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From the field

Soldiers abuse Tha'ir Muhsen near the Beit Iba checkpoint, 26 August 2006

Tha'ir Muhsen, 18

Tha'ir Muhsen

I am eighteen years old and live with my family in a-Naqura, a village near Nablus .

Two days ago [Saturday, 26 August], I went to a-Najah University , in Nablus , to register for my studies in economics. On the way home, I went via a dirt road that links my village with Deir Sharaf . We generally use that road. The soldiers know that and let us use it.

Around 5:00 P.M., I was surprised to see an armored army vehicle parked on Route 60, in the section between the army base near 'Asira a-Shamaliya and the Shavey Shomeron settlement. Three soldiers were standing behind the vehicle and the rear door was open. About one hundred meters from the vehicle, on the side of the road, a fellow was sitting. He was being detained. One of the soldiers motioned to me to stop, and I stopped. He told me, in Arabic, to give him my identity card, and I gave it to him. He said something in Hebrew, and I understood that he wanted me to join the other person who had been detained. I went over to him. He seemed frightened and terrified. "What happened?" I asked him. He replied that the soldiers had beaten him. I saw one of the soldiers come toward us, and we stopped talking. The soldier gave the fellow's identity card back to him and held a video tape in his hand. The tape had a picture of Hassan Nasrallah on it, and on it was written [in Arabic], "the dissipating illusion and the just promise."

The soldier asked, in Arabic, "What does this say?" The fellow said that he didn't know. The soldier said to me, "What does this say?" I said that I didn't know. The soldiers said, "OK, you [in the plural] don't know." He turned around to the other soldiers and one of them threw a wooden stick to him. As he did that, the fellow next to me got up and ran to the dirt road leading to Deir Sharf. The soldier who threw the stick and the soldier who asked us what was written on the tape chased after him. They disappeared for a few minutes and returned alone.

The soldier who asked us about the video took a pair of plastic handcuffs from the vehicle and cuffed me. Two of the soldiers led me in the direction toward which the fellow had fled. We walked abut 150 meters, during which the soldiers beat and kicked me and shouted at me, "Where is the guy? Where did he go?" I told him that I didn't know, which made them beat me even more. We returned along the same path. When we got to the vehicle, I saw two soldiers sitting inside. One of the soldiers [who was next to me] told them, "He is a liar, he is not telling the truth." One of the soldiers threw a wooden stick from inside the vehicle. The soldier who asked me about the video took the stick and a third soldier kicked me in the legs and I fell to the ground. The soldier beat me with the stick on the back of my head, and the other soldier, who had gone with us to look for the guy who had escaped, said to me, "You are Hizbullah '… you are Hamas."

The soldier who beat me grabbed my neck and squeezed. I started to choke and had trouble breathing. The other soldier moved him away and I saw him motion to the soldier to beat me on the head, and he hit me on the head a couple of times with the stick. That hurt a lot, and I couldn't withstand the suffering any more. I tried to escape and managed to run about fifty meters. The two soldiers chased me. The soldier with the stick hit me a couple of times on the head, until I fell and lost consciousness. I don't know how long I remained unconscious.

When I woke up, the two soldiers kicked me and beat me all over my body. I saw an army Hummer jeep arrive from the direction of the Shevi Shomron settlement. The driver got out and spoke with the two soldiers in Hebrew. I don't know what he said. I only understand a few words in Hebrew. The two soldiers moved away from me. When the jeep left, the soldier who beat me shouted at me to stand up. I wasn't able to get on my feet, the pain was so great. I don't know what happened to my legs. The two soldiers grabbed my legs and dragged me to the vehicle, beating me with sticks and kicking me on the way. One of them said to me, "You are going to die, and we are going to kill you." I was bleeding, and the blood ran down my face and neck.

When we got to the vehicle, the soldier ordered me to get up, but I couldn't. One of the soldiers grabbed me by the hair and pulled me up. The other soldier kicked me in the face. The soldier who grabbed me by the hair picked me up and shook me, and the other soldier moved away from me about ten meters or so, jumped up and ran at me, and kicked me in the head. They did this a few times.

After that, the soldier who was sitting all the time inside the jeep took a long red and white iron rod, which soldiers usually put on the road to stop cars in front of a checkpoint. He gave it to one of the soldiers, and he hit me in the head with it. I cried out in pain and asked him, "Why are you doing this to me? If you want to shoot me, then shoot me." He replied: "I want to torture you." Then he asked me if I wanted water, and I said that I did. He brought a bottle of water from the vehicle and stood facing me laughing. He threw the bottle into the vehicle and hit me in the head again, with the same iron rod. I wanted to escape but couldn't move. I couldn't stand it any more. I did not know what they were doing to me. One of the soldiers covered my mouth with a piece of cloth that he took from the vehicle and, together with the other soldier, threw me into the vehicle like a sack of trash and closed the door,

The fourth soldier was inside the vehicle and the other three continued to stand outside. I heard a jeep pass. The soldiers may have thrown me into the vehicle because they heard it pull up and did not want anybody to catch them abusing me. The soldier who was inside the vehicle the others put me in stepped on my head and kicked me all over my body. Later, he grabbed my middle finger with pliers. I couldn't cry out because of the cloth covering my mouth.

More than five minutes passed, and then the soldiers opened the door and one of them said, "You are good, you didn't scream." This soldier spoke very good Arabic. From time to time, he translated what the other soldiers and I said. He took my cell phone from my pocket, took me out of the vehicle and threw me onto the ground. I saw him look at the cell phone. He asked me, "Who is this a picture of?" It was a picture of a martyr. I bought the cell phone second-hand, and the picture was there, and I didn't erase it. I told him that I didn't know.

