Muhammad Eqneibi, laborer
I live in the al-Qazazin (glaziers) neighborhood in the Old City in Hebron, and work as a plasterer. For years, I've worked in Israel, in the Ashkelon area. I had a permit to enter Israel and also a magnetic card, but they both expired.
In the past two months, I've worked in Israel without a permit, entering through a gap in the separation fence next to the village of a-Ramadin. I support two families. I have two wives and twelve children, and have to continue working inside Israel. There are very few good jobs in Hebron, and I've been used to working in Israel for years.
Last Wednesday [30 September], around 7:00 A.M., I left my house in Hebron and went to Dahariya and from there to a-Ramadin. My son-in-law, Iyad Abu Marhiya, 32, who is from Hebron, and my neighbor, Sa'id Nidal al-‘Awiwi, 28, were with me.
At Dahariya, we met seven laborers from Dura and Tarqumya. A driver from Dahariya, drove us to a-Ramadin in his Mitsubishi Magnum van. We got there quickly but his Beduin partner, who was supposed to meet us at the border and get us into Israel after going through the fence, called him and said we should wait until soldiers in the area of the crossing point left.
We stayed in the van and drove around until 10:00, when Mahmud asked us to get out of the van and wait for him next to the opening in the fence.
We got out and waited until about 2:30 P.M., when Mahmud came and said his partner had told him the way was open. We got into the van and drove to the opening in the barbed-wire fence. Mahmud dropped us off and started to drive away. We walked a few meters and crossed the fence, when we suddenly saw four soldiers waiting in ambush for us by the side of the road.
They shouted at us to stop and threatened us with their rifles. We stood still. Suddenly, one of the laborers began to run and caught up with Mahmud's van. A soldier, who looked about twenty years old, and was thin, of average height, and pale-skinned, told us to go to the shoulder of the road. Another soldier, with brownish skin, thin, and average height was with him. I heard him speak Arabic fluently. The two other soldiers left and I didn't see them again.
The soldiers who remained told us to sit on the ground, next to each other. They took our ID cards and cell phones and searched us. The pale-skinned soldier took the four youngest laborers to the fence, Iyad and Sa'id among them, and told them to try and close the gaps in it. He came back with them about half an hour later. He ordered all of us to crawl, on our hands and knees, one after the other. He told us, in turn, to crawl for twenty meters and to crawl back. While we crawled, the soldier followed, kicking and hitting us with his rifle butt. He was shouting all the time. The other soldier stood and aimed his weapon at us.
I was third in line. The pale-skinned soldier made me crawl faster. He kicked and hit us when we slowed down or when a gap opened up between us. We crawled along the side of a path by a trench.
When this “game,” which lasted about an hour, ended, the pale-skinned soldier ordered us to take off our shoes and, one after the other, to walk on thorns for about twelve meters and to return the same way. The soldiers didn't hit us while we walked on the thorns.
I felt humiliated, depressed, and helpless. I turned to the pale-skinned soldier and said to him, in Arabic: “Enough! If you want to kill us, then you can do it!” I added, “Either kill us or we'll kill you! This is degrading.” He told me to go and sit a few meters from the other laborers. I did as he said and watched what was happening from there.
Another hour passed, and we were still being detained. Iyad asked the pale-skinned soldier to let him go and pee. Iyad got up and walked a few steps. The soldier told him to go back and sit down. He said to him: “You got up without asking permission, and you are forbidden to pee!”
Iyad tried to get up a few times and told the soldiers that he had to pee. The pale-skinned soldier shouted at him each time to sit down and remain in his place. Some of the times, he kicked him or hit him with the butt of his rifles. Five or ten minutes later, I saw Iyad pee in his pants.
Then one of the soldiers told the laborers to sit with their backs to where the soldiers were standing. I was still sitting on the side, about seven meters from them, and didn't turn my back to the soldiers like they did.
The pale-skinned soldier began to open the bags of the workers. He opened packs of cigarettes and put them in his pockets. When he didn't have any more room, he went and brought his bag and put the cigarette packs into it. He also put the cell phones, and the small narghile that was in my bag, in his bag.
