Bassam Sbeh, taxi driver
I have been working as a taxi driver on the Jenin-Kafr Ra'i route for about twenty years.
Last Tuesday [6 September 2005), around 12:30 P.M., I was driving ten passengers from the taxi parking lot in Jenin going in the direction of Kafr Ra'i. The passengers were from Kafr Ra'i, Fahma, and 'Illar. I knew the two people from Fahma - 'Ali Mara'abeh and Ilham Jamil Sa'abneh, and the five from Kafr Ra'I - Jasser Rashid Sheikh Ibrahim, Riad Muhammad Milhem, Islam 'Abed Za'iter and As'ad Falah Murshed, and Murshed's son, who is about four years-old.
Near Bir al-Basha, I turned onto a dirt road, which is the way I usually go. There was traffic in both directions. When I got to the iron gate that the Israeli army put up at the entrance to the main road, which leads to 'Araba and Ya'bad , there were two taxis ahead of me. One was from Kafr Ra'i and was driven by Murad Sabeh. The other was from Ya'bad , and was driven by somebody I don't know. A van with its back open was parked on the road. There were sacks inside. When we approached the gate, ten armed and masked men got out of the van. They were dressed in civilian clothes. On the road, near the gate, was an army jeep. After the armed men spread out, one of the soldiers sitting in the jeep called out on a loudspeaker to the driver of the taxi that was first in line: "Raise your hands." Then he told him to drive forward, slowly. The driver left the area. The same thing happened with the second taxi.
When it was my turn, the soldier told me in Arabic, "If you hear me, raise your hand." I raised my hand, and the soldier said, "Turn off the car, take out the key, and put it on the roof." I did as he said. Then he said, "Get out slowly and stand in front of the car. All the passengers are to stay inside the car." When I got out, he told me to take off my clothes. I lifted up my shirt and turned around, as we always do in such situations. Then he said, in a loud voice, "Take off all your clothes." I took off my shirt and stood there in my undershirt. I told him that I did not have a weapon, but he shouted at me, "Take off the undershirt." I took off my undershirt and raised my hands. He continued to yell at me and threatened that if I did not take off my pants, he would shoot me. This went on for about five to seven minutes, and then the soldier told me to take off my underpants. I told him there were women around, so that he could not force me to do it, but he said, "You have one minute, and if you don't take off your underpants, I'll shoot."
I spoke with the passengers, and they told me to do what he said. I realized that there was nothing I could do, so I took off my underpants. After I did, the soldier said, "Raise your hands and come to me slowly." I walked toward the jeep with my hands in the air. I was very confused. I heard the women in the taxis screaming. I just wanted the earth to swallow me up. I walked over and couldn't do anything. When I reached the soldiers, I told the soldier who had spoken to me, "Do you not fear god? What are you doing to me? You shamed me in front of everybody. That is wrong according to our religion." He replied, "I did it because of the suicide bomber you have with you in the taxi." One of the soldiers got out of the jeep, came over to me, gave me a white, transparent, plastic robe, and said to me, "Put this on." The soldier who had spoken to me ordered me to go and sit to the side.
After that, the soldier called out on the loudspeaker, "The passenger sitting next to the driver." That was Islam Z'aiter, and he walked with crutches. When the soldier saw that he could not undress himself, he told me, "Go and help him take off his clothes." I went to the taxi and the soldier shouted at me to undress Islam. When Islam was completely naked, the soldier ordered me to help him go over to the jeep. When we got to the jeep, the soldier told us to sit on the side. Then, the soldier demanded that each of the passengers do the same thing. When the young woman got out, he told her to go over to the jeep. When she was about twenty meters from the jeep, he told her to take off her head covering. She took it off and when the soldier saw that she was indeed a woman, he told her to go over and sit a few meters from us.
When it was As'ad Murshed's turn, he got out with his son. The soldier yelled at him to take the child back to the taxi. The child refused to go back, and the soldier agreed to let the child come, but insisted that the father undress. Seeing the child holding his father's hand was scary and painful for me. The child shook from fear.
The last passenger to get out was Jasser Rashid Sheikh Ibrahim, who is sixty-four years old. The soldier also made him undress. He stood there in his underpants. Then the soldier ordered him to remove the passengers' possessions from the taxi. When he finished, the soldiers told him, "Take off your underpants." Jasser refused, but the soldier insisted, and Jasser took off his underpants and sat down with us.
After that, the soldiers handcuffed us using plastic handcuffs and blindfolded us with pieces of cloth. They put us into a big jeep and took us to the army base near 'Araba. I think that they took us there because it took a few minutes to get there, and it was the closest army base. The soldiers did not put the child and his father, or the young woman, in the jeep with us. They kept us at the army base for about four hours, at which time a guy in civilian clothes came and asked who the driver was. I told him that I was, and he told me to tell him which of the passengers were from Fahma and which were from Kafr Ra'i. I told him that I couldn't see. He picked up my blindfold, and I told him who came from where. The three guys that I did not know were with us at this stage. He gave us back out ID cards, wallets, and cell phones. After we took our things, the soldiers blindfolded us and took us back to where they had originally stopped us. I was with all the passengers who had been in the taxi, except for the young woman, the man and his son, and the three men I didn't know. My taxi was not at the gate, and I asked the soldiers where it was. They said that they didn't know. By chance, an empty taxi passed and the driver took us to 'Araba.
My taxi, along with our clothes, was in one of the garages. We got dressed. My taxi was a wreck. The soldiers had destroyed the alarm mechanism, ripped the seats, and tore up the ceiling. I left my taxi at the garage and went home. I had trouble digesting what happened to me.
Later, I learned that the three men I did not know were from 'Illar, and that they were kept in detention at the army base.
It cost me 15 thousand shekels to repair the taxi.
Bassam Hassan Muhammad Sbeh, age 40, married and father of five is a taxi driver and a resident of Kafr Ra'I in Jenin District, His testimony was given to 'Atef Abu a-Rob in Jenin on 11 September 2005