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From the field

Israeli Soldiers Use Palestinians as Human Shields during Incursion into Beit Hanun,

Hazem 'Ali , engineer

Hazem 'Ali

My extended family lives in a four-story building. I live on the third floor with my wife. My mother, my twenty-three-year-old sister, and my four-year-old niece live on the first floor. On the second floor, my brother Ayman, 43, lives with his wife and six children, who range in age from eighteen months to fourteen years. My brother Tareq, 25, lives on the fourth floor. A total of fifteen people live in the building.

I am in charge of satellite broadcasting for the Ramatan News Agency. My job includes covering the days events with the camera crew. Yesterday morning, the Israeli army invaded the neighborhood were I live. It was 6:00 A.M. The army vehicles came up to our house. I was on the ground floor with my mother and my brothers 'Imad and Tareq. We were there because there had been intense gunfire even before the soldiers' invasion, and it was safer on the ground floor. The women and children, other than my mother, were at the house of a relative of ours, 'Aza al-Kafarneh. The army vehicles came to the fence, which is around forty meters from the house. They destroyed it and drove up to the house.

Around 6:30, a bulldozer destroyed the bedroom and penetrated deep into the house. Then an armored personnel carrier drove into the house and five soldiers got out of it. I was sitting in the living room when, suddenly, soldiers in uniform appeared in the room. They aimed their rifles at us. They ordered us to undress, one after the other. They ordered me to expose my stomach and to turn around. They ordered me to drop my pants and turn around again. They ordered me to put my hands on my head. They searched my brothers but not my mother. Then they took me to the ground-floor room in the southern part of the house.

One of the soldiers asked me if we had weapons. I said that 'Imad is a commander in the police force and has a weapon, and that my brother Ayman works for the intelligence services and has a weapon. Ayman was not at home, nor was his weapon in the house. The soldier asked me where Ayman's weapon was, and I replied that I didn't know. 'Imad handed over his weapon to them. Then the soldiers blindfolded us and bound our hands behind our back. I asked the soldier to tie my hands in front of me because I suffer from pain in the fourth vertebra of my spine. He refused and said there was a military reason for doing it that way. He then kicked me in the ribs, next to my chest. He told me to "shut up" and hit me in the head with his helmet.

One of them grabbed me by the shirt and ordered me to go up to the first floor. I got up and he pushed me with his hand toward the stairs. I did not see anything because my eyes were covered. The plastic cuffs began to hurt me, and I felt my hands going numb, and start to bleed. Tareq also screamed because of the pain in his hands. The soldiers told us to shut up. One of them talked to us in English. He asked me again, in English, where the weapon was. I told him that I didn't know and asked him to remove the handcuffs. He checked my hands and saw they were swollen. He changed handcuffs, but the new ones also hurt me.

Then they ordered me to go up to the second floor. They used my cell phone and called phone numbers that were in its memory. They called Firas Hamdan, Nader a-Sharfa, Sahar Naja, and 'Abd a-Salam Shehadeh, all of whom work for Ramatan. They told them: "Bring your weapons to Ayman's house and we'll release Hazem, Tareq, and 'Imad." It was an absurd demand.

Then they took us to the living room on the second floor. On each floor, they broke all the furniture. The soldier who spoke English asked me all the time, "You hear the sound of the furniture being broken?" I told him I did. He said, "This is military necessity. I am not telling you this to get your approval to break the things." I told him, "I know you don't need my approval."

Around 8:00, they took my brothers and me and sat us on the stairs, next to the entrance to my apartment, which is on the third floor. We sat there for thirteen hours, until nine at night. I felt great pain in my bones because we sat so long like that. When Tareq moved, the soldiers told me, in English, "Tell your brother that if he moves, I'll shoot him and I will kill him." I asked Tareq not to move. One of the soldiers hit Tareq in the chest. Tareq shouted and said, "My chest." The cuffs hurt a lot all the time, and I asked that they be removed. I told him that we didn't threaten their lives, proof being that we didn't use weapons in the house. He told me, in Hebrew, to "shut up."

During these thirteen hours, they shot their weapons from inside the house. They also fired from the APC that was inside the house, by rifle fire and rocket fire. They fired at civilian houses as well as at fighters. The exchange of gunfire with the Palestinian fighters increased. The window next to the staircase shattered as a result of the gunfire by Palestinians, and fragments hit us. I told the soldier, "You are using us as human shields to protect yourselves. If you want us to die, then kill us by yourselves. It would be our honor to be killed and not to have to wait to die." We sat in a very dangerous place, and the soldier guarding us did not stay next to us most of the time. He was inside the apartment because he was afraid, and he did not care about our lives. When I told him this, he kicked me hard in the chest. Then he hit me in the head with his helmet. That hurt a lot.

After thirteen hours, the soldier picked me up and took me into the living room. He removed the blindfold. I looked at the clock on the wall and saw it was 8:45 P.M. I saw my brother Tareq but not my other brother 'Imad. I asked him, in English, where 'Imad was, and he said, "He went for a walk with us." '‘Imad is still arrested. I asked him if I could move, and he replied that we could move ten minutes after they leave. I was very tense, and the ten minutes seemed like hours. I wanted very much to check on my wife, who is seven months' pregnant, and I wanted to see how the children were. I was sure that my wife would have a miscarriage because of what happened, but, thank God, she didn't. When I went downstairs, I found my mother, who had been kept bound up in a separate room. She was in terrible shape. The children were in panic. We still clearly heard the sound of the tanks, and the shelling continued. I went outside and went to my uncle's house next door. I saw Qusay, my cousin's son. He was in a similar condition. He told me that they had also used him as a human shield. I saw our house and my uncle's house, which were badly damaged.

Hazem 'Othman Qassem 'Ali, 29, married and resident of Beit Hanun in northern Gaza Strip is a director of satellite broadcasting for the Palestinian News Agency Ramatan. His testimony was given to Zaki Kahil at the witness' home on 18 July 2006.