Later, the other laborers told me that the soldier had stolen three packs of L&M cigarettes and 200 shekels from Iyad. I heard another laborer say that 500 shekels from his bag had disappeared.
When it got dark, one of the soldiers called out to one of the laborers, who I think is from Tarqumya. He opened Iyad's bag, took out his work pants, and told me to take off my coat. He put the pants and coat on and told the laborer to go with him. Later I heard him say to the laborer, in Hebrew, that if he wanted to go home, he had to go with him to catch a driver or drivers transporting laborers.
That laborer went with the pale-skinned soldier to the other side of the fence, to the Palestinian area. The other soldier guarded the rest of us.
Before that, we asked for some water to drink. The soldier offered us to race: the first to get to him would get something to drink. We said no. Then we asked to smoke the cigarettes that the soldier had stolen. The soldier made the same offer as before, but we refused.
About two hours passed from the time that the soldier took the laborer. Then I heard a conversation on a two-way radio. I think it was the soldier who had taken the laborer. The soldier guarding us asked him to let me go because I was old. Then the soldier ordered me to leave.
Before going, I asked him to give me back my cell phone, and he replied that he would give it back when the other soldier (the pale-skinned soldier) returned. He also told me I'd get my things from the other laborers once they were released./>/>
I walked to where the soldier and the laborer were, about 100-150 meters from where we had been sitting, inside the West Bank. I saw that the soldier had taken off the pants and coat. The laborer called to me. Then I heard another conversation on the two-way radio. The pale-skinned soldier told the other soldier that he was coming back because he was one against two, and he was afraid we would kill him or kidnap him. He left us and went back to the others.
The laborer and I waited there. About fifteen minutes later, Iyad and Sa'id joined us. I asked them how they had been released and they said that the soldiers had ordered the laborers to race, and that the winner would be released. They were the two fastest so they were released.
Then another laborer came and also said there had been a race. Two more came, and then more, and within about half an hour they had all come, without cigarettes and without cell phones./>/>
I heard the laborers complaining about what had happened to them. They talked about the theft of the cigarettes and the cell phones. One of them, an eighteen-year-old, found that 500 shekels were missing. He cried and said he had borrowed the money from friends. He said he wanted to go back and demand the money and cigarettes. We didn't agree for him to do that. I told him Allah would compensate us, and that he mustn't endanger himself because the soldiers might beat him or shoot him. I told him the money and the cigarettes weren't worth the risk.
All the time we were detained, about six hours, the driver, Mahmud, tried to call us. Nobody answered because the soldiers had our cell phones. After we were released, he called, and one of the soldiers answered and told him that he had released us.
Around 8:30 or 9:00 at night, Mahmud came to us on foot and helped us walk to the Eshcolot settlement. He left us on the dirt road leading to the settlement. From there, we walked to an asphalt road, under the bridge, where the Beduin driver was waiting in another vehicle. He took us to Lakiya, in Israel, where we went to eat at a restaurant. Then we divided up and got into a few cars.
Iyad, Sa'id, and I went to Ashkelon and spent the night there. Because of the holidays, the work site was closed down.
We wandered around the town looking for another job. Some policemen arrested us. In the morning, they took us to the police station in Ashkelon. Our names were recorded, we signed documents, and in the afternoon we were taken by police van to Tarqumiya Checkpoint. We had no money to get home. A truck driver gave us a ride to Hebron.
I was tired and haven't left the house since then. I am very angry and feel depressed and humiliated because of what happened to me and the other laborers. I think the soldier took his feelings out on us and acted in an inhuman way.
I want the matter to be investigated and the soldier to be adequately punished for what he did to us. It was like the plot of a movie.
Muhammad Sadeq Muhammad Rashid Eqneibi, 55, married with twelve children, is a laborer and a resident of Hebron. His testimony was given to Musa Abu Hashhash in the witness' home on 3 October 2009.