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Testimony: Border policemen beat and abuse laborers who try to enter Israel without a permit, May 2009

Sa'ed Darawsheh, laborer

Sa'ed Darawsheh

I've been working in Israel for the last few years because there's no work in our area. In Israel, too, there isn't much work. They need fewer workers than before. I manage to work only a day or two a week. I don't have a permit to enter Israel, so getting to the job is difficult and dangerous.

My father is elderly and can't work. I have three brothers who are in school and two brothers at university. A large family like ours needs lots of money, and I am prepared to suffer a lot to make money. I get paid 150 shekels a day and it costs me 70 shekels to get from my house to Israel.

Last Saturday [2 May], around 4:00 P.M., I left my house to go to Israel so I could be at work the next morning. I traveled with other men. We got to the village of Nil'in, near the separation fence. There were lots of army jeeps. Border Police fired stun grenades and tear gas. There were about 200 laborers on their way to Israel. I realized I had to find a different path to get to Israel.

I waited about four hours and then somebody offered to take me and some other laborers for thirty shekels each. There were seventeen of us in a Ford vehicle intended for seven passengers. We piled in, one on top of the other. We rode for about fifteen minutes, to a place near Nil'in. There were three barbed-wire fences with openings that people who had previously crossed had cut. We went through and then helped each other to get over the concrete wall.

We walked for an hour. It was dark, and the area was full of thorns and vegetation. Walking at night in a dark, unknown place scared me. I knew that, at any moment, police could catch and shoot me.  We walked in silence because we were afraid of getting caught. We turned off our cell phones and those of us who smoked put out their cigarettes, to avoid a lit cigarette being seen.

Whenever I enter Israel, I feel like it's the last night of my life, like judgment day. It is very frightening, and I have to suffer it time and again. />

I walked in front of the others. Suddenly, I saw two people hiding in the bushes. One of them said to me, in Arabic, “Come here!” I said, “Get up! There's nobody here!” I was about five meters from them. One of them got up, and I saw he was a policeman. He aimed his weapon at me. Another policeman was with him. They told me to sit on the ground.

We were in a bed of thorns. I told them I won't sit on thorns. They pushed me, and I sat down. One of them sat next to me, aiming his weapon at me, and the other one went toward the rest of the group that was with me. A few minutes later, the policeman returned with all the laborers. They walked bent over so that that they and the policemen would not be seen.

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The policemen told us to lie on our stomachs. I refused, because the thorns would be right in my face. One of them pushed my head onto the thorns, which stabbed me in the eyes. That hurt a lot, and my eyes began to tear. I cried out to the policeman, “My eye! My eye!” He said, “Shut up or I'll put out your other eye and blind you.”/>/>

I remember what he looked like. He was tall, about 1.80 meters, thin, and dark-skinned. He was wearing a hat. The other policeman, who caught the rest of the guys, was short, about 1.65 meters, full-bodied, dark-skinned but lightly, and he, too, was wearing a hat. They both were about thirty years old.

The first policeman spread my legs and stepped on them. He also stepped on my back. I cried out in pain, but he continued, hurting me even more. We were alongside the barbed-wire fence of a settlement. He forced me to grab the barbed-wire. My hands hurt, but every time I let go, he hit me and forced me to hold it.

The same policeman asked us, “Where'd you come from? Who brought you through the checkpoint?” He slapped us. He also kicked and pushed us, but he abused me more than the others. He might have thought I was responsible for the other workers because I was walking in front. We stayed like that for about an hour and a half. From time to time, he beat me, and the two of them swore at all of us.

Later, the two policemen told us to stand in line, one behind the other. My eye hurt, and I touched it. When I did, the first policeman said, “Get your hand off your eye!” I told him it hurt, and he said, “Stop saying, ‘My eye!' Are you a woman?” I told him again that it hurt, and he said, “You're not allowed to put your hand on your eye until we get to the checkpoint!” I did as he said because I was afraid he would hit me again.

As we walked, the first policeman kept pushing us. After walking for ten minutes, we got to the road leading to the Nil'in checkpoint. There were two Border Police jeeps, a police patrol van, and three religious men in civilian dress. I assume they were settlers. They apparently volunteer to help the police. They had pistols and clubs.

The policemen told us to sit on the ground with our back to the road, our bags behind us. They swore at us terribly. It was easier getting hit than hearing their curses. They went through our things and then told us to put the things back into the bags. After that, they told us to get up and into a line and walk.

The policemen got into the jeeps. One jeep drove in front of us and the other behind us. The three settlers walked alongside us. They pushed us, swore at us, and laughed. The jeeps made sudden stops to frighten us or to get us to walk faster. They came very close to us and called out on the jeep's loudspeaker, “Asses! Move! Fast!” and “Come on! Come on!”, as if we were sheep.

We walked like that for about twenty minutes, until we got to the Nil'in checkpoint. At the checkpoint, the policemen told us to stand in a straight line. The two jeeps left, along with two of the settlers. The third settler remained at the checkpoint. At the checkpoint, I heard a policeman, I think he was an officer, tell another policeman, “Why did you bring them here? You should have shot them and then brought them.”

One of the policemen at the checkpoint searched us again. He went through our things and told us to lift up our shirts and turn around. Then they told us to sit down, with our back to the checkpoint. The policemen threw small stones at us. One guy, who was sitting next to me, asked for water. The policeman slapped him and swore at him. Every time they felt like it, the policemen hit us or cursed at us.

The oldest laborer among us was fifty-five. I heard a policeman tell another policeman about the man, “He's a nothing. Pure shit!” He asked him where he passed through the fence, and when he refused to answer, hit him in the neck.

We remained like that until 5:00 A.M. Then a policeman gave us back our identity cards and told us to go. I went to ‘Awarta and straight to the medical clinic,  where I was  referred to an eye doctor in Nablus.

I went to Dr. ‘Abed al-Fatah ‘Arafat, an eye doctor in Nablus. He put drops into my eye, bandaged it, and gave me a prescription. Then I went to Rafidiyah Hospital because my back hurt. A doctor there examined me. He gave me a prescription and told me to wrap my back with an elastic bandage.

Then I went home. I was exhausted and in pain. I tried to sleep, but couldn't because my eye hurt. The next day, it still hurt, so I went back to the eye doctor, and he gave me antibiotics. He told me to take good care of my eye and to wear sunglasses after I remove the bandage.

Despite everything that happened, after I get better, I have to go back to work in Israel. Who will support me and my family if I'm not working? I have no choice. I look at my neighbors' and my relatives' children-all the guys my age are married and have children. Their children are already in school. I don't know when I can get married and build a house, when I'm working only one or two days a week. I have two older brothers, and they haven't married either. What are we guilty of? The only thing I want is to have work that can support me in dignity. I don't want a lot, only to raise a family like everybody else.

In 2005 and 2006, I was arrested for entering Israel without a permit and spent three months in jail each time. Other times, the policemen who caught me detained me for a few hours and then took me back to a checkpoint. This time was different. They treated me brutally and beat and humiliated me.

Sa'ed Fathi Muhammad Darawsheh, 27, is s laborer and a resident of 'Awarta in Nablus District. His testimony was given to Salma a-Deb'i at the witness's house on 7 May 2009.