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From the field

Testimony: Policemen disguised as stone throwers assault Firas al-Atrash in East Jerusalem, beating him severely, October 2009

Muhammad Eqneibi, laborer

Muhammad Eqneibi

I've been married to a Jewish Israeli woman for three years now. We live in Tel Aviv and have two small children: Lin, who is one and a half years old, and ‘Amro, who was born twenty days ago.

On Sunday, 4 October 2009, I went to Jerusalem to visit my father, who was ill, and my brothers. I stayed at my parents' house, which overlooks the main street in the Ras al-'Amud neighborhood, for four days. There was tension in the city.

On Thursday [8 October], I wanted to go back to Tel Aviv, but because of the situation, the police had closed off Ras al-‘Amud and I couldn't get to West Jerusalem to take a taxi to Tel Aviv. The next day, Friday [9 October], I woke up at around 11:00 A.M. I had breakfast and sat at the computer for a while. Around 12:30 [when prayers ended on the Temple Mount], I heard a lot of noise outside. I went out to the street and saw dozens of journalists and lots of police. I stood there for a while watching policemen resting on the side of the road. A couple of minutes later, my father, who was standing in the street, asked me to bring a bottle of water to give to the journalists. When I came back with the water, I saw that the policemen had already gone. The journalists were still there and I gave them the water to drink. It was around 1:00 P.M.

Suddenly, I saw a group of six young men in civilian clothes. They all had masks on, and looked like young men who throw stones. They were shouting “Allah akbar” and held stones. I turned to them and said, “Guys, get out of here, you're going to make the police fire tear-gas at the neighborhood, go away.” My father started shouting at them to get out of there. They came over to me, and one of them pulled out a spray can that he had apparently been hiding in his hand and sprayed tear-gas in my face. Another one grabbed me and the two of them dragged me into a nearby alley five meters from where I was standing.

The other men began to fire live ammunition in the air, using pistols I hadn't noticed they had. The two men who took me into the alley pushed me and I fell to the ground. One of them took a stone and started hitting me in the head with it. The other one kicked me hard all over my body. I couldn't tell what was happening around me any more. The only thing I felt was intense pain in my head and all over my body, a choking feeling and a burning sensation in my throat.

Uniformed policemen carry al-Atrash. Photo: Baz Ratner, Reuters.
Uniformed policemen drag al-Atrash. Photo: Baz Ratner, Reuters./>

Soon after that, I felt them dragging me along the ground, which caused my pants to fall, leaving me in my underpants. The dragging along the ground hurt a lot.  I couldn't open my eyes because of the burning sensation, the pain, and the strong choking feeling. Everything was a blur and I felt I was about to lose consciousness. I felt that my hands were cuffed behind me. My hands hurt a lot, and I didn't recall that they had been cuffed.

Lots of policemen dressed in black dragged me. After a while, I don't know how long, I felt them throwing me into a Border Police jeep. They threw me onto the floor of the jeep. It was all a blur, but I could sense what was happening around me. I guess I was in too much pain to lose consciousness.

In the jeep, the beating started again. The jeep stopped next to the block factory at the entrance to Ras al-‘Amud, which is about 100 meters from my parents' house. The policemen in the jeep - I think there were five of them, from the border police and the special patrol forces - kicked me and hit me with their rifle butts. It hurt so much that I felt I was going to die.

At some point, they stopped beating me. The jeep continued on its way, and after about 15-20 minutes, reached the Russian Compound [Jerusalem District Police Headquarters]. The policemen took me to the outside interrogation room. I was still in my underpants. I didn't put my pants back on until just before I was taken into the interrogation room.

After about an hour passed, they put me into a room where a man in civilian clothes was sitting. He accused me of throwing stones, and I denied it. I told him I needed medical treatment and not an interrogation. Only then I realized that lots of places in my body were bleeding. I hadn't felt it until then. I was bleeding from the nose and mouth and ears and from the sides of my body.

After the interrogation ended, policemen put me in a blue police van and took me to Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem. I arrived there at around 4:00 P.M.  The doctors examined me and found that my right hand and nose were broken. I had bruises all over my body and my eyes had been damaged by the gas that was sprayed straight into them. My left side also hurt a lot.

I was hospitalized and released the next day. Then policemen took me to the Russian Compound and held me there. That same day, I was brought before a judge. My face was swollen and had marks from the beating. The prosecution asked that my detention be extended for five days, but the judge extended it for two days and requested that pictures be taken of me and that my file be forwarded to the Department for the Investigation of Police.

On Monday [12 October], policemen took me to the Magistrate's Court. The judge didn't agree to extend my detention and ordered that I be released. The prosecution appealed to the District Court, which extended my detention for two days. Policemen returned me to the Russian Compound and to the Shabak [Israeli Security Agency] room, where a man in civilian clothes questioned me about the people who had thrown stones at the undercover officers while I was being beaten. I told couldn't see the people who were beating me, and certainly couldn't see who was throwing stones. After less than fifteen minutes, policemen returned me to the detention cell.

On Wednesday [14 October], I was taken back to Magistrate's Court, where I was released on payment of 5,000 shekels bail and an additional 5,000 shekel conditional bond to make sure that I appear for interrogation or for court hearings. />

On Friday [16 October], I began to vomit blood and had severe stomach pains. I went to Hadassah Hospital in Mount Scopus, where they changed the cast on my hand. Regarding my stomach, the doctors referred me to Hadassah Ein Kerem, where I had been treated previously, but I didn't go that day.

Earlier today [Sunday, 18 October], I went to Hadassah Ein Kerem, where the ophthalmologist checked me and gave me lots of medications for my eyes. My eyes were dry because the gas had been sprayed right into them. I have an appointment for tomorrow, to have tests and set a date for an operation on my broken nose. My left side still hurts, and I can't sleep on it.

Firas Naji al-Atrash, 25, married with two children, works in a bakery and lives in Tel Aviv. The testimony was given to Kareem Jubran at the witness's parents' home in Ras al-‘Amud on 18 October 2009.