Photo of two of the soldiers suspected of the abuse, taken by a third soldier, using Tha'ir Muhsen's cell phone camera

Photo of two of the soldiers suspected of the abuse, taken by a third soldier, using Tha'ir Muhsen's cell phone camera. />

He said I was lying, and I explained that I bought it second-hand and it came with the picture. He asked me where I bought it. I told him that I bought it at a shop in Nablus . He asked which one, and I told him I forgot. While this was going on, the other soldier was hitting me in the back with the stick and asking me the same questions. Each time that I said I didn't know, the soldier hit me on the head or back. The first soldier asked me, "How much did you pay for it?" "Five hundred shekels," I told him. He said that he paid 4,000 shekels for his cell phone, and asked me, "Where are the receipts for the cell phone?" I told him I didn't have them. He said that meant it was stolen, and that he was going to confiscate it until I showed him receipts. Then he threw me into a ditch on the side of the road, It was a one meter fall, onto the thorns. The three soldiers laughed and pelted me with stones.

After that, one of them told me to come back up, and I told him I couldn't move. Another soldier threw a big rock at me and it hit me in the left knee. I cried out in pain, and the soldier jumped on me. His leg pressed against my stomach. The Arabic-speaking soldier also jumped on me, and the two soldiers stepped on me a few times, lifted me up by my hair, and pushed me down again. My telephone rang, and the soldier answered. He said, in Arabic, "Tha'ir isn't here." Then he told me, "Hamas is calling you. You have a belt? Do you want to smuggle a belt? [an explosives belt]" Then he laughed. He asked me if I wanted to go, and I said that I did. He took a stone and used it to draw a circle on the ground. I crawled to the circle, and another soldier told me, "Sit down."

I tried to sit down, but I was really dizzy. The soldier told me to sit down. He knelt down and ordered me to do the same. I barely managed to sit down inside the circle, as he demanded. I felt as if I were rocking back and forth and was about to fall. I sat inside the circle for about fifteen minutes, but it seemed like a real long time. While I sat there, another soldier gave him a rifle, and he aimed it at me. He put the barrel of the rifle to my head a few times and cocked the trigger. He laughed and said, "I am going to come to your house tonight and arrest you." He spoke in Hebrew, and the soldier who took the cell phone translated and said to me, "Do everything that the officer says." He was referring to the soldier who beat me with the stick and aimed the rifle at me. Afterwards, the officer gave the rifle to the soldier who translated, moved back a few meters, ran toward me and kicked me in the head. He did this a few times, as if my head were a ball in a game.

Then the officer grabbed my head and slammed it into the armored vehicle and went away. After a few minutes passed, he came and gave me back my identity card and told me to go. I told him that I needed my cell phone, and he said, "What do you say that I give you my cell phone and I take yours?" I said, "No. I want mine." He gave me the cell phone and made a dismissive motion with his head. "Go," he said, "and I don't want to see you here again." I barely managed to get up. I had trouble walking and moved slowly.

After going a few meters, the two soldiers - the officer and the one who translated - took me back to the vehicle, blindfolded me, and one of them told me to raise my hands. When I raised my hand, one of the soldiers searched me, took out my wallet and gave it back to me after a while. One of them kicked me, and one of them removed the blindfold and said, "Get out of here, and you'll be in big trouble if you come back here or to the checkpoint. If I see you, I'll shoot you. And don't tell anybody about what happened, or you'll pay for it." He was referring to the Beit Iba checkpoint. He repeated the threat a few times.

I started walking. After I went about fifteen meters, I opened my wallet. I saw that I was missing one thousand shekels that my father had given me to register at the university. I had four 200-shekel notes and two 100-shekel notes. I did not pay for registration because I got to the university too late and the registration office was closed. I said to the soldiers, "Where is my money?" The officer replied, "Your money'…" and took the notes out of his pants' pocket. He said, "This is my money. Get out of here and if you tell anybody about the money, I'll shoot you." He picked up a stone and hit me with it. I began to go. For the first thirty meters, they threw stones at me. I called my father because I had trouble walking. He came quickly and took me home. I got home about 7:30PM. The soldiers had held me for about two hours.

My father summoned a doctor from the village to come to our home. He cleaned and stitched my wounds. That evening, my friends came to visit me. One of them looked at the photos in the cell phone and suddenly saw a picture of soldiers. He asked me, "What is this picture?" When I looked, I realized that the first soldier apparently mistakenly took a picture of the soldiers when he was playing with my camera [cell phone]. The second soldier - the officer - appears in the photo. He is holding a wooden stick. The third soldier is sitting next to him. The fourth soldier is partially visible. He was the one who sat most of the time in the armored vehicle and threw the stick to the other soldiers when they needed it. I saw the first soldier, the one who took the picture, a few times last week at the Beit Iba checkpoint. He is average height, about 1.7 meters, has a sparse beard, a light complexion, and speaks Arabic, but not like somebody who really speaks the language.

Because of the pain, I did not sleep at all that night. My head and leg hurt from being hit by the big rock. Whenever I walk, I lose my balance and feel as if I am going to fall. I went to the army liaison office on August 28, 2006 to file a complaint and give them a copy of the picture of the soldiers.

'‘Abdallah Lutfi '‘Afaneh Khamis, 31, married with five children, is a resident of Huwarra, Nablus District. His testimony was given to Salma a-Deb'i in Huwarra on 13 August 2006.