and he had bruises on his head. Rafiq had bruises on his head and his right arm was sprained. He had severe pain in his chest and his testicles were swollen and turned blue. Muhammad had bruises on his head, face and around his eyes. He had bruises on the rest of his body as well, including his testicles.

While we were at the hospital, we called the other workers from the construction site in the settlement. Two of them are named Ibrahim Halahleh and Muhammad Shaqer al-Heih. They told us that they hadn't been arrested. They also said that they checked the room where we had been sleeping, but that they didn't find our things, including Rafiq's, Muhammad's and my cell phones.

I want to note that we want do file a complaint with the Israeli Police and that the officers didn't return my wallet.

Nihad Ahmad 'Abd a-Rahman Halahleh, age 28, is married and father of four, he works as a construction worker and resident of Kharas, Hebron District. The testimony was taken by Musa Abu Hashhash at the witness' home on 13 February, 2004