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From the field

IDF soldiers order taxi driver and passengers to undress in public and detain them for hours wrapped in nylon sheets, 'Araba area, September 2005

D.S., mother of six

I am a teacher in the high school for girls in Fahma. Last Tuesday [6 September 2005), I was running errands in Jenin. On the way home, I went to the taxi stand and got in a taxi going to Kafr Ra'i. I was the only woman in the taxi, and I did not speak with the other passengers. The taxi left at about 12:40 P.M., and headed south. When we got to Bir al-Basha, we went onto a side road, because the main road had been closed since the beginning of the disengagement. We stopped about fifty meters from the iron gate that prevents vehicles from going from the side road onto the main road. There were several army vehicles on the main road, and a few soldiers. I thought that it was a regular checkpoint, which worried me because I had to be home by 1:50 to take care of my children. I also saw a group of Israeli special forces, who were dressed in civilian clothes. One of them held a megaphone and stood in front of one of the armored jeeps.

A few minutes after we stopped, the soldiers began to call out on a megaphone to the taxi drivers. They spoke a very clear Arabic. At first, the soldiers told everybody to stop. Then, they ordered the drivers to put their hands outside the taxi. They let the taxis in front of us continue on their way. I heard a soldier say on the megaphone: "Drive quietly, don't kick up dust, if you drive fast, I'll shoot you." When our turn came, the driver, Abu Hassan, told us not to be afraid, that it was normal procedure. The soldier talking on the megaphone ordered him to turn off the motor and put his hands outside. He did as he was told. The soldier ordered him to get out, and I heard the soldier tell him to take his clothes off. First, he told him to take off his shirt and then his undershirt, pants, and underpants. Abu Hassan told the soldier that he did not have a weapon. The soldier pointed to the place where he was to put the clothes.

I called my husband and told him what was happening. I tried not to look at what was going on. I heard the driver beg, saying "For God's sake, there are women here," and I heard the soldier tell him, "Come here, I have clothes." Later, the soldier ordered the other passengers to do the same thing.

The first passenger was the one who was sitting next to the driver. He had crutches, apparently his leg was broken. I heard the soldier instruct each of the passengers what to do and where to stand. I became very tense as the incident unfolded. I asked the other passengers what I should do, and they said there was nothing I could do. I decided that if the soldier ordered me to undress, I would refuse. I recited verses from the Koran. I thought that I would rather die than undress.

In the taxi there was a small child who was wearing a hat. The soldier said, "The one wearing the hat, get out." The boy got out with his father. The soldier ordered the father to leave the child behind, and the child began to cry and scream. He lay down on the ground, twisting from side to side. The soldier asked the man if his wife was with him, and he said that she wasn't. The soldier asked him, "Is there a woman in the taxi?" The father said there was. The soldier told the father to have the woman pick the child up and come over to them.

I got out of the taxi and picked up the crying child. I also had my bag with me. I walked about ten meters and the soldier ordered me to throw down the bag. The boy continued to cry, and I continued to walk toward the soldier. After about 20-30 meters, the soldier ordered me to stop and put the child down. The child continued to cry and he held on to me. The soldier said, "Take off your head covering." I hesitated, and the soldier repeated his demand. I moved the covering a bit, and the soldier said, "That's enough." I put it back in place, picked up the child, and went over to the soldiers. The soldier had me sit away from the men, and ordered me to turn my face to the south. He pointed the direction I should face. The child continued to cry and the soldiers brought him water and chocolate. After a few minutes, the father came, took the child, and sat down a few meters from me.

After about twenty minutes passed, a man in civilian clothes called out to me to come to the car in which he was sitting. There were three people in the car. The driver was in civilian clothes and spoke Arabic, and I think that the other two were in civilian clothes. The driver asked my name, my husband's name, what work he does, why I was in Jenin, and why I was in the taxi. I answered all the questions. Then he asked me if I knew any of the passengers, and I said that I didn't know any of them, except for one man from Fahma. He asked me where the taxi had been waiting, and I told him it was in the taxi parking lot. He told me to give hive him my ID card, and I told him that it was in the bag. When they finished questioning me, the driver ordered me to go back to where I had been sitting, under the olive tree. I was ten meters from the other passengers. In the meantime, the soldiers continued to call out to the others who were in the taxi, and I heard what the soldier said to them.

I was there for about two and a half hours, which felt like a year. There were lots of soldiers and army vehicles. It was frightening. The soldiers scared me, and I didn't know what they were doing. The nylon sheets the men were wearing looked like shrouds. All kinds of things started to cross my mind, and I thought the soldiers were going to kill the passengers. I did not know why they stopped this particular taxi. From time to time, the soldiers called to me and asked if I had relatives who had been detained by Israel .

A while after the soldiers had removed all the passengers from the taxi, I saw a robot move along the road. It arrived from the direction of 'Araba, and was headed to the taxi. I heard blasts from time to time. These sounds frightened me even more, and I did not know what was happening.

The last time that the man in civilian clothes questioned me, I saw that he was holding my ID card. He gave it to me and told me that when they finish, I could go. I asked him to let me leave already, so I could go home to my children, but he refused, and said that I would be allowed to leave only after they checked the taxi. I continued to wait, and in the meantime, he drove off. Only military vehicles remained, and they kept coming and going.. Meanwhile, an army vehicle came and took the other passengers and drove toward the army base near 'Araba. I sat under the tree, with soldiers surrounding me on all sides. I asked them to give me my bag, but they said it was forbidden to go onto the dirt road where my bag was. One of the soldiers told me: "The commander will bring your bag, and say when you can go home."

Around 3:00, one of the soldiers brought me my bag. The bag and the documents inside were torn. I asked the soldier why everything was torn, and he said that he was sorry, but it was procedure. Around 3:30, one of the soldiers let me go. The soldiers were still there, and the robot was still next to the taxi. I walked along the dirt road, took a taxi from 'Araba, and went home.

I still think about the incident, and I think it will stay with me my whole life.

D.S., 37, married and mother of six, is a teacher and a resident of Fahma, Jenin District. Her testimony was given to 'Atef Abu a-Rob, in Jenin, on 11 September 2005