Occupation routine in central Hebron: Palestinian boy pepper-sprayed in face by Border Police officer after asking about his stolen bike
On Friday, 2 April 2021, at around 5:30 P.M., Mu’taz Zaru (13) from Hebron’s a-Sahala neighborhood set out from his house to ride his bicycle, but discovered it was gone. He went out to the street to ask his friends if they had seen the bike or noticed someone taking it.
Near Zaru’s house, the military has put up three checkpoints – the Pharmacy Checkpoint, the Stairs Checkpoint and the Bakery Checkpoint – as part of its policy of segregation in the city. One of Zaru’s friends told him a Border Police officer they know, who was stationed at the Stairs Checkpoint at them, had taken a picture of the person who had stolen the bike. The two went to the checkpoint and asked the officer to show them the picture. After a short exchange, the officer pulled out a pepper spray canister and sprayed Zaru in the face.
As the military prohibits the movement of Palestinian vehicles in the area, the boy’s father could not hail a taxi to take his son to hospital himself, but had to ask soldiers for help.
In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Manal al-Ja’bari, Mu’taz Zaru described what happened that day:
On Friday, at around 5:30 P.M., I went out to ride my bike, which I’d left at the entrance to the house, but I couldn’t find it. I went out to the street and asked a few kids from the neighborhood if they’d seen it. In the meantime, my friend Farhat, who lives in the area, came and told me that Officer Hamzah, whom I know because he sometimes sends me to the grocery store to buy food for him, knew who’d stolen the bike. Farhat said the officer had a picture on his cellphone. I went with him to the Stairs Checkpoint to ask Officer Hamzah about the picture. Hamzah started making fun of me and told me he’d only show the picture to Farhat. I begged him to show me, and then he told me that if I wanted to see the picture, I had to turn around. I did as he told me, and then suddenly I saw him pull something black out of his pocket. I thought he was getting his phone out, but he sprayed pepper spray in my face and eyes. I started crying and shouting in pain and tried to run home, but I couldn’t see anything. I fell over a few times until my father came. I told him what happened, and he started taking pictures and talking to the soldiers.
The next day, I was sitting outside the house and saw Officer Hamzah coming towards me. He reached for his pocket and I was terrified. I thought he was going to spray me again, but he took out his phone and asked some settler kids if I’d been bothering them. They told him I hadn’t. He took a picture of me and left.
Mu’taz’s father, Sa’ed a-Din Zaru (56), a father of nine, spoke of the incident in a testimony he gave B’Tselem’s field researcher, Manal al-Ja’bari:
I could hear Mu’taz crying and screaming all the way from the house. I grabbed the camera and went out to the street, because I thought Border Police officers were assaulting him. That’s happened before. My wife and son Anas followed me. I saw Mu’taz writhing in pain. He said Officer Hamzah, whom we know, had pepper-sprayed him in the face. Just then, I saw Hamzah walking along the street with a female officer. I followed him with the camera and asked him why he’d sprayed my son. He tried to evade me and said that Mu’taz had disturbed him while he was working.
In the meantime, a military jeep, a police car and a military ambulance drove down the street. I flagged them down and asked the soldiers to help Mu’taz, but they said they couldn’t and told me to call a Red Crescent ambulance. I called the Red Crescent, and the ambulance came after about 40 minutes and took Mu’taz and me to the ‘Aliyah Government Hospital in Hebron, where they treated Mu’taz’s eyes. We stayed there until 8:00 P.M. and then we were discharged.
This incident is no aberration. It is part of a routine with which Palestinians in Hebron – and in all other parts of the West Bank – are all too familiar: daily violence by Israeli security forces, including physical assaults, threats, verbal abuse and humiliation, repeated military raids on homes (usually in the middle of the night) and false arrests. This violence, and its whitewashing by Israeli law enforcement agencies, has long since become an integral part of the occupation.